Cruising into Kansas Richard Childress Racing was coming off a Kevin Harvick win and was looking to improve upon last week's finishes for the remaining three drivers. Paul Menard showed much improvement from his 28th fastest speed in first practice at Kansas to 5th quickest on the boards during the second session. This earned Paul a late qualifying position, where he posted the 9th fastest speed among all drivers.
Jeff Burton was slow in first practice, posting a 36th place speed on the boards. Second practice saw some improvement and Jeff was able to post the 17th quickest speed. Burton held steady through qualifications and would begin Sunday's race in the 16th position.
Kevin Harvick was 26th in the first session at Kansas and dropped back slightly to 28th during second practice. Qualifications found Kevin on the track early, Harvick was able to find speed on the track and hold onto the 10th starting position for Sunday. Clint Bowyer rolled into Kansas with car issues and found himself 31st in first practice. Car adjustments gave Clint the grip he needed to find 12th fastest speed in second practice but he could only qualify in for 27th on the starting grid.
The STP 400 from Kansas Speedway
Fireworks at Kansas Speedway began the night before the running of the STP 400; after the Camping World Series Trucks Race as team owner Richard Childress accosted Kyle Busch in the garage area following a post-race on-track bump between Busch and Joey Coulter's RCR truck. With much speculation over what happened and what penalties would be handed down to RCR owner the team's Cup drivers were forced to focus on the race amid much speculation regarding their leader.
Kevin Harvick made a charge to the front shortly after the green flag on Sunday. From his starting position on 10th place Kevin was able to move his way to 5th position by lap 29. On lap 40, just before first green-flag pit stops were to begin Harvick was still holding the 5th position on the track but voiced over the radio that the car was tight and needed to turn better in the corners.
The first 45 laps saw few major moves by RCR drivers; Paul Menard slipped to 13th by the end of the first green flag run. Menard was complaining the car was loose and took four tires and a trackbar adjustment in an attempt to improve his conditions. Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer were complaining of similarly loose conditions and took comparable adjustment during their stops. Jeff would come through the pit cycle in 20th position, Bowyer in 21st.
By the first yellow flag period on lap 69 Kevin Harvick had moved into 4th place on the track, Clint Bowyer had moved to 16th, Jeff Burton was 19th, and Paul Menard was running 18th. At the half-way mark the 33 car of Bowyer was running 13th, Menard was in 24th position, Burton ran 18th, and Harvick had slipped out of the top ten.
Throughout the race, Harvick was plagued by tight condition out of the pits, a good car in the middle of a run, and loose handling before the next stop. Bowyer's car was loose for the duration of the race; after the race, Clint said “It was really hot and we just couldn't find any grip the entire day and it got worse as the day went on.”
Burton fought similar poor-handling with his Caterpillar Chevrolet and Menard had a car that was no better. Long green-flag runs left the teams with little time in the pits to experiment with adjustments to try to improve conditions for the drivers. Ultimately, there would be no Richard Childress drivers in the top ten finishers in Kansas. Kevin Harvick finished in 11th, Bowyer in 18th position with Menard just behind in 19th, and Burton would finish one lap down to the leaders in 25th place.
Kevin lost two spots in the standings, slipping to 4th in the points totals but with three season wins there is little doubt that he will be one of 12 drivers vying for the Championship at the end of the year. Clint dropped one position in points and is now in 9th position in the standings. Paul held steady at 20th in points, and Jeff slid back to the 24th place after losing two notches on the day.
Looking Ahead to Pocono...
Team Owner Richard Childress will be at the track but with a lighter wallet and on guard after NASCAR handed down a $150,000 fine and placed Childress on probation for the remainder of the 2011 season for his actions towards Kyle Busch on Saturday following the CWTS race. The RCR patriarch accepted the penalty from NASCAR and made a statement taking full responsibility for his actions in regard to the incident.
With the media split between those who feel the penalty was not severe enough and those who applaud Childress' actions, this is likely to stay in the news throughout the week. RCR drivers will have to ignore the buzz surrounding the team once arriving in Pocono. Menard has his work cut out for him; with a 25.6 average finish at Pocono Paul will have to dig deep to finish big this weekend.
Harvick claims top ten finishes in 7 of his 20 starts at the Tricky Triangle, with back-to-back 4th place finishes in 2010 Kevin has a good shot at taking home the trophy for the fourth time this season. Four of Burton's last five finishes at Pocono have been in the top five. Jeff needs a good week and Pocono could be the place to deliver it.
Half of Bowyer's starts in Long Pond Pennsylvania have given up top tens at the end of the day – with the right conditions, a lot of focus, and a little bit of luck it would not be unlikely to find three RCR drivers in the top ten at the end of the race this weekend. Tune in this weekend for two practices on Friday, Qualifications on Saturday, and the 5-Hour Energy 500 coming to you live Sunday afternoon at 1pm. Check back next week for Last Week in Retrospect: Richard Childress Racing from Pocono.