By admin | February 3, 2014
This is one of several previews of Sprint Cup teams going into the 2014 season. Look for these pieces to be released every Tuesday and Thursday during the weeks leading up to the season opening Daytona 500.
By Richard Allen
Seemingly, the biggest news out of the Richard Childress Racing camp over this past off season has been the fact that Austin Dillon will be driving a car with the number 3 on it during the upcoming Sprint Cup season. However, a look beyond the superficial reveals other issues of greater importance for this storied organization.
After having lost their most productive driver in Kevin Harvick to Stewart-Haas Racing, RCR will enter 2014 with a rookie, a driver who is new to the organization and a veteran who has only one Sprint Cup win in his career. To call this a rebuilding effort would seem more than fair at this stage of the team’s existence.
RCR as an organization has won 16 races since 2009. That seems like a fairly respectable number going into this season until it is considered that 12 of those victories came from the driver who just left to join Stewart-Haas Racing.
Ryan Newman has been brought in to replace Jeff Burton in the #31 Caterpillar sponsored Chevrolet for RCR. Although the former Daytona 500 winner is new to the team, he offers the most impressive Sprint Cup statistics among the three driver lineup for this organization. While he has won one race in each of the past four seasons and has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup twice during that time span, Newman has never been as serious of a threat to win a championship during his career as Harvick had been at RCR.
Austin Dillon has won championships in the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series. But as has been demonstrated in the past, that is no guarantee of success at the sport’s highest level. Add in the fact that the young driver will be sporting one of the NASCAR’s most famous car numbers and will always be looked at as the team owner’s grandson and the pressure on him will be extraordinary.
Paul Menard will be the longest tenured driver for RCR going into 2014. In three seasons behind the wheel of an RCR Chevrolet, the son of retail store magnate John Menard won the Brickyard 400 on a fuel mileage stretch in 2011 and has amassed eight top-5s and 26 top-10s in 108 starts in the No. 27 machine. Although he has contended early on in multiple seasons, those good starts have failed to produce a Chase for the Sprint Cup invitation.
The team owner believes his driver lineup will be able to compete at the top level.
“I think he’ll(Newman) carry his own load with RCR for sure, and I think Austin can be a help,” Childress declared. “I really think if you look back at some of the situations Paul Menard was in, he should have made the Chase two or three years. He just had problems when we didn’t need to, but we’re going to work on that and get that fixed.”
However, a look at recent statistics shows that there’s a lot more at RCR that needs to get fixed than just Menard’s issues. Since 2011, only two wins have come for this organization from drivers not named Harvick. Further, there have been only 18 top-5s in that same time period from drivers not named Harvick. And again, only Harvick was able to earn a Chase berth while carrying the RCR banner over the past three seasons.
A general lack of competitiveness has been the case among the “other” cars in this Welcome, NC based enterprise. The question now is whether or not the ingredients are in place to bring about improvement. Of course, it’s more than just the drivers who will be responsible for that. Will Childress be re-energized by the fact that his grandson will now be competing at the top level and institute the changes in engineering and all the other factors necessary to challenge the teams that seem to have passed his organization by?
If the recent test session in Daytona is any indication, the answer to that question may well be yes as Dillon was fastest among those who made laps in preparation for ‘The Great American Race’. But that was only one test session and only four races are run on those restrictor plate type tracks. The real test for this and every NASCAR team is how well they can race on the more aero-sensitive venues.
The primary topic during the off season for this organization has centered around a car number, but there are much bigger issues for RCR going into 2014.
Help @RacingWithRich reach 4,300 followers on Twitter and you could win one of these cool 1:24 scale die casts cars:
Topics: Articles |