"It's hard when you have what I call a deadbeat owner that doesn't come to the racetrack. ... You have to be at the racetrack and you have to play the politics of the sport and you have to be a part of your team and you have to understand what's going on."
-- Kevin Harvick, on Teresa Earnhardt
But Harvick would understand if NASCAR's most popular driver left Dale Earnhardt Inc. for Richard Childress Racing after the 2007 season if contract negotiations broke down.
He can't imagine how difficult it is for Earnhardt Jr. to work in a company where the owner, stepmother Teresa Earnhardt, seldom comes to the track.
"It's hard when you have what I call a deadbeat owner that doesn't come to the racetrack," Harvick said during Tuesday's visit to RCR on the second day of NASCAR's 2007 media tour. "Richard [Childress] is one of the best owners in the garage.
"You always see Richard Childress. You always see Chip Ganassi. All these owners, they all come to the racetrack. It's not just a money pit that somebody says, 'Well, I can make money off of Dale Jr. I can make money off of Dale Earnhardt.' "
Harvick, who owns a Busch Series team, said race teams can't be run from home.
"You have to be at the racetrack and you have to play the politics of the sport and you have to be a part of your team and you have to understand what's going on," he said. "To me, from the outside looking in, it doesn't look like that's happening."
Earnhardt Jr., at a dinner Monday night in Concord, said in response to Harvick's comments, "You're killing me."
"That's ridiculous," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I don't think there is a comment for that remark."
Earnhardt Jr. said with everything his stepmother has dealt with since the death of his father in 2001 on the last lap of the Daytona 500, "she had a full plate."
"We're successful on the racetrack," he added. "The people are in the right place."
Earnhardt Jr. said negotiations are ongoing for a contract beyond 2007, and he expects to settle in the next couple of months.
But questions about Teresa have been ongoing. She appeared at the track so seldom a few years ago that seven-time champion Richard Petty called her an "absentee owner."
"It's pretty obvious she's not around and not at the racetrack." Harvick said. "It doesn't seem she cares about it as much as some of the other owners do."
Childress, who won six Cup titles with Earnhardt in the famous No. 3 Chevrolet, has an open invitation for Earnhardt Jr. to come to RCR if he can't come to terms with DEI.
But Childress fully expects Earnhardt Jr., who wants part ownership of DEI in his next contract, to remain where he is.
"[But] if for whatever reason Dale became a free agent and he was looking around I would hope he would look at us first," Childress said.
Childress declined to comment on the seemingly tumultuous relationship between Teresa and Earnhardt Jr., who recently said the relationship "ain't a bed of roses" and would have an impact on his decision to re-sign.
Childress also avoided talking about Teresa's lack of visibility at the track.
But he was quick to defend Teresa as a businesswoman. Having just completed work on the soon-to-be released documentary "Dale," he understands everything she's been through since Dale Earnhardt died.
He understands she went from co-partner of a multimillion-dollar company to one of the most powerful women in NASCAR.
He understands she went from a behind-the-scenes negotiator for Dale Earnhardt merchandising to the controller of an entire race team and all the business ventures that go into the company she helped form.
"She's a really good businesslady," Childress said. "It's tough for women in this business. For her role, to be able to do what she's done since 2001, she's done a phenomenal job.
"She's in a tough position. I think she's done well with it."
So does Richie Gilmore, who oversees most of the racing operation at DEI. He said working with Teresa is a lot like working with her husband.
"With Dale maybe you'd get a squeeze on the neck," he said. "With Teresa it's probably more professional. Teresa is all business on a day-to-day basis. We work close on the motorsports stuff, budgets and the future projects and how we want to race. ''
Gilmore said Teresa handles most of the sponsorship deals and allows him and Steve Hmiel to handle most of racing decisions.
He doesn't have a problem with her lack of presence at the track, noting she didn't frequent the track before Earnhardt died.
"I don't want to say Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick and the people that do it are wrong," he said of owners that frequent the track. "They've always done it. If she did it, it would be something she's never done. I don't think it's something she would enjoy."
Gilmore also said Teresa is at the track more than people know.
"She'll come in here during the week, at Texas or Vegas or certain racetracks, and people won't know it," he said. "But if we need her, she's there.
"A lot of that is, 'Why get in the garage and disrupt things?' Now, if she comes into this sport in that capacity it is going to be [a disruption] because people are not used to it. They're really going to take her and put a lot of attention on her."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.