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Winston Cup Series

Saturday, June 15
Updated: June 16, 5:49 PM ET
Childress has watched Harvick struggle
Associated Press

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The routine will be familiar to car owner Richard Childress: He'll climb atop his pit box and look toward the back of the field for his three cars when the green flag falls on the Sirius Satellite Radio 400.

It's been a miserable season by Childress' standards, and not even strong finishes Sunday at Michigan International Speedway can fix it.

Richard Childress
Richard Childress' three teams currently rank 24th, 27th and 35th in the series standings.

Jeff Green is his highest driver in the Winston Cup standings at a disappointing 24th, and Robby Gordon sits 27th. Kevin Harvick, a phenom in 2001 who became Rookie of the Year and was considered a championship contender at the start of this season, is a mortifying 35th.

"It eats your heart out, just kills you,'' Childress said Saturday. "You know that all the resources are there and you've put everything you have into it, and then it boils down to chemistry. Once the chemistry is gone, there's no button you can push to get it back.''

So Childress has done the only thing he can, shaking up two of his teams by swapping the crews of Harvick and Gordon last week.

Childress is hopeful things will begin to straighten out Sunday, when Harvick starts 19th in a brand new Chevrolet with a setup similar to ones the team used last year when he won two races and finished ninth in the Winston Cup standings.

Make no mistake, Harvick is the star of this organization.

A brash and brazen 26-year-old driver, he became the present and future of Childress' empire following Dale Earnhardt's death in last year's Daytona 500. The plan was to bring him along slowly -- he wasn't even supposed to run a full Cup schedule until this season -- but everything was fast-tracked when Earnhardt died.

Harvick handled the pressure of taking over Earnhardt's ride while also winning the Busch Series championship in a grueling 70-race stretch. But he's struggled with the disappointment of not duplicating his success this year and has found himself in trouble on and off the track.

After earning a stint on probation for fighting in one of his rare Busch appearances this season, Harvick became the first driver in NASCAR history to be "parked'' for rough driving when the sanctioning body sent him home from Martinsville, Va., in April after a truck series race.

The criticism he took from his Cup team and the backlash from the veteran drivers have turned him into a near recluse at the track, where he sticks to himself and declines most interview requests.

"He's young and he was dumped in a situation that was very, very tough,'' Childress said. "He knew it was going to be hard, but I don't think he realized how hard it actually was because he was so busy racing all the time. Now that he's not so busy, doesn't have the Busch stuff to fall back on, he's realizing it all.''

Childress has so far forbidden Harvick to race again in the truck series, but said Saturday he is close to signing off on another event. And there will be more Busch races down the road, but the focus right now is fixing the Cup operation.

All the problems have led to rampant speculation that Childress is souring on Harvick and ready to cut him loose. The car owner denies that.

"He's got one year left on his contract, and we're already in discussion on signing him for another three,'' Childress said.

But he doesn't deny there are issues within Richard Childress Racing that still need to be resolved. The quick fix was switching crews, hooking Harvick up with many of the team members who worked on his Busch team last year.

The move is expected to benefit both Harvick and Gordon, and could possibly be the solution the entire organization needs.

"The confidence in each other tends to deteriorate when performance is down,'' Childress said. "Once the confidence is gone, it's like a marriage -- it's usually over. Hopefully, this change will improve the chemistry for everyone and restore the confidence.''

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