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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
http://ellipticalcurrents.blogspot.com

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

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
http://ellipticalcurrents.blogspot.com/

Monday, May 2, 2011

Last Week in Retrospect: Richard Childress Racing - Richmond

Arriving in Richmond, the Richard Childress Racing teams were coming off of a week of rest after Talladega. Three RCR drivers, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick were all in the top 11 places in the points and Jeff Burton had moved up three spots to the 22nd place. Continuing to show that RCR drivers are consistently competitive Bowyer and Menard posted speeds n the first practice session at Richmond in the top five; Harvick and Burton posted the16th and 17th fastest speeds, respectively.

Harvick and Burton both improved on first practice speeds in the second session. Harvick found the right car set up to post the second best speed of the session while Burton moved to the seventh position on the speed board. Clint Bowyer held his ground as he ranked 5th among second practice session speeds. Paul Menard struggled with car handling conditions and fell to the 18th position on the board.

Bowyer's consistency continued through qualifications as he would start from the third position on Saturday night. Paul Menard rebounded to claim the 10th starting position on the grid, Harvick would start 12th, and Jeff Burton would line up 25th. With the #33 team showing near the top of the board throughout both practices and qualifications, Bowyer appeared to be the RCR driver to watch for during the Crown Royal 400 from Richmond.

Paul Menard
The #27 team started in the 10th position Saturday night but quickly lost track position. By lap 15 Paul was showing in 11th position and by lap 45 Menard was in the 17th spot. Paul spent much of the first three-quarters of the race in the middle of the pack. Menard went a lap down on lap 169 but gained that lap back as recipient of the lucky dog pass on lap 279.

On lap 301, Menard's luck ran out; he was collected in a multi-car incident and headed to the pits for a lengthy repair session. The crew was able to make repairs and get Paul back on the track to finish the race running, but Menard ended up 15 laps down finishing in the 37th position.

Paul lost four positions in the points standings after his rough ride in Richmond and lost the most positions in the standings this week among all Cup drivers. Now 15th in points Menard will be looking for an opportunity next week to gain back his lost ground.

Jeff Burton
Gaining position in the points standings was very much on Jeff Burton's mind as the green flag dropped Saturday night in Richmond. Starting from the 25th position, Burton wasted no time in moving toward the front of the field. By lap 15 of the race Jeff had broken into the top 20. Burton stayed around 20th position much of the first half of the race.

Burton received the lucky dog pass on lap 265 and stayed out when the leaders went to the pits on lap 293. Jeff took over the lead position when Carl Edwards headed to the pits under yellow and Burton led the field to the green flag on lap 313 only to lose the lead to Kyle Busch less than two laps later. Burton gained a valuable bonus point while leading 12 laps in the race.

Unfortunately, the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet did not have the fuel to make it to the end of the race without a quick splash and go. A late-race green flag pit stop was required and Burton finished in the 16th position, one lap down. Jeff earned 29 points toward the Chase and improved two spots in the standings. Burton is now in the 20th position in points.

Clint Bowyer
Starting from the third position on Saturday night Clint Bowyer quickly took 2nd position by lap 15. Bowyer then took the lead from Juan Pablo Montoya with a pass on the inside of turn two at lap 26. Bowyer continued to lead the race until lap 45 when he lost the front-runner position to Kasey Kahne. Clint received a slight air-pressure adjustment during his first pit stop on lap 87. After the first round of green-flag stops were complete Clint was shown running in the second position.

Bowyer remained in the top five throughout the mid-section of the race. A run that included avoiding accidents that led to cautions, making good decisions in the pits, and quietly staying near the front of the field seemed to be the plan for the #33 Cheerios Chevrolet in Richmond. Pitting for fuel just after lap 300, Bowyer fell out of the top ten because of many cars the opted not to pit. As cars in front of him nearly empty of fuel began to be forced to the pits, Clint began to climb back toward the front of the field.

Team Bowyer had no penalties in the pits and posted the third fastest average pit times among all teams during the race. Clint's solid driving, solidly performing car, and near-perfect pit crew performance all helped his solid run on Saturday. When the checkered flag came out Bowyer was in the 6th position; he gained 40 total points on the night and moved up three spots into the 7th position in the standings.

Kevin Harvick
Richmond found Kevin Harvick back and forth between hot and cold during practice and qualifications. The #29 Budweiser Chevrolet driver and team still could not find the combination to make the car perform as a front-runner Saturday night. Opening laps found Kevin complaining the car was tight in the center of the turns and loose coming out.

Pit stops on lap 80 and during the lap 107 caution period gave the time to make adjustments but Kevin saw little in way of positive results. At the halfway mark Harvick still complained about the handling of his race car and although the crew continued to give their driver fresh rubber and adjustments in attempts to make the car better, Kevin still was only to run in the 15th position.

By lap 270 Harvick had made his way back to his original starting position and with 80 to go had moved into the top ten. With 12 laps to go Kevin was put a lap down by race leader Kyle Busch. Harvick finished in the 12th position and did not lead a lap during the race. He lost one spot in the standings, falling to the 5th position but with two wins already to his credit on the season and solidly in the top ten Harvick likely feels little pressure in regard to making the Chase.

Looking Ahead to Darlington
Richard Childress Racing teams will roll into Darlington, South Carolina later this week to take their shot at taming the Lady in Black. Paul Menard has just four Cup starts under his belt at Darlington Raceway and has not broken the top ten; his best finish at this track has been a 15th place finish in 2009. Jeff Burton shows 16 top ten finishes over his career, an average finishing spot of 11.6, and two wins to his credit at Darlington. Burton is coming off an 8th place finish in last' year's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway; he knows this could be the track to turn his season around.

Out of Clint Bowyer's five Cup starts at Darlington he can only claim one top ten finish – but that one was a win. Clint will be hoping for a finish more like that win and not a performance that better reflects his 17.2 average finish here. Kevin Harvick brings five top ten and two top five finishes with him from his past experiences at Darlington; Harvick is still searching for his first win on this track.

Richard Childress Racing is running strong so far this season – but not as strong as last year's three-car team. The collective team is looking for a way to get all four cars running at the top of the field. Can they find the magic formula at Darlington? Keep an eye on the race Saturday night and watch for another RCR in Retrospect next week to recap the action at Lady in Black.

Amy McHargue
http://ellipticalcurrents.blogspot.com/

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
http://ellipticalcurrents.blogspot.com/