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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Last Week in Retrospect: Richard Childress Racing - Dover

With a rainy forecast setting the tone for the beginning of the weekend in Dover, the first Cup practice found Kevin Harvick posting the 8th best speed during first practice and the fastest among Richard Childress Racing drivers. First practice ended with Paul Menard 14th on the speed boards, Clint Bowyer in 16th position, and Jeff Burton in the 24th spot.

Before the rains set in, Jeff Burton posted the 6th fastest speeds among all drivers during second practice and was the quickest of RCR drivers. Elsewhere on the boards, Clint Bowyer posted the 8th fastest lap, Paul Menard fell to 16th quickest, and Kevin Harvick, with just a few laps registered the 31st quickest practice speed during the second session.

As qualifications were rained out, starting positions were determined by fastest overall practice speeds. Kevin Harvick would start 10th on Sunday, Jeff Burton would roll from the 16th spot, Paul Menard would start Sunday's race 20th, and Clint Bowyer would begin 22nd on the starting grid in Dover.

Paul Menard
Menard had a below average race; he and his team never could quite get the car comfortable underneath him. Fighting loose conditions from the beginning, Menard dropped two places in the opening 100 laps and remained in 26th position through lap 170. With minimal handling improvements, Paul managed to move to 25th position on the track by lap 172 and 23rd place on lap 258.

Menard's day went from bad to worse when he collided with Juan Pablo Montoya during a lap 338 restart. Paul's car sustained left front damage from the contact with the 42 car that ultimately led to a flat tire. The unscheduled green-flag pit stop left Menard another lap down to finish four laps behind the leaders in the 24th position. Menard gained one position in points, moving to 11th in the standings

Kevin Harvick
Starting 10th, Kevin Harvick wasted no time in charging toward the front of the pack. By lap 30 Harvick showed in the 3rd position and he held onto top five positioning through the first 100 laps of the FedEx 400. A pit stop on lap 108 gave Kevin a new set of rubber, a track bar adjustment, and an air pressure adjustment to fight loose conditions.

In the 7th position on lap 170, Kevin reported the car was handling good; he proved it two laps later by moving into the 6th position. Between the 200 and 300 lap marks, Harvick remained in the front seven and showed every indication of being in contention for a top five finish on the day. As with most of the front-runners, Kevin took four tires under yellow on the last pit stop of the day.

When the restart came with 24 laps to go, Harvick would be in the 15th position. Kevin could not make up the ground he needed to catch those who gambled with two-tire stops but made his way to 10th place by the time the checkers waved. Harvick held steady in points and remains in the 5th spot in the Championship points.

Jeff Burton
If there was a RCR driver who needed a strong showing in Dover it was Jeff Burton. Plagued with bad luck, poor finishes, and mediocre qualifying efforts through a majority of the first 10 races of the year Burton began giving feedback to his crew chief to improve the car's tight handling conditions as soon as the race started.

Getting a feel for the car, Jeff moved between 10th and 15th positions for the first 200 laps of the race while the crew made adjustments in the pits. Adjustments offering Burton a looser set up also gave him the ability to move into the top ten on lap 230. Flawless pit stops let Jeff move toward the front of the field and by the lap 332 caution period Burton was running in the 5th position.

Jeff's crew called for four tires on the last stop of the race and while the handling of the car was good, Burton could not make up track position on those who took two tires. Restarting in the 13th spot, Burton tied his best finish of the 2011 season by coming across the finish line in 11th. Jeff improved one spot in the points and moves into the 23rd position in the standings.

Clint Bowyer
In the opening 30 laps of Sunday's race Clint Bowyer moved up six places after starting in the 30th position. A loose race car kept Bowyer in 24th through his first pit stop. By lap 145 the handling of Clint's car had improved enough for him to move into the 19th running spot. Good pit times found Bowyer racing in 11th on lap 172 after a brief rain shower brought out a caution that allowed for more adjustments by the 33 crew.

Lap 217 brought about another pit stop and lightning fast speeds helped Bowyer gain four positions on the track to restart 6th. Pitting from the third spot on lap 332 Crew Chief Shane Wilson asked his driver what he needed. Clint's reply was straightforward – the car was fine but the driver was thirsty. With a fast four-tire stop, a fill-up on fuel, and a fresh water bottle for Bowyer, the 33 came out the race leader.

A solid restart on lap 338 kept Clint on point; he remained at the front of the pack through the next caution on lap 361. Clint was one of many drivers to take four tires on the last stop and who didn't gain the advantage needed over those who took two tires for track position. Bowyer restarted and finished the day in the 6th position. This was Clint's sixth top ten finish in the last seven races. Bowyer improved one spot in Championship standings and now shows in the 8th position in points.

Looking Ahead to the All-Star Race
Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer are the two drivers guaranteed to start the All-Star Race from Richard Childress Racing. Clint and Kevin both earned the right to race in the 2011 All-Star Race with race wins last season. Jeff Burton and Paul Menard will have to race their way in via the Showdown earlier on Saturday.

With just one of Menard's eight Cup starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway resulting in a top ten finish his chances of making the show on Saturday night are slim. With 34 Charlotte Cup starts Jeff Burton has three previous wins at the track and more experience. Can he find himself a spot in Saturday night's starting grid?

The potential for action between Harvick and Kyle Busch on Saturday night exists, as the All-Star Race is historically where one executes revenge upon another driver. With probation looming over their heads the two aggressive drivers will have to be careful to not catch the eyes of NASCAR officials in any attempts to take one another out.

Don't miss the fireworks on and off the track at All-Star Race on Saturday night from Charlotte where points don't matter and tempers flare. Check back next week to see how it all shakes out for RCR teams in another edition of Last Week in Retrospect: Richard Childress Racing.

Amy McHargue
http://ellipticalcurrents.blogspot.com

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