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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Malaysia planning ‘long break’ from hosting F1 after 2017

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Malaysia is planning to take a “long break” from hosting Formula 1 after deciding to end its grand prix contract early over spiralling costs, according to Sepang International Circuit chief Razlan Razali.

After previously expressing concern over the future of the race, officials at Sepang announced earlier this month that the 2017 grand prix would be the last in Malaysia, ending its contract one year early by mutual agreement with F1’s new owner, Liberty Media.

Speaking to AFP, Razali said that the increasingly unbalanced economic forecast for hosting the race made the decision to drop it a simple one, and that a return will not be considered for some time.

“Since 2014 the numbers don’t add up anymore, so it was quite an easy decision to not host Formula 1 anymore,. It was not difficult at all to be honest,” Razali said.

“Right now we are firm in our decision to take a long break. We are looking at a seven to 10-year break.”

Razali also expressed his distaste at ex-F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s recent admission that he overcharged tracks to host grands prix, believing it made Malaysia “look like idiots”.

“For [Ecclestone] to come out with that statement, we can’t help but feel suckered by him in some ways and quite disappointed,” Razali said.

“We thought we have a relationship. But I guess the reality is there are no loyalties in this business, it is all about dollars and cents.

“So with that statement, yes, it upsets us in a way.”

Vettel takes Russian GP pole, heads up Ferrari front-row lock-out

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Sebastian Vettel will start Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Russia from pole position after edging out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen in the final stage of qualifying.

Vettel turned in a fastest lap time of 1:33.194 in Q3 to wrestle pole away from provisional leader Raikkonen, who ran wide at the final corner on his last timed effort.

The mistake appeared to open the door for Mercedes to continue its pole position streak, only for Valtteri Bottas to fail to improve, finishing third.

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton also had a session to forget, ailing to fourth on the grid, finishing over half a second behind Vettel.

The result marked Ferrari’s first front-row lock-out in F1 since the 2008 French Grand Prix, when Raikkonen took pole ahead of then-teammate Felipe Massa.

Red Bull finished as the ‘best of the rest’ once again in qualifying, with Daniel Ricciardo ending up fifth ahead of teammate Max Verstappen in seventh. Felipe Massa split the pair for Williams, with Nico Hulkenberg, Segio Perez and Esteban Ocon rounding out positions eight to 10.

Carlos Sainz Jr. had hoped to compensate for his three-place grid penalty carried over from Bahrain by reaching the top 10, only to miss out by two-tenths of a second, qualifying 11th.

Lance Stroll followed in P12 for Williams ahead of home favorite Daniil Kvyat, who struggled to impress in front of his home fans en route to P13 ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Fernando Alonso’s woes with McLaren continued as he lagged to P15 in Q2, finishing 3.3 seconds off Bottas’ fastest time. The Spaniard called it “unbelievable” over the radio as the issues with his Honda power unit once again left him off the pace and crest-fallen.

After changing chassis overnight and engine following FP3, Jolyon Palmer’s miserable weekend continued when he crashed out at the end of Q1, leaving him 16th on the grid.

The incident sparked yellow flags and prevented a number of drivers from improving their time, with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne ailing to 17th. Sauber drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson finished 18th and 19th respectively, the former also spinning on his final Q1 lap, while Romain Grosjean propped up the timesheets for Haas in P20.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Sirotkin set for F1 practice return in Spain as Russia run is cut short

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Sergey Sirotkin is set to get his next chance in a Formula 1 race weekend during practice for the Spanish Grand Prix after completing just two laps on Friday in Russia.

Sirotkin was given the chance to impress in front of his home fans in Russia on Friday with Renault, deputizing for Nico Hulkenberg as part of his test driver deal with the French manufacturer.

Sirotkin’s hopes of impressing the watching F1 paddock were dashed when a gearbox issue caused his car to lose power on his second installation lap, forcing the Russian to park up at the side of the track early on.

“It was a short run for me in FP1, but that’s motorsport and it’s better to have an issue with the car in practice than in qualifying or the race,” Sirotkin said.

“There’s not much I can say about today other than I was happy with the car at the Bahrain test and I was fully prepared to deliver everything required today.

“I’m next out in Spain so that’s where my focus now lies.”

“We got some good mileage on our new aero package today despite a tricky morning for Sergey which saw his session cut short after a hydraulic problem which then damaged the gearbox,” Renault technical chief Nick Chester added.

“It’s disappointing as we know he would have done a good job.”

Besides his Renault duties, Sirotkin has no full race program in 2017, having opted against a third straight year in GP2 (now Formula 2).

Honda in talks with ‘various’ F1 teams over 2018 engine supply

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Honda is in talks with various Formula 1 teams over a possible engine supply for 2018 as it looks to reach beyond its current partnership with McLaren.

Honda returned to F1 as an engine supplier in 2015, striking an exclusive deal with McLaren that saw the famed partnership of the late 1980s and early ’90s be rekindled.

The championship-winning form enjoyed back then has been hard to come by, with reliability and performance issues with the Honda power unit leaving McLaren at the back of the field, currently without a single point to its name in 2017.

McLaren previously blocked Honda from working with other teams, but is now receptive to the idea, with the Japanese manufacturer talking to possible customers for 2018.

“From the start of this Formula 1 activity, we committed to support this Formula 1 society, so from that point of view it is duty and we have to support multiples teams,” Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa said.

“Also we are thinking it will give us some benefit to have multiple teams as we will have more data and more chance to make the car running, so we don’t deny to have a second or third team.

“We are talking to various teams but at this moment, unfortunately, we have nothing to say here.”

Honda has most closely been linked to Sauber for 2018, with the Swiss backmarker outfit currently using year-old Ferrari power units.

Current Formula 1 Power Unit Supplies

Ferrari – Ferrari, Haas, Sauber (2016-spec)
Mercedes – Mercedes, Force India, Williams
Renault – Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Renault
Honda – McLaren