By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 9, 2003
HAMPTON, Ga. -- After a tumultuous 2002, young driver Kevin Harvick and veteran car owner Richard Childress are closer and more committed to each other than ever.
And they put it in writing.
Harvick signed a three-year contract extension that keeps him in the No. 29 Chevrolet through 2006, Childress announced Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"It's great to have job security," Harvick said.
Primary sponsor GM Goodwrench, which has been with Childress since it became an associate sponsor on the late Dale Earnhardt's car in 1985, also renewed its contract through 2006.
Harvick, 27, took over when Earnhardt was killed in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500. At first, everything was terrific. In a remarkable season, he won twice and finished ninth in the standings to become Winston Cup rookie of the year and gave Childress his first Busch Grand National championship.
But last season, Harvick stumbled.
He already was struggling when NASCAR officials parked him for the Winston Cup race at Martinsville in April for rough driving in the Craftsman Truck race.
He won at Chicago, but had just eight top-10 finishes and was 21st in the final standings.
There were rumors Harvick and Childress might part.
"Ever since Martinsville, Richard and I have gotten quite a bit closer," Harvick said. "I know what he expects of me and what I need to do out there on the racetrack. ... I never had any intention of going anywhere else."
A little controversy can't rattle Childress. He experienced plenty during 19 seasons with Earnhardt, known as the Intimidator, and came to appreciate its place in racing.
"I think controversy is good," Childress said. "It's healthy for the sport. It gives the media something to write about and the fans something to talk about."
MILESTONES: Two-time Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte will reach two milestones when he takes the green flag for today's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500: His 50th AMS start and 300th for Hendrick Motorsports.
Labonte, in his 10th season driving the No. 5 Chevrolet, leads active drivers with 24 top-10 finishes at AMS. His best finish was second in 1996. He was 13th in his debut on Nov. 5, 1978.
Eleven of his 21 career victories have come at Hendrick. Only teammate Jeff Gordon, in his 11th season at Hendrick, has been with his current team longer than Labonte.
FAST TIMES: Pole-sitter Ryan Newman was fastest in practice Saturday, lapping the 1.54-mile oval at 187.487 mph. Defending race winner Tony Stewart was next in a Chevrolet, followed by Rusty Wallace, Newman's teammate at Penske Racing South, and Roush Racing teammates Mark Martin and Kurt Busch in Fords.
ARCA: Veteran Mark Gibson won the ARCA 400 when Frank Kimmel had engine trouble 18 laps from the finish. Kimmel, a four-time series champion, led 145 of 162 laps and led Gibson by three seconds when his car began to slow. Gibson led the final 13 laps for his fourth career win, first in 33 starts.
PIT STOPS: Four-time champion Gordon does not have a top-10 finish in the first three races, the first time that has happened in his 11-year career. ... There have been six different winners in the past six AMS races: Earnhardt, Jerry Nadeau, Bobby Labonte, Harvick, Stewart and Busch.