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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Richard Childress Racing; This Week in Retrospect – Texas Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick had two wins in a row and had moved into the 5th place in Championship points standings after Martinsville, but arriving in the Lone Star State the other Richard Childress teams were looking for new life. Jeff Burton slid back three places after Martinsville and Paul Menard had lost six spots to fall to 13th place, while Clint Bowyer improved one spot to 16th position. Past successes at Texas by all drivers had RCR confident that the four teams would drive strong at TMS.

Jeff Burton ran 6th quickest for RCR during first practice and Clint Bowyer ran 9th fastest while the the other two team members struggled. Second practice found Paul Menard with enough speed to grab the second fastest speed of the session, just .001 of a second behind Kasey Kahne. Bowyer showed 11th fastest on the board, Harvick was 27th, and Burton was left back in 41st place during the second session.

With RCR team speeds all over the board during both practices there was no certainty upon the performance of any of the teams going into qualifications. More than respectable qualifying efforts rewarded Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton with 3rd and starting positions. Paul Menard would roll off the grid in 19th position and Kevin Harvick was to start Saturday's race in the 29th place.

Paul Menard
After starting from the 19th position on the grid, RCR driver Paul Menard found the green Quaker State paint scheme brought him some good fortune at Texas. In the opening segment of race, Paul moved into the top 15 and remained there throughout most of the day.

Just after the halfway mark in the 500-mile race, Menard made his way into the top 10. With only minor adjustments in the pits and no errors by the crew or the driver during stops, Paul found himself in 6th position with just more than 100 laps to go.

Menard took 5th position on the last lap when he passed an out of fuel Tony Stewart. Finishing 5th rewarded Paul with a two-spot increase in points standings. Now in the 11th position, Menard is 47 points back from points leader Carl Edwards.

Jeff Burton
From the 15th position at the green flag, Burton lost seven position in the first 10 laps and came into the pits for major adjustments and a set of new right side tires during the early caution. Through improvements in the pits Jeff was able to climb back as high as 13th position during the first half of Saturday's race.

As night fell upon the track, Burton lost handling in the car and found himself fighting the steering through the turns. Regular scheduled pit stops kept Jeff's lap times competitive however, and he remained running on the lead lap.

The final pit stop of the night was without error for the #31 Caterpillar team and Burton was able to bring home an 11th place finish – his best of the season so far. Jeff improved three spots and now resides in 25th place in points standings. Saturday night was Jeff Burton's 900th career NASCAR start.

Clint Bowyer
Starting inside row two on Saturday night was Clint Bowyer. The #33 Chevrolet was a bit tight at the beginning of the race but adjustments during an early yellow allowed crew chief Shane Wilson to tighten up Clint's ride. Bowyer first took the lead on lap 200 after spending most of the beginning of the race solidly in the top five.

Clint led a total of 44 laps at Texas Motor Speedway to earn an extra point toward Championship standings. The RCR/Cheerios team held their collective breath on lap 248 when the #83 car made contact with Bowyer on the front stretch. Although the car was almost completely sideways, Clint was able to save the car from spinning.

With a strong car, solid stops, and no mistakes on or off the track Bowyer finished in the runner-up position. This is a career best finish at Texas Motor Speedway for Clint. Bowyer gained four places in points and now finds himself in the 12th spot in Championship standings, just 12 points out of the top ten.

Kevin Harvick
Starting from deep in the field, Kevin Harvick had his work cut out for him on the track Saturday night. Handling was not good in the #29 car and Harvick was unable to make up ground early. Bad luck followed Kevin to the pits as he became virtually trapped between cars during two separate stops and fell further behind the leaders.

Repeated adjustments during pit stops improved the car's handling little throughout the evening. On the long-green flag runs of the latter stages of the race Harvick found himself losing ground and two laps down. A finish of 20th place left the Budweiser team down four spots in the standings; Kevin is now 9th in Championship points.

Looking Ahead to Talladega
Kevin Harvick won last years spring race and Clint Bowyer won the fall race at Talladega. With both of last year's races being won by RCR drivers there is much confidence that the team will perform strongly again at this year's spring race.

Paul Menard has seen some past success at this track; Paul's first victory in the ARCA series came at Talladega and he snagged the runner-up position in the spring 2008 Cup race. Jeff Burton has yet to find victory lane at Talladega in his 34 starts but posts four finishes within the top five and 13 finishes in the top 10.

This weekend should be a good week for Richard Childress Racing as all drivers for the team have shown prowess on the Talladega Super Speedway. Each of the RCR drivers have different experiences to draw upon and through teamwork have the ability to make it a good weekend. Two practices on Friday afternoon lead into Qualifications on Saturday; the green flag drops Sunday afternoon for the Aaron's 499 from Talladega

Amy McHargue

Friday, April 8, 2011

Richard Childress Racing; This Week in Retrospect - Martinsville

Arriving in Martinsville Richard Childress Racing had both Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard in the top 10 in driver points standings. Clint Bowyer had moved up seven positions and Jeff Burton improved four positions after both drivers had solid days at Fontana.

First practice at Martinsville was promising as all four RCR driver posted speeds in the top 11 but second practice saw the RCR drivers lacking in the speed of the first session. Menard was the fastest of RCR drivers in practice two, posting the 15th fastest speed among all drivers.

Kevin Harvick came out of Qualifications on Saturday with a 9th place starting spot, the best among the RCR drivers. Clint Bowyer would start 15th, Paul Menard would start 16th, and Jeff Burton would start from the 32nd position.

Paul Menard
The #27 Team did not have a good weekend at Martinsville. After a 16th place qualifying effort driver Paul Menard was left alone on the high side early in the race and drifted back in the pack. Being stuck in traffic and battling against a loose car Menard brought the Chevrolet to the pits for adjustments during the lap 52 caution.

Paul made his way back on the lead lap by receiving the lucky dog pass on lap 175 and continued his rise through the field during the following hundred laps. Menard restarted 15th after the Truex incident but just three lap later was bumped from behind and spun into the first turn safer barrier.

After a eight lap stay in the pits Menard returned only to call it a day 12 laps later because of mechanical issues. Menard finished Sunday's race in the 38th position and lost six position in points standings. Paul is now showing in 13th position in Cup standings.

Jeff Burton
The struggles that Jeff Burton has been followed by thus far in the 2011 season continued on Sunday. Burton fought a loose car from the beginning of the race but managed to make his way forward from a starting position of32nd to the 17th spot by lap 100.

After multiple adjustments by the Caterpillar crew the car improved to allow Jeff to break the top ten; he ran as high as 9th before loose conditions returned. As Burton began sliding back in the pack he made contact with another car and sustained right-side damage.

After further front-end damage during a later restart Jeff found himself five laps down after a green flag stop for repairs. Burton finished 24th in Martinsville and began a backwards slide through points standings. Burton is now shown in 28th position in the points totals after losing three spots this week.

Clint Bowyer
RCR #33 driver Clint Bowyer had a fast car from the green flag on Sunday. He quickly made his way through the field from his 15th starting position to reach the top five by lap 100. Clint led the race on three separate occasions for a total of 91 laps, gaining a valuable bonus point toward Championship standings.

Clint ran with the fastest cars on the track through the first half of the race at Martinsville. The car inexplicably tightened up in the last 100 laps of the event and no improvements could be found by the BB&T pit crew.

Bowyer said after the race that he felt as if he had a car that could win at Martinsville until the tight conditions arrived late in the day. Clint finished in the 9th position and moved up one spot in Championship standings to the 16th position, 30 points out of the top ten.

Kevin Harvick
For the second week in a row Kevin Harvick finished ahead of the pack on Sunday. This week, for his efforts he took home a coveted Martinsville grandfather clock. This Martinsville win marked the first Richard Childress Racing win since Dale Earnhardt won the fall Martinsville race in 1995.

Harvick's day did not start out as smoothly as he would have liked; after starting 9th on the grid Kevin began falling back through the pack early as he fought car handling issues. Damage from a mid-race incident resulted in chassis issues.

The #29 Chevrolet Team went to work in the pits, made adjustments, and gave Harvick back a car he could work with. The two-tire stop call by crew chief Gil Martin on lap 372 may have been the call of the day as Kevin was then in position to drive his way to the front of the field during the last quarter of the race.

The final laps of the race were again the deciding factor in Harvick's win over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch on Sunday. Kevin closed on the leaders and passed Earnhardt for the lead with just three laps to go.

In addition to the win, the #29 car also took home two contingency awards including the Moog's Problem Solver Award for improving lap speeds the most among all drivers during the second half of the race. Harvick moves up four spots to the 5th spot in Championship standings after this week's win, 15 points behind points leader Kyle Busch.

Looking Ahead to Texas
Jeff Burton says that despite the bad luck the #31 team has encountered at every turn this season they will try their luck again at Texas. 20 previous Cup starts at Texas have resulted in nine top 10 finishes, three top fives, and two wins in 2007 and his first Cup race at Texas in 1997.

With nine Cup starts to his credit at Texas Motor Speedway Paul Menard has less experience than his teammates on this track. His only top 10 finish at TMS came in last fall's race. With a bit of leftover confidence in regard to this track Menard has a good chance of posting another strong finish this week.

Clint Bowyer has five top 10 finishes in his 10 Cup starts in Texas. Bowyer will be looking for win number one at Texas and for the season this weekend as he tries to better his previous best fourth finish in the Lone Star State.

Texas Motor Speedway is a track that Kevin Harvick has yet to conquer; 16 previous starts in Texas have given Kevin eight top ten finishes and three top fives, but no credits in the win column. Harvick and crew will be hoping that Texas leaves them continuing their climb upward through the Championship standings.

The Richard Childress Racing team has a good chance of finding each driver higher in points when they leave Texas Motor Speedway. With Harvick the only RCR driver currently in the top ten improvements are desired.

The majority of Paul Menard's 2010 successes came on mile-and-a-half tracks, he could be the RCR to keep an eye on for Saturday night's race. Watch NASCAR Sprint Cup action under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday night to find out which Richard Childress Racing drivers are hot in Texas.

Amy McHargue

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Richard Childress Racing; Week in Retrospect - Fontana

Leaving Bristol the Richard Childress Racing Teams were still scratching their heads trying to figure where last years consistently strong runs had gone. RCR newcomer Paul Menard found the most success in early season races, fifth in overall point standings after Bristol. RCR veterans Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer were all out of the top 12 following the fourth race of the season; people were starting to wonder what had went wrong in the Childress stables.

First practice at Fontana did not show any improvement for the Childress Teams. Clint Bowyer posted the best times of RCR drivers during the session with just the 15th fastest speed on the board. Jeff Burton could find speed for 19th place, Paul Menard posted the 19th quickest speed of the session, and Kevin Harvick was back in the 28th spot.

Jeff Burton began forward progress for RCR when he posted the fastest qualifying speeds among RCR drivers for Sunday's Auto Club 400 earning a 7th position starting spot. Struggles for the rest of the RCR team were still in attendance as Paul Menard qualified in the 15th position, Bowyer would start the race in 17th position, and Harvick in 24th.

Someplace between qualifications and second practice Kevin Harvick's team found something in the garage to turn them around; the #29 car posted the fastest speed of all drivers during the second session. Jeff Burton held steady after qualifications the day before and found himself 8th fastest during second practice. The third and final session found Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard, running a very similar setup 7th and 8th quickest while Burton and Harvick ran 10th and 21st.

Paul Menard
The 27 car of Paul Menard had handling issues early on Sunday and lost track position almost from the green flag. Fighting a tight race car the Menard's Pit Crew made adjustments during each stop, consistently improving driving conditions for Paul. Menard took just two tires on lap 75 and had moved into the top 10 by lap 120.

Paul stayed within the top ten until he was shuffled back in traffic during the lap 175 restart. Back in traffic the car tightened up again on Menard and he fought the car on every turn. After coming in for four fresh tires during the last caution of the day, Paul restarted in the 21st position with just nine laps to go.

With new rubber under the car he was able to fight his way back up to a personal best finish at the Auto Club Speedway of 16th place. Paul Menard lost two spots in Championship points standings, falling to seventh place.

Jeff Burton
Starting 7th on Sunday Jeff Burton held his own through lap 69 pit stops, never dropping below his starting spot. During the first green-flag stops Jeff was caught speeding on pit road and dropped back to the 26th position after serving his penalty. Burton won the right to the lucky dog pass when the caution came out just seven laps later and over the next 15 laps made his way back to the top ten.

Throughout the mid-section of the race Burton stayed between 10th and 15th positions. Jeff and his #31 Caterpillar Team looked to be on their way to a much-needed top ten finish until a call for two tires during the last caution proved to be the wrong one.

A lack of handling caused Burton to lose five positions over the last nine laps of the race; Jeff crossed the finish line in the 15th spot. As Burton said post-race “We took two tires on that last stop and the car just didn't like two tires.” Jeff did gain four places in the points this week and now shows in 25th position.

Clint Bowyer
In the opening 25 laps during Sunday's race, Clint Bowyer moved from his 17th starting position to the 5th spot and stayed out during the first green-flag pit stops to lead a lap for an important bonus point toward Championship standings. Losing grip on long runs, the crew made adjustments to tighten the car on stops and helped Bowyer stay within the top 10 for most of the race.

With no changes to the car during Clint's last stop on lap 176, the #33 Chevrolet was able to navigate through traffic and as high as fourth position before the last caution of the race. Car handling fell off during the last nine laps and Bowyer found himself battling loose conditions in the car.

Fighting to hang onto track position Clint blocked those he could and stayed out of the way of those who he could not keep from passing him. Finishing in 7th position on the day Bowyer improved seven spots in standings and now shows in the 17th place in the Championship race.

Kevin Harvick
With the fastest speed in the second of three practices, Team Harvick knew they had something to offer the rest of the field on Sunday. In the opening run Kevin moved the car from 24th to 16th before his first pit stop on lap 32. Four tires, an air pressure adjustment, and 25 laps later Harvick was in the top 10.

On fresh tires Kevin told the his crew he was loose but after just a few laps the car just kept improving. Restarts hurt track position for the #29 Jimmy John's Chevy as he fought the car on the beginning of the run but improvements with handling during long runs helped Harvick find the top five by the lap 102 restart.

Harvick made a stop for fuel and tires just one lap before the caution came out on lap 170; the team opted to stay out and dropped to 5th position through the next green flag run. When the last caution came on lap 186 Kevin and Crew Chief Gil Martin chose to stay on the track.

With two laps to go Harvick was in the runner-up spot and had leader Jimmie Johnson in his sights. On the last turn of the final lap Kevin made his move to pass Johnson and win Sunday's Auto Club 400.

After the race, Kevin said “We knew our cars were fast enough to win races. We just haven't had the circumstances go right. We had a fast car and the circumstance played in our favor." Harvick moved up six spots in Championship points standings and is now in 9th place in the standings.

Looking Martinsville
The Martinsville paperclip hosts this weekend's festivities and RCR drivers have high hopes. Paul Menard comes in with a career best 13th place finish at this track. Regarding Martinsville, Menard said “These guys work really hard, and I have the utmost confidence in them. We all know what we are capable of and set high expectations for ourselves."

Still looking for his first win at Martinsville Speedway Kevin Harvick has shown he has some prowess making his way around the track. One-third of Harvick's starts here have offered up top 10 finishes at the end of the day. Coming off of last week's win, a pole start at last fall's Martinsville race, and a 3rd place finish at the spring race here last year Kevin will come out with confidence and a plan to win.

Jeff Burton won at Martinsville in 1997. He has 10 top five finishes and another five finishes within the top 10 at this track. Looking to continue moving up in the standings Burton will be looking for his first top ten of the year. Only one of Jeff's last five starts at Martinsville has paid off with a top 10 finish; Burton will have to dig deep to tame this track on Sunday.

Clint Bowyer has five top 10 finishes and one top five finish in his ten Cup starts at Martinsville. With a 7th place finish here last spring Bowyer knows he has what it takes to finish strong here. He'll be searching for his first win at this track; he will need a fast car and a flawless day in the pits to make his way to the Winner's Circle.

Can Richard Childress Racing produce a week with all four drivers posting top ten finishes? Find out this weekend as drivers roll into Martinsville Virginia for two practice sessions on Friday, qualifying Saturday at noon, and short-track racing at the .526 mile Martinsville Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

Amy McHargue