Arriving in Richmond, the Richard Childress Racing teams were coming off of a week of rest after Talladega. Three RCR drivers, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick were all in the top 11 places in the points and Jeff Burton had moved up three spots to the 22nd place. Continuing to show that RCR drivers are consistently competitive Bowyer and Menard posted speeds n the first practice session at Richmond in the top five; Harvick and Burton posted the16th and 17th fastest speeds, respectively.
Harvick and Burton both improved on first practice speeds in the second session. Harvick found the right car set up to post the second best speed of the session while Burton moved to the seventh position on the speed board. Clint Bowyer held his ground as he ranked 5th among second practice session speeds. Paul Menard struggled with car handling conditions and fell to the 18th position on the board.
Bowyer's consistency continued through qualifications as he would start from the third position on Saturday night. Paul Menard rebounded to claim the 10th starting position on the grid, Harvick would start 12th, and Jeff Burton would line up 25th. With the #33 team showing near the top of the board throughout both practices and qualifications, Bowyer appeared to be the RCR driver to watch for during the Crown Royal 400 from Richmond.
The #27 team started in the 10th position Saturday night but quickly lost track position. By lap 15 Paul was showing in 11th position and by lap 45 Menard was in the 17th spot. Paul spent much of the first three-quarters of the race in the middle of the pack. Menard went a lap down on lap 169 but gained that lap back as recipient of the lucky dog pass on lap 279.
On lap 301, Menard's luck ran out; he was collected in a multi-car incident and headed to the pits for a lengthy repair session. The crew was able to make repairs and get Paul back on the track to finish the race running, but Menard ended up 15 laps down finishing in the 37th position.
Paul lost four positions in the points standings after his rough ride in Richmond and lost the most positions in the standings this week among all Cup drivers. Now 15th in points Menard will be looking for an opportunity next week to gain back his lost ground.
Gaining position in the points standings was very much on Jeff Burton's mind as the green flag dropped Saturday night in Richmond. Starting from the 25th position, Burton wasted no time in moving toward the front of the field. By lap 15 of the race Jeff had broken into the top 20. Burton stayed around 20th position much of the first half of the race.
Burton received the lucky dog pass on lap 265 and stayed out when the leaders went to the pits on lap 293. Jeff took over the lead position when Carl Edwards headed to the pits under yellow and Burton led the field to the green flag on lap 313 only to lose the lead to Kyle Busch less than two laps later. Burton gained a valuable bonus point while leading 12 laps in the race.
Unfortunately, the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet did not have the fuel to make it to the end of the race without a quick splash and go. A late-race green flag pit stop was required and Burton finished in the 16th position, one lap down. Jeff earned 29 points toward the Chase and improved two spots in the standings. Burton is now in the 20th position in points.
Starting from the third position on Saturday night Clint Bowyer quickly took 2nd position by lap 15. Bowyer then took the lead from Juan Pablo Montoya with a pass on the inside of turn two at lap 26. Bowyer continued to lead the race until lap 45 when he lost the front-runner position to Kasey Kahne. Clint received a slight air-pressure adjustment during his first pit stop on lap 87. After the first round of green-flag stops were complete Clint was shown running in the second position.
Bowyer remained in the top five throughout the mid-section of the race. A run that included avoiding accidents that led to cautions, making good decisions in the pits, and quietly staying near the front of the field seemed to be the plan for the #33 Cheerios Chevrolet in Richmond. Pitting for fuel just after lap 300, Bowyer fell out of the top ten because of many cars the opted not to pit. As cars in front of him nearly empty of fuel began to be forced to the pits, Clint began to climb back toward the front of the field.
Team Bowyer had no penalties in the pits and posted the third fastest average pit times among all teams during the race. Clint's solid driving, solidly performing car, and near-perfect pit crew performance all helped his solid run on Saturday. When the checkered flag came out Bowyer was in the 6th position; he gained 40 total points on the night and moved up three spots into the 7th position in the standings.
Richmond found Kevin Harvick back and forth between hot and cold during practice and qualifications. The #29 Budweiser Chevrolet driver and team still could not find the combination to make the car perform as a front-runner Saturday night. Opening laps found Kevin complaining the car was tight in the center of the turns and loose coming out.
Pit stops on lap 80 and during the lap 107 caution period gave the time to make adjustments but Kevin saw little in way of positive results. At the halfway mark Harvick still complained about the handling of his race car and although the crew continued to give their driver fresh rubber and adjustments in attempts to make the car better, Kevin still was only to run in the 15th position.
By lap 270 Harvick had made his way back to his original starting position and with 80 to go had moved into the top ten. With 12 laps to go Kevin was put a lap down by race leader Kyle Busch. Harvick finished in the 12th position and did not lead a lap during the race. He lost one spot in the standings, falling to the 5th position but with two wins already to his credit on the season and solidly in the top ten Harvick likely feels little pressure in regard to making the Chase.
Looking Ahead to Darlington
Richard Childress Racing teams will roll into Darlington, South Carolina later this week to take their shot at taming the Lady in Black. Paul Menard has just four Cup starts under his belt at Darlington Raceway and has not broken the top ten; his best finish at this track has been a 15th place finish in 2009. Jeff Burton shows 16 top ten finishes over his career, an average finishing spot of 11.6, and two wins to his credit at Darlington. Burton is coming off an 8th place finish in last' year's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway; he knows this could be the track to turn his season around.
Out of Clint Bowyer's five Cup starts at Darlington he can only claim one top ten finish – but that one was a win. Clint will be hoping for a finish more like that win and not a performance that better reflects his 17.2 average finish here. Kevin Harvick brings five top ten and two top five finishes with him from his past experiences at Darlington; Harvick is still searching for his first win on this track.
Richard Childress Racing is running strong so far this season – but not as strong as last year's three-car team. The collective team is looking for a way to get all four cars running at the top of the field. Can they find the magic formula at Darlington? Keep an eye on the race Saturday night and watch for another RCR in Retrospect next week to recap the action at Lady in Black.