NASCAR

Analytical approach helps RCR find success

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Richard Childress' decision to add a fourth Sprint Cup team to his operation this season doesn't appear to be having any of the negative impact that some skeptics had forecast. In fact, the driver who took over Richard Childress Racing's new car and joined forces with a new crew chief is off to the hottest start and showing the way for the entire outfit. Clint Bowyer, who moved to the organization's startup team and partnered with crew chief Shane Wilson this season, sits second in the standings after the first six races. Teammate Kevin Harvick, with longtime crew chief Todd Berrier, sits 10th, while driver Jeff Burton and crew chief Scott Miller are 13th, seven points outside of a spot in the field for the Chase For The Sprint Cup at this early point in the year. Casey Mears, who inherited Bowyer's team and crew chief Gil Martin, is 27th. Certainly, the organization as a whole appears to be continuing the momentum it has gained in recent years, though some in the organization admit that factors such as a lack of testing in the preseason have taken some adjustment. Burton, for instance, endured a lackluster outing at Auto Club Speedway in California earlier this season and said that testing at that track might have helped the team overcome its problems. Burton said that his team was taking an aggressive approach to figuring out what happened in that race — and how to prevent a repeat performance. Figuring out how to translate the data gathered from testing in the shop instead of on the track could be key for the RCR teams this season.

"We have to aggressively go after it and figure out what we are looking at and how we are looking at data and how we are looking at information so that we can be successful," Burton says. "I can tell you there have been a lot of times that we have gone to test — Pocono stands out really clear to me — when we were as bad at a Pocono test as we were when we went and raced California ... When we went back, we had relooked at data, relooked at how we understand the data and went back and were tremendously more competitive. Not because we learned what springs and shocks to run while we were running bad, but because we learned how to understand the data we are looking at. "Data is a great thing, but how you use it and how you understand it is very important. As long as we have been working on simulation programs, as long as we have been working on data acquisition, we still don't know a lot. We still have a lot to learn. When you couple wind tunnel and you couple springs and bump stops and chassis flex and driver style, you have all these big things, it is not always going to give you the right answer. So you still have to feel your way through it so to speak. But it is real important when things aren't going well, you've got to address them right now. You can't sit and just wait and hope it is going to get better." That commitment to improving, to learning and continually adapting and adjusting appears to have paid big dividends for RCR as a whole in recent seasons. A team that virtually reinvented itself in 2005 seems to hone in on an area it views as a weakness and marshal its forces to improve that.

Obviously everyone wants to get better, but Burton and Harvick have always seemed to be particularly analytical when it comes to assessing their performance and evaluating what changes would benefit their teams. They don't accept that as something unique to them or their organization though. "You have to be analytical," Burton says. "You have to look at yourself and say how can I be better. Every driver that's in the garage will tell you they're better today than they were two years ago. And they're not better because they didn't try to be better; you have to put effort into it. Everybody finds a different way to do that. I think it's important. Things change. When you have to adjust your driving style to things and when you do that, you're trying to improve. "So there is no question you're always trying to improve. If you come into a sport or any kind of job or any kind of hobby or whatever you're doing, if you don't improve from the time you start to the time you finish, then you didn't put much effort into it or you just weren't capable of improving. If you're going to compete at this level, if you can't improve over your career, and over a year, you will not have long-term success, I can guarantee you that." The Childress forces also maintain a focus on the larger picture. Neither Burton nor Harvick seems to overreact to a setback — though each does seem to also commit it to memory and work diligently to delve into figuring out why something happened. That's how they overcome potential setbacks. Harvick's finishes have been a bit erratic this season — in terms of results, not in how he's performed. But he's not letting it set him back. He has two top-fives, partnered with two finishes of 30th or worse (including one DNF). Yet he remains focused without panicking. Earlier this season he said that a team doesn't want to get into a hole in the opening three or four races because it then makes for a long run to recover. But 10th in the standings is clearly a position from which a driver can battle for the championship. And with solid notes to rely on, Harvick maintains confidence week to week. As to the addition of a fourth team, Harvick expects a positive impact as the season wears on. "Obviously we have more stuff, more notes to look at than what we had last year," he says. "You can make a little bit better decision by having the fourth team. I definitely don't think it's hurting things. It hasn't changed one thing that we do on a day-to-day basis on the (No.) 29 car." For his part, Bowyer seems to find motivation in proving wrong the skeptics who thought his move to a fourth RCR team would end his two-year run as a Chase contender. He admits that joining the new group offered its share of anxious moments from time to time — but he always maintained the faith that RCR would remain the kind of organization that regularly puts at least three drivers in the Chase. "It seems like over the last few years that I've been the one that they said couldn't make the Chase and won't make the Chase, and it was again this year," Bowyer says. "That's fuel for the fire, absolutely. That makes you go out and work harder and go that extra mile to make sure that you prove them wrong. I love it." Rea White is a writer for NASCAR Scene, which is published weekly, 46 weeks per year. Visit www.scenedaily.com for more information.
Tagged: Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears

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