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Monday, May 9, 2011

Last Week in Retrospect: Richard Childress Racing - Darlington

The Richard Childress Racing teams came to Darlington with both Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer solidly within the top ten in points standings, Jeff Burton was attempting to claw his way up from the 20th spot, and Paul Menard had slid back to 15th in points. Across the board there had not been huge amounts of success from any RCR drivers in Darlington but the combined experience among the four drivers was a significant plus.

Practice and qualifications found the RCR teams with inconsistent results. Kevin Harvick posted the 9th fastest speed in practice but would line up 16th for the race. Paul Menard showed 24th on the speed boards during practice then qualified 18th for Saturday night's race. Jeff Burton was back in 30th spot on the practice boards but moved up to 24th quickest for qualifications. Clint Bowyer, 13th fast in practice would qualify all the way back in 26th for the race.

Once the green flag dropped Saturday night in Darlington staying out of trouble was the name of the game. The beginning of the race was fairly quiet among all drivers. Kevin Harvick had raced his way to the 6th position by lap 45. Clint Bowyer wasted no time getting out of the back of the pack and had moved to the 14th running position by lap 62.

As lap 100 passed, both Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer had made their way to the top ten. Menard, after starting 18th, had fallen back to the 20th position on the track when a debris caution came out on lap 122. Burton had moved up five spots from his starting position and was just in front of Menard in 19th.

As pit stops took place under yellow on lap 124, the 27 car was clipped by Brad Keselowski as Menard turned into his pit stall. Paul lost significant track position as he had to turn his car around before taking service. Once he finished in the pits, he tried a little too hard to make up lost time and was caught speeding on exit.

Bowyer continued to move up through the field, reaching the 7th position on lap 133 and moving into 6th on lap 137. By lap 181 Clint had found his way into the top five. The BB&T crew had made adjustments during each of the early stops and had given Bowyer a car that responded to his driving.

As lap 200 was completed, Harvick had the race leader in his sights as he passed Kasey Kahne for the 3rd spot on lap 201 and then took the 2nd running position on lap 206. Harvick took the lead from Carl Edwards on lap 236 with teammate Clint Bowyer in 5th position. With the car tightening up, Bowyer began dropping back and fell as far back as the 12th position on lap 273 before beginning to climb back toward the front.

Kevin Harvick remained in front of the field until yellow flag pit stops on lap 281 when Kahne beat the 29 off of pit road and relegated Harvick back to the 2nd position for the restart. Teammate Clint Bowyer broke back into the top ten on lap 283.

Harvick made his final stop on lap 330, complaining of a tight race car while Paul Menard had made his last stop on lap 325 complaining of the same conditions. Clint Bowyer showed in 9th and Jeff Burton showed in the 12th running position on lap 349; going into the last twenty laps of the race it looked like three of the four RCR drivers were on their way to top 15 finishes.

Then, Jeff Burton's car began to smoke. Over the radio Jeff stated the obvious, “I'm blowing up.” Burton's engine gave out with just 11 laps to go bringing out the caution. Jeff ultimately finished in the 33rd position, showing 12 laps down and in the pits. Burton now shows 24th in points standings after losing four positions at Darlington.

When the green flag dropped again on lap 362, Harvick and Bowyer were fighting for position with Kyle Busch just in front of them. Going three wide turned out to be not such a good idea as Kevin bounced off Kyle then down into Clint. Boywer found himself with the short end of the stick from this exchange and slammed into the inside wall as Harvick got past Busch.

Feeling as if contact was intentional, Kyle immediately chased Harvick down the track, got into the back bumper of the Budweiser Chevrolet and turned the car around. Kevin was able to drive off from the exchange but lost several positions on the track. Harvick crossed the line 17th and holds steady in the 5th position in the Championship standings.

The fourth driver of RCR, Paul Menard was only able to salvage a 22nd place finish for his day. Menard finished as the last car on the lead lap. Paul lost three positions in the points, and now shows 18th in standings.

After the checkered flag flew, the fight between Harvick and Busch was not over. Harvick corralled Busch coming out of turn four and stopped in front of him just onto pit road. Kevin got out of the car, intending to settle the disagreement there on the track. Kyle had other ideas, however and physically pushed the unattended 29 car out of the way and into the pit road wall.

Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler after the disagreement continued into the garage area, although news of what actually happened during the meeting has not been released. When asked about what transpired during the meeting, Harvick would only say "I don't have anything to tell you other than not much." NASCAR is expected to announce Tuesday if any penalties are to be assessed in regard to the incident during and after the Saturday night race.

During his post-race interview, Clint said “It's the nature of the beast. There's no room to race at the end. I knew when the caution came out (on Lap 359), all hell was going to break loose. And it did." Bowyer finished in the 31st position after the lap 363 wreck, lost two spots in the standings, and now shows in the 9th position in points.

Looking Ahead to Dover
Paul Menard's record shows his best finish of 7th came last fall. His other six starts here have found Paul in 19th or farther back at the end of the race. With his most recent appearance providing his best outing at Dover International Speedway, RCR will be hoping the Menard can at least repeat that performance in an attempt to turn his 2011 season around.

Jeff Burton needs a win, badly and his 34 previous starts at Dover have given him more experience than any other RCR driver at this track. With one past win and 15 top ten finishes, including two back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2010, Jeff may have what it takes to find the top spot in Dover this week.

Clint Bowyer shows a 30% success rate at Dover for finding the top ten at the end of the day but has yet to find victory lane at this track. It has been since September of 2008 that Clint has seen a top ten finish at Dover; with the lost positions after Darlington he cannot afford a bad day again this weekend.

Kevin Harvick is another RCR driver who arrives in Dover without a win at this track. His 20 previous starts have given him seven top ten finishes and two top fives. Coming off of a 15th place finish in Dover last fall and a 7th place finish in last season's spring race, Harvick will be looking to improve on his recent appearances at this track.

Don't miss the action from Dover International Speedway on Sunday at 1pm to watch Richard Childress Racing drivers fight for position in the standings as we get closer to the halfway point in the season then check back next week for another edition of Last Week in Retrospect for Richard Childress Racing news from Dover.

Amy McHargue

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