Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart together in happier times at Phoenix earlier this season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Kevin Harvick riled at Tony Stewart portrayal in Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy

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JOLIET, Ill. – There’s no doubt Kevin Harvick wears his emotions on his sleeve.

Not only is he one of the most competitive drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he’s also one of the fieriest. He’s not afraid to call out another driver, nor does he back down when challenged.

Harvick has oftentimes been compared to old school drivers like Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and others who, if they couldn’t settle a disagreement on the racetrack, they’d find other ways to settle it in the pits or in the garage area with their mouths or, if it comes to it, their fists.

It’s with that same old school persona that when Harvick is asked a straight question, more often than not, he’s going to give you a straight answer back – political correctness be damned.

When asked Tuesday at Chicagoland Speedway how one of his closest friends, not to mention his boss, Tony Stewart, is doing in light of the Aug. 9 dirt track tragedy that claimed the life of young Kevin Ward Jr., Harvick was upfront and to the point.

[ RELATED: When — or will? — Tony Stewart race again? ]

Harvick has respected Stewart’s privacy and space and, while not having talked to him directly since the tragic accident between Stewart and Ward, has expressed his concern and thoughts to Stewart through intermediaries.

But Harvick still had plenty to say about how Stewart has been perceived by many, vilified by some and how others have played judge, jury and executioner, even without waiting for the results of the ongoing police investigation or knowing the true facts of what happened that fateful Saturday evening at a dirt track in upstate New York.

“I think, for me, the most frustrating part was just the fact, just the perception from a lot of unknowledgeable people about our sport in general and the perception that was given to Tony in the accident,” Harvick said.

“Obviously, it was a very tragic accident; you have someone who’s dead. But on the other side of that fence, you have somebody that I know for a fact, not (just) in my heart but I know for a fact that he’s not just going to run somebody over on purpose and say ‘this is how I’m going to handle this.'”

Harvick was at Chicagoland Speedway both Monday and Tuesday as part of a NASCAR-sanctioned official multi-team test to prepare for the opening race of the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup in less than three weeks.\

[ RELATED: Jeff Gordon on Tony Stewart: “Wish I could pat him on the back, give him a hug, talk to him ]

Harvick took the media — especially those who do not cover NASCAR on a regular basis (or have never covered motorsports as a whole) — to task for sensationalized reporting and portraying opinion that readers or viewers oftentimes interpret as fact.

“I think as you look at that and you see all the stories that have come out and all the things that they’ve put in that mix with the highlight reels of a pit crew member (being hit) on a pit stop or (a driver) getting out and throwing your helmet or whatever the case may be, they can make that highlight reel for just about every one of us that have been in this garage,” Harvick said. “At some point in time, you’ve probably hit a crew member, you’ve probably got mad and thrown something, or been in an altercation or blown up or whatever the case may be.

“But they can make that highlight reel out of everybody. It’s really just when you get into these outlets that are just looking for the controversial topic, it’s just not been right.

“That part frustrates me because I know Tony as a person. That’s been the hardest part for me to deal with.”

And while Harvick is one of the most vocal and open-speaking drivers in the Sprint Cup garage, the Stewart-Ward incident and some of the sensationalized reporting and outspoken opinions of those who don’t even regularly cover NASCAR has even forced him since then to be more cautious with what he says and who he says it to.

“You guys know the media’s never been my favorite thing to deal with,” Harvick said with a laugh, before growing serious once again.

“There’s a group of people that I feel like are fair to this sport, and it used to be the media was trying to help the sport grow,” he said. “But you get outside of that core group of media, and most of the time it’s about making a story that might cause some controversy and might stir things up so that somebody will click on their story.

“(As a driver) you just have to be very protective about what you say, what you do and how you do things, just because of how it can be spun into something that’s a lot different than what you really want to say.

“There’s just certain topics that you have to be careful with, and most everything else you can speak your mind. A lot of times, it’s better to speak than it is to not speak, just for the fact somebody can spin something in ways that they want to spin it.”

[ RELATED: Kevin Ward Jr. remembered in hometown, father lashes out at Tony Stewart ]

That’s why Harvick has both been somewhat subdued but also more straightforward in how he responds to media questions since the Stewart/Ward tragedy.

“If you speak on it and speak what you think about it and think about what you say, but still get across exactly what you mean, then your perception is taken, and I think that’s important,” he said. “It’s important to speak and speak about what you think is right and wrong because that’s your opinion.”

Harvick knows he’ll talk to Stewart when the latter feels the time is right. And it won’t just be Harvick; there’s plenty of drivers, fellow team owners and even NASCAR officials that have yet to talk to Stewart, giving him all the time and space he needs, just like Harvick has done.

But Harvick did say that what happened to Stewart has had a profound impact upon himself and other drivers, particularly those who dabble in other forms of motorsports in their spare time, much like the way Stewart likes racing sprint cars away from NASCAR. Unfortunately, in light of the circumstances of what happened to Ward, Stewart may very well have raced his last sprint car race.

“That’s one reason why we don’t do that stuff anymore because sometimes when you go to those racetracks, you kind of wind up with a target on your back,” Harvick said. “That’s just unwarranted but it’s also the target on your back that everybody wants to make a name for themselves.

“Whoever that guy (big-name racer) is that’s there running those races is the guy they want to make that name with.”

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F1 qualifying to be red flagged if double waved yellows are shown

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: A marshal waves the red flag during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that qualifying sessions will now be red flagged in the event of double waved yellow flags being shown following the saga surrounding Nico Rosberg’s pole lap in Hungary.

Double waved yellows were shown at the end of Q3 in Hungary last weekend after Fernando Alonso spun, forcing a number of drivers to abandon their final qualifying laps.

Rosberg was one of the last to come through the yellow flag zone, lifting slightly through Turn 8 before posting a quicker time to take pole position.

The stewards investigated Rosberg’s lap, and although they were satisfied that he slowed sufficiently, the fall-out from the case has continued ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

On Thursday, Lewis Hamilton told NBCSN that the case set a precedent for all other drivers when it comes to reacting to double waved yellow flags, fearing that it could cause a safety issue in the future.

However, there will be no repeat of Rosberg’s actions in Hungary, with Whiting confirming on Friday in a press briefing that the red flag will now be shown to prevent drivers from improving their lap times.

“Ever since we had the Virtual Safety Car in 2015 and then this year we use it in free practice,” Whiting said.

“We can use it in qualifying really but we tend now to stop if there is going to be a yellow flag for any length of time.

“The reason we didn’t show a red flag in Hungary was simply that session had ended, but some cars were behind Alonso’s car and some in front.

“So I think the procedure would be to red flag any time there is a double waved yellow flag. Then there will be no discussion.

“That’s what I intend to do in the future, just to remove any discussion about whether a driver slowed down or not.”

Dixon leads IndyCar opening practice at Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – At a track he traditionally dominates, Scott Dixon fired the first shot of the weekend.

The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet ran a best lap of 1:04.4491 around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to lead the 75-minute first practice.

Dixon enters the weekend 83 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud and needs a big weekend to have much hope to continue as Verizon IndyCar Series champion. He also enters after the news came out earlier this week that the team’s longtime primary sponsor, Target, will depart IndyCar at the end of the year.

Three Team Penske drivers – Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves – were second through fifth with Tony Kanaan interspersed in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in fourth.

James Hinchcliffe was top Honda in the first session of the Honda Indy 200 weekend, in P6.

Series debutante RC Enerson was 1.1042 of a second off the session lead but the nature of the field is so close that the driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was 21st.

Teammate Conor Daly had an off in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, potentially with oil on track, and nosed into the tire barriers at the Keyhole. It brought out the only red flag of the session.

Daly was OK and so was the car, except for the front wing assembly leaving the car.

“I hadn’t broke any later. Maybe oil down? I went straight off,” Daly told IndyCar Radio. “Really weird. But maybe that’s what happens to the track. I don’t have a ton of experience. I shouldn’t be doing that.”

Power had an off, Mikhail Aleshin had a 360-degree spin, and Alexander Rossi also went off, but none of those produced any dmage

Times are below. Second practice runs from 2 to 3:15 p.m. ET and local time, and airs LIVE on NBCSN (Also online at http://indystream.nbcsports.com) from 2 to 4.

MidOFP1

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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After seizing the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton arrives in Germany looking to extend his advantage over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap stands at six points after 11 races, and with Hockenheim hosting the final grand prix before the summer break, now is the perfect time to finish on a high and take plenty of momentum into the run to Abu Dhabi.

As ever, MST writers Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno have made their picks ahead of the German Grand Prix weekend. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Hamilton may have the momentum after five wins in six races, but I’m backing Rosberg to hit back this weekend and take a second win on home soil. If he doesn’t, it could be a big blow to his title chances.

Surprise Finish: Sebastian Vettel. This marks Vettel’s first home race as a Ferrari driver, bringing back memories of Michael Schumacher’s success at Hockenheim. While victory may be out of reach without some divine intervention, I’ll say Seb can finish on the podium behind the two Mercedes drivers.

Most to Prove: Rio Haryanto. Haryanto has done a solid job so far this season, but with talks about his funding ongoing, he needs to impress this weekend. It can’t harm his case.

Additional Storyline: Crowd figures at Hockenheim. After a disappointing turn-out in 2014, will Hockenheim enjoy a better turnout this weekend after two years away? Here’s hoping…

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Continuing with the “home driver wins his home grand prix” theme, I peg Rosberg to get one back over Hamilton this weekend and retake the championship lead.

Surprise Finish: Felipe Massa. Traditionally strong at Hockenheim and with upgrades coming this weekend, a top-five finish is possible for a driver and Williams team that needs it.

Most to Prove: Danill Kvyat. A run of ordinary and forgettable races has followed for him against Carlos Sainz Jr. at Toro Rosso. Would love to see him do something of note.

Additional Storyline: July exhaustion. Fourth race in five weeks and at a track the teams didn’t run at last year. How will the teams hold up and will there be any more mistakes of note?

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull

Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

However, Button later updated that he’d be good to go for Saturday’s running.