With the 2019 season serving as the 50th anniversary of Richard Childress Racing, we plan to dip into the archives to present the stories of iconic moments, race wins, championships and much more as part of our weekly Throwback Thursday series.
As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend to kick off the West Coast swing, we are looking back at the first success Richard Childress Racing had at the 1.5-mile track in ‘Sin City.’
NASCAR began racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1996 with the Truck Series and in 1998 with the Cup Series, and RCR had a string of top-five and top-10 runs in those first few events with Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner. When the Xfinity Series joined the Cup Series in Las Vegas in 2000, Kevin Harvick and Mike Dillon were knocking on the door of the top-10 during the first two trips there.
Johnny Sauter delivered a third-place finish for RCR in the Xfinity Series in the 2002 event at LVMS, while Harvick followed it up with a runner-up finish in 2003.
Since the track opened to NASCAR competition in 1996, RCR has earned four wins (Harvick, Jeff Burton and Austin Dillon), 30 top-five and 59 top-10 finishes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway across all three of NASCAR’s top three national touring series.
Despite scoring four Xfinity Series wins in 2003, team owner Richard Childress swapped teams for Harvick and Ron Hornaday Jr. to start the 2004 season. Three races into that season and the combination of Harvick and crew chief Ricky Viers was off to a strong start.
The No. 21 team finished fourth in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway and backed it up with a third-place finish at Rockingham Speedway. When the green flag dropped for the third race of the season at Las Vegas, Harvick and Viers were looking to continue their strong start to the year.
Starting 11th, Harvick had to overcome some adversity throughout the day. He was on pit road under green flag conditions just before the halfway point of the race when another car blew a motor to bring out the caution flag. The quick-thinking team told Harvick to drive through the pits and no stop, which allowed him to stay on the lead lap.
While he was a factor in the top five for much of the afternoon, it was Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth that dominated the event. However, this was before NASCAR implemented double-file restarts and wave-around cars, so throughout the day the leaders often restarted behind cars on the tail end of the lead lap with lapped cars to their inside.
The turning point in the event came on a late-race restart when lapped cars got together on the frontstretch and collected Kenseth. As the cars spun around at the start-finish line, Harvick’s No. 21 Chevrolet took quick evasive action and just missed the incident by diving to the apron.
With Kenseth suffering damage to his car, Harvick took advantage on the restart and captured the top spot with 14 laps to go. While out front, Harvick was forced to hold off Kahne, who made a strong charge that got him within one car length of the lead coming to the checkered flag.
“We kept this Chevrolet clean all day,” he told Steve Byrnes in Victory Lane. “We were off a little bit there in the beginning and we just kept adjusting and kept adjusting.
“It’s all about putting yourself in the right spot and we got ourselves in the right spot,” said Harvick.
“I think the biggest turning point was when they had the wreck on the front straightaway and (the spotter) told me to go low and I missed the wreck,” he said. “The side of (Kenseth’s car) was bashed in and you have to keep everything together until the end of the race … They got tangled up and we won the race.”
The victory marked RCR’s first at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and was one of three victories that season in the Xfinity (then Busch) Series.
Jeff Burton won in dramatic fashion during the 2007 Xfinity Series race, while Austin Dillon delivered two RCR wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in both the Truck Series (2010) and the Xfinity Series (2015).