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Harvick regarded as a top potential free agent

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Unless car owner Richard Childress can
sign him to a long-term extension, Kevin Harvick will be one of the
top free agents for the 2007 season -- just in time for Toyota to
make its NASCAR debut.

"They are going to make a run at a lot of drivers, and everyone
is aware that Kevin's contract is up," Childress said Thursday.
"I am sure they are going to make a run at him."
Harvick has been reluctant to negotiate with Childress, unsure
of where the program is headed.
Once considered one of the elite teams in NASCAR, RCR has
struggled of late and Harvick has failed to qualify for the Chase
for the Nextel Cup championship the past two seasons. He's coming
off a one-win season in which his crew chief was suspended twice
for allegedly cheating on car setups.
Since his breakout season in 2001, when he won in just his third
career Cup start, Harvick has never fully taken off. He's got just
four career wins -- although one is the prestigious Brickyard 400 --
and has never finished higher than fifth in the final season
standings.
So until he's sure that Childress can give him a team capable of
winning a championship, Harvick doesn't want to commit to anything.
"We've kind of agreed to sit down in April and just kind of
evaluate where things are," Harvick said. "I'm not going to rush
into things and do things I don't want to do. I think right now we
are in the same frame of mind about our goals, and our goals are to
go out and get the season going out good and make the Chase.
"All the rest of it, the paper stuff, is something that's not
high on the list right now."
But contracts are high on the list to Toyota, which announced
Monday it will field Nextel Cup teams in 2007. The Japanese
automaker will have at least three teams and anywhere from four to
seven drivers, depending on sponsorship.
Bill Davis Racing is expected to field two drivers, and Michael
Waltrip, who will drive for his own team, wants to field two cars.
Team Red Bull, a startup, was Toyota's announced third team and
has revealed very few details about its operation. It's led to
speculation that Toyota will recruit top drivers and hand-deliver
them to Red Bull.
Harvick should be on the top of Toyota's list, and he apparently
knows it.
"Our position right now is favorable," he smiled.
Someone is going to pay a lot of money to employ Harvick in
2007, whether it's Childress or another team owner. If Harvick
stays at RCR he'll likely receive incentives from General Motors,
which gives Childress factory support and will probably fight to
prevent becoming the first manufacturer to lose top talent to
Toyota.
Harvick already foresees Toyota upping the ante among the
manufacturers.
"I think Toyota definitely is going to change the support of
the manufacturer market," he said. "I think it's going to make it
a lot more competitive and force manufacturers to do a lot more to
keep its teams intact."
But Childress knows it will take more than a blank check to lure
Harvick away.
"I don't know that it's all about money with Kevin Harvick -- if
we can get our teams back to where he's competitive that's going to
mean a lot to him," Childress said.
Aside from his unquestionable driving talent, Harvick's growing
business could also be an interest to Toyota.
In just three years, Kevin Harvick Inc. has grown to an
established operation with 65 employees, two Busch Series and a
Truck Series team. It could be just the operation Toyota would like
to support.
"I think there are a lot scenarios, but we just have to
concentrate on what we are doing," Harvick said. "Right now, I
don't have a whole lot of comment on that."