The media availability slot for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick this past September seemed awfully routine. Considering that most of NASCAR's top drivers have a time slot for media questions week in, week out, people were expecting the usual questions.
They weren't getting the usual answers, however. Harvick announced that after 10 seasons of operation, he and wife/business partner DeLana were closing down their NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams, Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI).
The Harvicks fielded two full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series teams: The No. 2 for Emporia, Virginia native Elliott Sadler with sponsor OneMain Financial, and the No. 33 for a variety of Sprint Cup Series drivers along with Austin Dillon and Scott Speed, both part-time. Their championship-winning Camping World Truck Series organization fielded three full-time trucks: The No. 8 for Nelson Piquet, Jr., the No. 33 for four-time series champion Ron Hornaday and the No. 2, again with a variety of Cup series drivers
The Harvicks gave general estimates that they had approximately 140 employees at their Kernersville, North Carolina-based headquarters. Luckily for most of these employees, Kevin and DeLana had sold the truck series operation to Eddie Sharp and were planning to merge the Nationwide teams with Richard Childress Racing. These employees would be allowed to reapply for their positions, but they were not guaranteed.
On Twitter, DeLana Harvick defended herself against criticism from some in the NASCAR media that KHI had left many folks without a job—claiming that she and her husband had found jobs for most of the misplaced KHI employees. Most of them.
Besides the ever hurtful job losses, the decision from Kevin and DeLana to shutter KHI is a huge loss for NASCAR. They are losing a top-dollar investment in their lower series from an independent racing team, and KHI was widely respected within the NASCAR garage area.
The Harvicks say that they will take their new-found time to explore other areas of life away from the race track, but NASCAR still suffers a tremendous blow. We may never know the true reason why the Harvicks bailed on their business. It could very well be that they wished to have more time away from the track—or it could be something deeper.
Even though the "teams" will continue to race next season, it won't be under the banner of one of NASCAR's household names. What leads me to believe the Harvicks' decision was personal is simple: sponsorship. The Harvicks' truck teams were fully sponsored this past season, and they handed Richard Childress two fully sponsored Nationwide series teams.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits the Red Bull Racing saga, which is far less about personal reasons. Red Bull, an energy-drink manufacturer, made headlines with their mega-investment into NASCAR just a few years ago. Now, at the end of the 2011 season, the team is all but closed.
At their inception, the team was off to a horrid start, not qualifying for races left and right with drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Brian Vickers. So bad, in fact, that Allmendinger was released at the end of an abysmal second season. The hiring of Red Bull athlete Scott Speed from F1 to the NASCAR team seemed to bring promise back to the stable, but he fell flat as well.
This past season, Red Bull Racing saw a few bright lights. Kasey Kahne replaced Scott Speed and led the team to nine top-five finishes and a win at Phoenix International Raceway near the season's end. But this was all for naught as well. Kahne will take his talents to Hendrick Motorsports next season, and that was the plan from the start.
Above and beyond the lackluster performance is the simple business aspect of Red Bull leaving NASCAR. Could NASCAR have provided that bad of an investment for one of the world's most-recognized brands? What is happening inside the NASCAR world that is causing a cooperative team owner and team sponsor to leave the sport? These questions will also probably never see the light of day.
Unfortunately for the employees of Red Bull Racing, there was no sale, no merger and no help. These employees were left high, wide and handsome. With the sponsorship climate the way it is in NASCAR, there is little place else to go.
Ultimately, NASCAR needs to take a serious look at what it is doing on a daily basis to see if, in fact, these team closures and sponsor departures are 100 percent the fault of a lagging economy. It may seem out of reach, but, to me, there must be something we can do.