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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Richard Childress Racing; This Week in Retrospect – Texas Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick had two wins in a row and had moved into the 5th place in Championship points standings after Martinsville, but arriving in the Lone Star State the other Richard Childress teams were looking for new life. Jeff Burton slid back three places after Martinsville and Paul Menard had lost six spots to fall to 13th place, while Clint Bowyer improved one spot to 16th position. Past successes at Texas by all drivers had RCR confident that the four teams would drive strong at TMS.

Jeff Burton ran 6th quickest for RCR during first practice and Clint Bowyer ran 9th fastest while the the other two team members struggled. Second practice found Paul Menard with enough speed to grab the second fastest speed of the session, just .001 of a second behind Kasey Kahne. Bowyer showed 11th fastest on the board, Harvick was 27th, and Burton was left back in 41st place during the second session.

With RCR team speeds all over the board during both practices there was no certainty upon the performance of any of the teams going into qualifications. More than respectable qualifying efforts rewarded Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton with 3rd and starting positions. Paul Menard would roll off the grid in 19th position and Kevin Harvick was to start Saturday's race in the 29th place.

Paul Menard
After starting from the 19th position on the grid, RCR driver Paul Menard found the green Quaker State paint scheme brought him some good fortune at Texas. In the opening segment of race, Paul moved into the top 15 and remained there throughout most of the day.

Just after the halfway mark in the 500-mile race, Menard made his way into the top 10. With only minor adjustments in the pits and no errors by the crew or the driver during stops, Paul found himself in 6th position with just more than 100 laps to go.

Menard took 5th position on the last lap when he passed an out of fuel Tony Stewart. Finishing 5th rewarded Paul with a two-spot increase in points standings. Now in the 11th position, Menard is 47 points back from points leader Carl Edwards.

Jeff Burton
From the 15th position at the green flag, Burton lost seven position in the first 10 laps and came into the pits for major adjustments and a set of new right side tires during the early caution. Through improvements in the pits Jeff was able to climb back as high as 13th position during the first half of Saturday's race.

As night fell upon the track, Burton lost handling in the car and found himself fighting the steering through the turns. Regular scheduled pit stops kept Jeff's lap times competitive however, and he remained running on the lead lap.

The final pit stop of the night was without error for the #31 Caterpillar team and Burton was able to bring home an 11th place finish – his best of the season so far. Jeff improved three spots and now resides in 25th place in points standings. Saturday night was Jeff Burton's 900th career NASCAR start.

Clint Bowyer
Starting inside row two on Saturday night was Clint Bowyer. The #33 Chevrolet was a bit tight at the beginning of the race but adjustments during an early yellow allowed crew chief Shane Wilson to tighten up Clint's ride. Bowyer first took the lead on lap 200 after spending most of the beginning of the race solidly in the top five.

Clint led a total of 44 laps at Texas Motor Speedway to earn an extra point toward Championship standings. The RCR/Cheerios team held their collective breath on lap 248 when the #83 car made contact with Bowyer on the front stretch. Although the car was almost completely sideways, Clint was able to save the car from spinning.

With a strong car, solid stops, and no mistakes on or off the track Bowyer finished in the runner-up position. This is a career best finish at Texas Motor Speedway for Clint. Bowyer gained four places in points and now finds himself in the 12th spot in Championship standings, just 12 points out of the top ten.

Kevin Harvick
Starting from deep in the field, Kevin Harvick had his work cut out for him on the track Saturday night. Handling was not good in the #29 car and Harvick was unable to make up ground early. Bad luck followed Kevin to the pits as he became virtually trapped between cars during two separate stops and fell further behind the leaders.

Repeated adjustments during pit stops improved the car's handling little throughout the evening. On the long-green flag runs of the latter stages of the race Harvick found himself losing ground and two laps down. A finish of 20th place left the Budweiser team down four spots in the standings; Kevin is now 9th in Championship points.

Looking Ahead to Talladega
Kevin Harvick won last years spring race and Clint Bowyer won the fall race at Talladega. With both of last year's races being won by RCR drivers there is much confidence that the team will perform strongly again at this year's spring race.

Paul Menard has seen some past success at this track; Paul's first victory in the ARCA series came at Talladega and he snagged the runner-up position in the spring 2008 Cup race. Jeff Burton has yet to find victory lane at Talladega in his 34 starts but posts four finishes within the top five and 13 finishes in the top 10.

This weekend should be a good week for Richard Childress Racing as all drivers for the team have shown prowess on the Talladega Super Speedway. Each of the RCR drivers have different experiences to draw upon and through teamwork have the ability to make it a good weekend. Two practices on Friday afternoon lead into Qualifications on Saturday; the green flag drops Sunday afternoon for the Aaron's 499 from Talladega

Amy McHargue

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