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Monday, May 23, 2011

Last Week in Retrospect: Richard Childress Racing – All-Star Race

Coming into Charlotte for All-Star week Richard Childress Racing had two drivers, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, with guaranteed starting spots in the big show because of wins last season. Both would start in the main event on Saturday night but Paul Menard and Jeff Burton were left to earn their way in, either through the Showdown or by winning the fan vote – assuming anyone other than the reigning Most Popular Driver could win that right.

With just one practice prior to Showdown qualifications both Burton and Menard came out to prove they were serious about making the main event. Jeff and Paul ended first practice 2nd and 3rd on the speed boards. Qualifications for the Showdown were also rewarding for both Menard and Burton. Paul would start from 3rd and Jeff would roll off the starting grid in the 5th position on Saturday evening.

Bowyer arrived at All-Star race practice and posted the third quickest speed of the session. After a solid qualifying effort, Clint would begin the All-Star race on the outside of the front row. Kevin Harvick was able to post just the 11th fastest speed at All-Star practice, almost a full half-second off the pace. Harvick's qualifications were not as successful as he had hoped; Kevin would start in 14th position on the track on Saturday night.

Paul Menard
Starting 3rd in the early race on Saturday, Menard was loose at the green flag but regrouped during the early caution, coming back out and ready to go when the green flag dropped for the 2nd time on the night. By the halfway point Paul was securely tucked in the 2nd position and looked to be having no issues staying glued to the back bumper of the leader.

Menard chose not to pit during the scheduled competition caution at lap 20. Menard held onto 2nd position through the restart and ensuing seven laps until the yellow once again came out on lap 27. Restarting on the outside of the front row Paul bumped the leader, was grazed again by a car going by, and then rubbed the wall. The yellow came out before the lap was complete.

With 13 laps to go Paul restarted in the 8th position with a tire rub from the previous contact but held position on the track through the first green laps. But with the body damage and tire rub there was no place for Menard to go except backwards. Paul finished the Showdown in the 11th spot.

Jeff Burton
Rolling off the grid in the 5th position for the Showdown, Burton held steady through much of the opening segment and went to the halfway mark in 7th position. Jeff avoided trouble throughout the first 20 laps and headed to the pits during the competition caution for two tires and fuel. Burton restarted 8th and was able to make his way to 6th place before the yellow came out again with just 13 laps to go.

Jeff, with almost all other drivers, stayed on track during the 2nd caution of the Showdown. When the green flag dropped Burton dove to the bottom of the track and moved up to 5th in the quarter-lap of green flag racing. Jeff then made contact with Brian Vickers and dropped back several spots before the yellow waved for a Vickers spin.

Burton would restart from the 11th position and did not have enough time in the remaining 13 laps to gain the positions he needed on the track. Burton improved his restart position by two places and finished the Showdown in the 9th position.

Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer fought tight conditions from the drop of the green flag. He lost one position on the start, another on lap two, and yet another on lap three. The car then stabilized enough underneath Bowyer that he held onto the 5th position until lap 21 when he lost another two places over the next two laps. Clint went into the mandatory pit stop in the 7th running spot, made a good stop, and came out 5th for the restart.

Bowyer lost a position at the green but held onto that 6th spot until lap 40 when debris on the grill caused the temperature to rise and Clint had to back off a bit. At the lap 50 break Bowyer showed in the 8th position. During the break the 33 crew made air pressure and chassis adjustments in an attempt to fight the still tight conditions Bowyer was battling.

The tires spun on the restart, Clint lost two spots before the 51st lap was complete. By the yellow on lap 61 Bowyer was ready for fresh rubber on the car, fuel, a track bar adjustment, and an air pressure change. A second stop under the same caution gave the team opportunity to make further adjustments including a change to the front shocks set-up. Clint would restart in 19th.

Bowyer would move up to the 18th running spot at the lap 70 pit stop. He lost a position on the restart but would stay out when the yellow flag was shown on lap 74 to gain five positions on the track. A good restart by the 33 gained another position on the track and by the end of the third segment Clint was shown in 11th position.

The final restart saw Bowyer gain one position at the drop of green flag but a steady loss of momentum thereafter. By lap 95 Clint had fallen to 16th place, where he would ultimately finish his night.

Kevin Harvick
Starting in 14th, Kevin Harvick wasted no time in attempting a move toward the front of the field. Kevin was running in 12th position by the 13th lap but was fighting the same tight racing conditions as his teammates. Harvick went into the mandatory pit stop on lap 26 in 16th place but lost positions during the stop and would restart 18th.

Throughout the next 25 laps Kevin could only improve one position and finished the first segment of the All-Star race in the 17th position. Harvick lost three positions on the restart and fell to 20th but gained two places back in the ensuing 20 laps. When the caution came out on lap 61 Harvick headed to the pits for fuels and four fresh Goodyears.

Still fighting a tight race car, Harvick lost a position on the next restart but at the end of the segment the 29 team opted to stay on-track and restarted for lap 71 in the 14th spot. Kevin held his ground on the restart and although he slipped a few spots during the third segment he completed lap 90 in the same 14th position.

During the break Harvick gave feedback to his crew that he could not get into the corners; chassis adjustments and four fresh tire for the last 10 laps was the solution the team offered. On lap 193 Kevin moved into the 11th spot on the track and on lap 195 Harvick moved into 9th where he finished his evening.

Looking Ahead to Charlotte
The four Richard Childress Racing teams are all winless during All-Star week but know what needs to improve in Charlotte. RCR teams are ready to spend this week working on losing the tight conditions that followed RCR throughout All-Star week. The break from points racing is over; RCR will come out looking for Championship point standing improvements for all RCR drivers. Check back next week to find out who was still standing at the end of the Coca-Cola 600 in another edition of Last Week in Retrospect: Richard Childress Racing.

Amy McHargue

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