Richard Childress Racing
February 9, 2012
RCR's Cup effort fit and trim as overall organization undergoes expansion
Author: Kenny Bruce
Date: February 8, 2012
Richard Childress Racing might be the only organization in NASCAR that trimmed its Sprint Cup lineup for 2012, yet expanded its employee roster at the same time.
That’s because the group, which went from four Cup entries to three, expanded its presence in the Camping World Truck Series with the addition of a third team and dusted off its dormant Nationwide Series program, in large part taking over the now defunct Kevin Harvick Inc. program, for a three-team effort in that series as well.
Overall, RCR’s Cup program has fared much better as a three-team unit as opposed to four. In 2011, the four-team lineup of Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton were about as widely scattered throughout the top 20 in points as possible.
Harvick anchored the effort, scoring a spot in the Chase and finishing third in points for the second consecutive season. Bowyer, who has since moved on to Michael Waltrip Racing, just missed the Chase, earned his fifth career win and finished 13th. Menard won at the Brickyard for his first Cup victory en route to a 17th-place points finish – by far the best of his still relatively young career. And Burton wound up 20th in points, his worst points finish in more than a decade and a half.
Two years earlier, the four-team effort – which included Casey Mears instead of Menard – ended the year with no drivers in NASCAR’s Chase For The Sprint Cup and only one in the top-15 in points.
But as a three-team Cup entity? In 2010, ‘08 and ’07, all three drivers contended for wins and qualified for the Chase.
So if smaller truly is better at RCR, will this year’s three-team lineup once again be in the thick of the battle for Chase spots, or will the additional baggage of expanded Nationwide and truck series efforts prove to be too much of a drain on the veteran organization’s resources?
“I think everyone knows that the Cup teams ... that’s what keeps us all eating. That’s the focus,” Mike Dillon, vice president of competition, said. “Honestly, we just haven’t been good at managing four. That’s not good for somebody to hear if we decide to start a fourth team [again], but we’ve got to figure out how the hell to do it and do it right.
“Obviously, they’ve all run probably about the same level of performance at one time or another. But it’s not at what we need it to be. I just think three is easier to work with.
“We’ve got three great crew chiefs leading those programs right now. The whole company is communicating right now; everything is flowing. It’s going really good.”
The expansion of the Nationwide and truck programs will require additional resources and personnel, but Dillon says the pieces are in place for each of those to stand on their own. Former Cup crew chief Gil Martin, as team manager, will be overseeing the Nationwide effort, which will field entries for Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon and a third entry to be driven by Brendan Gaughan, Harvick and Menard.
On the truck side, team manager Gere Kennon will be in charge of a fleet of trucks for drivers Ty Dillon, Joey Coulter and a third team featuring Gaughan, Tim George Jr. and Harvick.
“[Business manager] Will Lind is still over the Nationwide and truck teams. They report to him and that kind of keeps that separate,” Dillon said.
“The trucks are a totally different animal. The best thing about the Nationwide program is that they are going to feed off [the Cup program] and learn everything they can; hopefully that will make that program better and get it back to where we used to win a lot with it.”
Harvick, who gave up his KHI operation to devote more time to his personal life – he recently announced he and wife DeLana are expecting their first child this summer – and to focus on contending for the Cup championship, isn’t sure that the number of Cup teams fielded by RCR has had a big impact on results, noting that “I’ve made the Chase with four teams [and] I’ve made the Chase with three teams.”
“We’ve had successful years and won races with a fourth team,” he said. “I think it’s just one of those things. Right now we have three fully funded cars. We have three very competitive drivers that want to go out and win races and have won races. We just have to put all the pieces together and try to do the things that it takes to win races. If you win races, that puts you in position to win championships.”
In part, stepping back to three teams has allowed RCR officials to cherry pick the best talent and spread it out over three teams instead of four, a move that Burton believes “immediately has a way of making you stronger.”
Additionally, offseason moves by other organizations that either scaled back or went away completely provided further opportunities to upgrade employee rosters.
“No matter how good your four teams are, if you said, ‘OK, we’re going to take the best and get three,’ you’re going to end up with a better quality mix of people,” Burton said. “That’s not to say that anybody was bad but sometimes it’s just chemistry.
“It enabled us to put all that energy into building the best three.”
Burton and Harvick both begin the 2012 season with new crew chiefs. Former Roush Fenway Racing crew chief Drew Blickensderfer will head up Burton’s No. 31 team while Shane Wilson, Bowyer’s crew chief a year ago, has taken over Harvick’s No. 29 program.
“I think mixing that up let us position the company with the type of combined effort that we really need,” Burton said. “So putting people in new positions, I think, is a good thing. It re-invigorates them. You don’t want to move people just for the sake of moving them, but I feel like we’ve got the right mix of people.
“At the end of the day, there are so many talented people in the garage area, but it’s about putting them in the right place at the right time. I feel like we’ve done that.”
If you would like to see this article as it appears on SceneDaily.com, CLICK HERE