A new-look Richard Childress Racing heads into the 2023 Cup Series with momentum and a two-time champion newcomer.
It was months ago when the dual personnel shake-ups that altered Richard Childress Racing’s direction for 2023 came to light. Tyler Reddick’s momentous decision to join 23XI Racing was revealed in July. Kyle Busch’s blockbuster shift from Joe Gibbs Racing to RCR came almost exactly two months later in September.
Now, with the curtain closed on the NASCAR Cup Series season, those transitions are starting to take hold at Childress’ shop in Welcome, N.C. It’s a new sense of rejuvenation for the organization, which gained momentum with four Cup Series wins this year — three for Reddick and one with Austin Dillon — and has a renewed energy with the arrival of Busch, one of the sport’s biggest stars and a 60-time winner at NASCAR’s top level.
“He is already wearing everybody out about, ‘hey, we’ve got to be ready to go,’ ” Dillon said during the season-ending race weekend at Phoenix Raceway. “So that fire is definitely there, and that’s what you want to see.”
Dillon enters his 10th season as a Cup Series regular with a transition in teammates. Reddick had been Dillon’s partner in the No. 8 Chevrolet the last three seasons. In 2021, Reddick edged out Dillon for the final spot in the Cup Series Playoffs; this year, Reddick provided a definitive aerodynamic push that helped Dillon to victory in the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway, ensuring both RCR cars would make the postseason cut.
Though Reddick’s move caused some initial acrimony with Childress, the 26-year-old driver’s commitment to winning even as his term was drawing to a close helped to soothe some of the bitterness. On the eve of their last race together, Dillon spoke with appreciation for Reddick’s efforts, both personally and professionally.
“For me, it’s one of the best things that could’ve happened,” Dillon said. “I mean, he was a great teammate throughout, brought speed instantly, a new mentality to the track for RCR. I feel like it was big. He’s just got a lot of good things that came with having him as a teammate. We worked well together. Obviously, this year, I think any time on the track, we had each other’s back and we pushed each other to be better. So yeah, he was a great part of our organization for the time he’s been here, and we’ve got a good friendship and hopefully he has a good career ahead of him where he’s going, and I’m happy for him.”
RCR now charts a new course with Dillon alongside Busch, who jumps on board after a successful 15-year tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. He’ll be driving a Chevrolet for the first time since 2004-07, his stint with Hendrick Motorsports.
Busch has already been involved on a preliminary level, visiting the shop and encouraging Dillon to log more simulator time to validate his on-track performance.
“We’ve already started a little bit,” Busch said post-race at Phoenix. “My duties say JGR and Toyota — one of them continues through the (awards) banquet, the other one continues through December 31. So we’ll see what happens in the month of December.”
The more casual initiation may come sooner than later. Dillon says he received a text from Busch expressing an interest in a hunting trip — a pastime long associated with the Childress family, but perhaps not with Busch, who said he’d likely need to renew his license.
“I had one once upon a time. I’ve been before. Don’t let things completely shock you,” Busch said with a grin. “Actually, (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff and I, when we were really close and racing for a championship in ’09, him and I went together. So it was fun. I’ve done it before, I’d enjoy doing it again. I’ve just never really I guess had any invites to go.”
Those opportunities might be more frequent as the two new teammates get to know each other better in the offseason. The team in general will be getting more acquainted, with new driver-crew chief pairings introduced for both cars.
Randall Burnett, atop the pit box for Reddick’s three wins this year, will remain with the No. 8 Chevrolet team to partner with Busch next season. Dillon will work hand-in-hand with veteran Keith Rodden, who replaces the outgoing Justin Alexander and returns to a regular crew chief role for the first time since 2017.
Rodden remained with Hendrick Motorsports as a project manager after stepping off the pit box. This year, he’s served as executive general manager for General Motors’ motorsports competition NASCAR strategy group, where he worked on developing Chevrolet’s approach to maximizing track time with the Next Gen racer that debuted this past season. Rodden also served as crew chief and project lead for Chevy’s wheel-force testing program, where he first clicked with Dillon at a two-day test at Richmond Raceway last offseason.
“He’s a racer, and you want that, and he’s fired up. He’s wanting to be here every Sunday and give it his all,” Dillon said. “So I think we’re building. We’ve got a good team already, nothing’s really changed on that front. Just some small minor tweaks. So he just kind of gets to come in there and take what he’s learned from the war room at Chevy this year, and doing the wheel-force testing and kind of the bird’s-eye view from all the Chevy teams and their approach and try and put — in his mind — what the best setup for me is each and every week.”
Dillon will also likely benefit from insight from Busch, whose diligence and devotion to studying and improving his craft has long ranked among the sport’s elite. It also doesn’t hurt matters that when Busch is fitted for his new RCR fire suit, his uniform will say “Champion 2X” beneath the Cup Series logo below his right shoulder.
“I think, as a sports fan, there’s no champion out there that doesn’t give maximum effort to all parts of the game,” Dillon says. “You know, there’s some very talented people that do pretty well, but they’re not always a champion. Kyle created himself to be a two-time Cup champion, I feel like, so the commitment he has to this sport is unmatched. When you’re a champion, it’s unmatched. So I feel like knowing that going in, you just can’t put an amount on that that it brings to our organization. It’s going to step everybody’s game up.”