Kevin Harvick closes RCR tenure with Top-10 finish

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Following a 10th-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway tonight, Kevin Harvick was a little reflective as he looked back on his 13-year run with Richard Childress Racing that has now come to a close.

“I’m happy with everything that we have been able to accomplish as a group,” said Harvick, whose final stat line with RCR will read as follows: 23 wins, 100 Top-5s and 209 Top-10s in 466 Sprint Cup starts.

“We had a great year knowing what the circumstances were and we have won a lot of races – a lot of the marquee races. We have won Nationwide championships.

“As owners in the Truck Series and Nationwide cars, we were customers of the engine shop. So I mean, there is a lot that has happened with everything and everybody at RCR and [I’m] really proud about my past and everybody who has been involved in it – and really excited about my future.”

Harvick entered Homestead with an outside opportunity to win the Sprint Cup championship, but after being up front early, his No. 29 Chevrolet began to develop handling problems that caused him to fall out of the Top 20 before he had to pit under green at Lap 117.

He went a lap down as a result but was able to get back in sync with the leaders thanks to pit strategy. Unfortunately for him, he did not have a car capable of winning, which is what he needed to do (along with Johnson and Matt Kenseth having problems) to have any hope of taking the title.

“We just weren’t very good,” Harvick said of his race. “Just couldn’t turn like we needed to. We had one set of tires that I don’t know what was wrong with, but just like always, these guys on our Budweiser Chevy kept after it.

“Obviously, it’s not what we wanted…Sometimes, you take off with it and sometimes you don’t. We just kept working on it and salvaged a Top-10 out of it.”

Harvick finished third in the standings in his final season for RCR, which almost ended in disaster with the brief feud between Harvick and Richard Childress’ grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, following a Camping World Truck Series race last month at Martinsville Speedway.

After commenting harshly on the Dillons, Harvick apologized a short time later. And after some conversations after that Martinsville weekend, everyone got back to working toward the goal of finishing 2013 strong. They realized that goal, taking the win at Phoenix in the penultimate race of the year before coming to Homestead.

“I think Martinsville brought a lot of things to a head and we were able to talk about a lot of things,” Harvick said. “Really, this was the way I would want to leave, with everybody shaking hands and happy that we have been together and been successful together. ”

Now, the end has arrived for Harvick and RCR. Next year, Harvick will be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing as part of a expanded four-car lineup that will also feature Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.

But while Harvick looks forward to the new chapter in his career, he’s also looking forward to something else.

“I can’t wait for our first hunt together as friends,” Harvick said, presumably referring to Childress. “That will be good times.”

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.