By admin | May 28, 2009
By Richard Allen
Richard Childress is one of the most successful owners in NASCAR history. He has six Winston Cup(Sprint Cup) trophies in his trophy case and has seen his cars go to victory lane 89 times.
Of late, however, Richard Childress Racing has looked very much like a team that has lost its way. Only one of their drivers, Jeff Burton, currently holds a place inside the Top 12 of the Sprint Cup standings. And worse, the other three teams appear to be in the midst of a freefall.
Clint Bowyer began the 2009 season on a good note. Through the first six races he had four Top 10s with a 19th being his worst finish. After that sixth race in Martinsville he was 2nd in the standings, trailing leader Jeff Gordon by 89 points.
In the six races since Martinsville, Bowyer’s best finish has been an 18th. His last two races have resulted in 37th and 36th place finishes respectively.
Bowyer is now 17th in the standings, 403 points behind Gordon.
After the race in Talladega, Childress made the decision to swap the #07 and #29 teams of Casey Mears and Kevin Harvick. This strategy of switching crews or crew members has worked for RCR in the past.
This time appears to be different.
Mears has only one Top 10 finish all season. That one good finish came after the crew swap but he has also scored results of 36th and 33rd since that exchange.
Mears is currently 22nd in the standings, 554 points behind the leader and more importantly, 260 points out of 12th place.
Harvick started the season with a bang by winning the Budweiser Shootout in Daytona. Since then, there has been little to brag about. He has scored only two Top 10s in points paying races so far in 2009.
Harvick is 23rd in the standings. He is 573 points behind Gordon and 279 markers out of the 12th position.
These drop offs have occurred suddenly. Last year RCR had three teams to make the Chase for the Championship. Whatever has happened did so quickly.
So, what has happened? Why has this organization, that was once such a force, fallen on hard times?
Obviously, this company lost its foundation on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Perhaps Richard Childress is not the guiding force he once was. Maybe the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. took away some of that competitive drive so necessary to keep one at the top.
Childress’ grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, are in the process of building racing careers of their own. If and when the time comes for them to move into the Sprint Cup ranks he may regain that fire, if indeed it has been lost.
Or, maybe the problem is mechanical. Perhaps RCR is not building good cars.
Their engines seem to be fine. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, which is part of the Earnhardt- Childress Engineering group, seems to be improving their performance. Juan Pablo Montoya, who drives for EGR, says he has more power now than he has had since joining the Sprint Cup ranks.
There has been some speculation that the loss of Bobby Hutchens, who had worked for both RCR and Dale Earnhardt, Inc., has had an impact on the Childress operation. Hutchens assumed the role of general manager at Stewart Haas Racing after the end of the 2008 season.
Whatever the reason, Richard Childress Racing is experiencing a run of poor performance like it has seldom seen in its history. The days of championships now seem far removed.
This used to be the organization revered by many as the team of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Even after the seven time champion’s death, that legacy remained in place for a while. Now, however, this is essentially just another race team.
The challenge for RCR is to find a way to pull itself back up to the level of consistent championship contender, and soon.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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