The flagging NASCAR Busch Series has received a welcome boost with the news that 2001 Champion Kevin Harvick will run almost half the races next year with Richard Childress Racing and sponsors PayDay.

Harvick will compete in 15 of the 34 events on the schedule. Current RCR Busch Series driver Johnny Sauter will compete in the remainder of the events. The events each driver competes in will be determined in the weeks ahead.

The 2001 Busch Series Champion will lead RCR's charge for the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series Championship in the PayDay Chevrolet Monte Carlo, confirmed Wynn Willard, a senior vice president and the chief marketing officer at Hershey Foods Corp., maker of PayDay candy bars.

"We are extremely excited about our sponsorship of Richard Childress Racing and Kevin Harvick," Willard said. "Hershey is a leader in the confectionery industry, and Richard Childress Racing is a championship-calibre team in any series with more than 100 wins in the top three tiers of NASCAR. We feel that this partnership with Richard Childress Racing and Kevin Harvick is a perfect fit and a promotional platform that will capture the interest of race fans."

"Hershey's has been a great sponsor of Richard Childress Racing for the past couple of years so we're very happy to be working with them as they step up as a primary sponsor in the NASCAR Busch Series," Childress said. "Kevin's a proven champion in the Busch Series and Johnny's got all the potential in the world to be a champion himself so the two of them working is going to be exciting to see."

Harvick's 2001 season was one for the ages. His 69 starts in Winston Cup, Busch and Truck points events in one season are the most in the modern era. En route to the Busch Series Championship, Harvick compiled five wins, four poles, 20 top-five finishes and only one DNF. In his Busch Series career, Harvick has eight wins, six poles and 28 top-five finishes.

Harvick became the joint fastest driver to win a Winston Cup race, doing so in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway in only his third career start. He went on to take Winston Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year title and finished ninth in the season's point standings.

"I'm excited to be getting back into the Busch Series," Harvick said. "This year I didn't have enough to do. To get back into the Busch Series with a high-profile sponsor like PayDay is exciting for me and everyone at Richard Childress Racing. I'm looking forward to it because it's going to be a lot of fun and will be good for our Winston Cup effort.

Sauter has one win, three top-five and four top-10 finishes in 27 starts this season. He finished fifth in his Busch Series debut late last season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and competed in a total of five races in the RCR No. 21 Chevy. He is the 2001 American Speed Association (ASA) Champion and Rookie of the Year and also set the series' season victory record with 10 trips to the winner's circle.

"I'm glad to be staying with RCR next year and I look forward to working with Kevin Harvick in the No. 21 PayDay car," Sauter said. "Obviously, Kevin knows what it takes to win a Busch Series championship and I'm sure I can learn a few things from him along the way. We won't be running for a driver's championship but there's every reason to believe we can win the owner's championship."