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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Richard Childress Racing; This Week in Retrospect - Talladega

Leading up to Raceday...
Coming out of Texas, Richard Childress Racing was on the move; Kevin Harvick lost four positions in points standings while Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard improved a collective nine spots. Harvick, in 9th position, was still the only RCR driver in the top 10 in the Championship race. Menard left Texas in 11th with Bowyer right behind in 12th and Burton with the 25th spot in the standings.

Team driver histories prior to 2011 at Talladega show vast differences. Paul Menard's nine Cup starts at 'Dega have given him one runner-up finish in 2008; his only top 10 at this track. Kevin Harvick shows almost half of his starts result in top 10 finishes. Kevin also came into Talladega with at least some confidence on his side from winning the spring 2010 race at Talladega.

Jeff Burton shows two of his previous five starts at 'Dega have given top 10 finishes. His last two appearances at this track have ended with him outside of the top 30, however. Clint Bowyer has a 40% rate of finishing in the top 10 in his prior Cup races at Talladega. He won last year's fall race here and was looking to break the top ten in the Championship race with a good performance on Sunday.

Saturday's Qualifications ended with two of the four RCR drivers with top 10 starting positions. Although a surprise as RCR's highest starting driver, Paul Menard was satisfied to have posted the 5th fastest speed in qualifications. Clint Bower was slated to start from the 10th position on Sunday, Jeff Burton in the 27th spot and Kevin Harvick would line up 38th on the starting grid. Experience seemed not to play a part in qualifications performance among Team RCR.

This is Talladega...
The first RCR driver to lead at Talladega and wasting no time in finding a dance partner, Clint Bowyer teamed up with Michael Waltrip at the drop of the flag because of proximity on the starting grid. Bowyer took the lead for the first time on lap six for a moment before Waltrip got loose and had to back off the gas. Clint fell back to 11th place by the time lap seven was in the books.

Lap eight found Paul Menard in the 6th position. Both Menard and Bowyer remained in the top 10 through the opening 25 laps of the race. With the first caution of the day coming out on lap 28 for Brian Vickers' spin pit stops gave teams a chance to regroup. When the green flag waved again on lap 30 Clint Bowyer was at the point with Jeff Burton lined up behind him in the 3rd position.

Teaming up, the pair of Bowyer and Burton stayed at the front of the pack for the most part of the following seven laps until switching positions on lap 37. The partner position swap caused a loss in momentum but the pair soon made their way back to front to allow Jeff to lead for the first time in his day at lap 40.

Green flag pit stop began on lap 68 with Bowyer, Burton, and Menard all in the top 10. Having started from deep in the pack Kevin Harvick was still riding back in the 24th position. With no changes on either Clint or Jeff's cars, a solid stop by Menard, and the choice of stopping for just two tires and fuel for Harvick all four RCR driver were in the top 20 when the yellow came out on lap 89.

The field restarted on lap 96 with Paul Menard leading the field, Clint Bowyer in the 5th position, Jeff Burton right behind Bowyer in 7th, and Kevin Harvick showing in the 18th spot. Harvick began his run for the front of the field upon the restart and was in 6th place by lap 100. With Kevin in the 6th spot, all four RCR drivers, at lap 100 were in the top 10.

Lap 120 showed the four Richard Childress teams again within the top 10. Kevin Harvick showed 2nd, Jeff Burton was running in 4th with Clint Bowyer just behind in 5th, and Paul Menard had made his way back to the 7th position. Caution came out on lap 128 for debris on the track. After pit stops the field lined up with Paul Menard leading the field to the green.

The lap 131 restart found Bowyer in 3rd position, Burton in 6th, and Harvick in the 9th spot on the track. Just eight laps of green flag racing later Clint Bowyer barely missed being caught up in the wreck just behind him. All four RCR driver, much like the rest of the field, came to the pits only for fuel. At the restart on lap 144 Kevin Harvick was shown in 1st position, Jeff Burton in 2nd, Clint Bowyer in 3rd, and Paul Menard in 4th.

Harvick and Bowyer teamed up to hold on to the lead but the team of Menard and Burton slid back to 7th and 8th on the restart. On the same lap, Jeff Burton made a tremendous save as his car was sideways in the tri-oval. In front of the field, Harvick and Bowyer had their hands full with pressure from Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya as the lead was swapped a few times until the RCR driver reclaimed the top four spots with 37 laps to go.

With 30 laps to go, all RCR drivers still ran in the top ten. Bowyer took over the lead with Kevin Harvick on his bumper on lap 158 and by lap 160 all four RCR teams were back in the front four positions. A debris caution on lap 163 brought about much discussion on whether to pit or stay out. All four RCR teams opted to skip the pits to retain track position.

Kevin Harvick dropped back through the field as Burton and Bowyer led the race on the restart. Paul Menard teamed up with Regan Smith and took over the lead on lap 168. Bowyer and Burton took back the top two spots one lap later. Menard and Smith dropped back through the front of the field after switching positions.

With 15 to go a spinning Ryan Newman caused the fifth caution of the day. The restart came three laps later with Harvick in the 7th position, Bowyer in 8th, Menard running 9th, and Jeff Burton showing 20th. By lap 180 Harvick was leading the race with Bowyer just behind in 2nd position. Menard had dropped to the 11th spot, and Burton was mired back in 14th place.

Bowyer swapped positions with Harvick at six laps to go to lead the race while Paul Menard had teamed up with A.J. Allmendinger to break back into the top 10 with five to go. With four laps to go Bowyer and Harvick had fought their way back to 5th and 6th places, respectively. At three laps to go the pair had taken the lead. with pressure coming up fast from behind. Paul Menard had made it back to the 6th spot as Bowyer and Harvick had their hands full of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle with just two laps left.

At the white flag, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin had 1st and 2nd but Bowyer and Harvick passed the pair on the backstretch. Through the tri-oval it was three wide with Bowyer and Harvick, Gordon and Martin, and Jimmie Johnson with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. behind him all fighting for the checkered flag. A photo finish at the line found Clint Bowyer in 2nd place, just .002 behind Jimmie Johnson. Kevin Harvick would finish 5th, Paul Menard came across the line in 12th, and Jeff Burton was scored as finishing 16th.

All four Richard Childress drivers earned a bonus point toward the chase for leading a lap during the race. Clint Bowyer earned an additional bonus point for leading the most with 38 laps lead. Bowyer gained two spots in the standings and is now ranked 10th. Paul Menard held steady in the 11th position and Kevin Harvick gained back the positions he lost last week plus one, improving five places and now showing 4th in points. Jeff Burton is now in the 22nd place in standings, improving three position on the week.

Looking Ahead to Richmond
With an off-week looming between Talladega and Richmond, the Richard Childress drivers will have ample time to mull over what went down in Alabama and how to duplicate the team's strengths in Richmond. Paul Menard is going to Richmond with eight starts; his best finish at Richmond has been 16th place. Paul will be the RCR team member with the least success in past starts at Richmond.

Kevin Harvick arrives at Richmond with 20 starts behind him. Harvick posts one win and twelve top tens at Richmond International Speedway. Jeff Burton has started 33 race in Richmond since 1994. Jeff has went to victory lane once, shows 15 top ten finishes, and nine top fives. Clint Bowyer, from his 10 starts at Richmond shows one win to his credit and five top ten finishes. Two practices will take place Friday afternoon at Richmond International Speedway and qualifications will be held Friday evening.

Amy McHargue

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