The Hot Pass: Childress, team look for turnaround

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.



Richard Childress has been blessed in his racing career. Over the past 40 seasons in NASCAR, Childress' teams have won 10 titles and 164 races in NASCAR's top three divisions. But the 2009 Sprint Cup season will not be remembered as one of RCR's better years.
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On Thursday night when Childress addressed his guests at the RCR 40th Anniversary Celebration in Welcome, N.C., he was almost apologetic to the crowd regarding the organization's performance. Childress hasn't endured a slump similar to this season since his teams missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2004 and 2005. This week, Childress took further steps to turn the organization around. Following the news that Jack Daniel's will not return to sponsor the No. 07 Chevrolet, the team's crew chief Todd Berrier was moved to Jeff Burton's car so that Scott Miller, currently crew chief for Burton's No. 31 team, could concentrate on his new position as the team's director of competition. Doug Randolph is the interim crew chief for the No. 07 team starting at Talladega, but he shadowed Barrier on Friday. In the process, Casey Mears was caught in the crossfire. After one year with the team, Mears' future is uncertain. "I don't know how to quantify it," said Mears, who qualified sixth on Friday — the best of the RCR drivers. "It's not the end of the world by any means, but I've got enough obstacles to overcome. We just have to find a ways to try to maximize the rest of the year. If the change had happened at the beginning of the year, I'd welcome the challenge. "I understand why they made the move, but this sport is all about momentum." After four weeks of steady improvement — 17th at Loudon, 15th at Kansas, 11th in California and seventh last week in Charlotte — Mears was really clicking with Berrier. This is far from a case of sour grapes. Mears, who is 18th in the point standings, knows he's taking one for the team. Sources say could come aboard the fourth car for a partial schedule, but Mears could just as easily lose the ride to Paul Menard, who can bring a full sponsorship. Randolph, coincidentally, was Menard's crew chief at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Miller was conflicted about splitting up Mears and Berrier. Current sponsor Jack Daniel's "was happy with Todd," but their departure forced the company to consider the big picture — getting the three sponsored teams up to speed. "We feel terrible about it," Miller said. "Casey is doing great job; he's doing an awesome job. You couldn't hope for a better guy to deal with, and he and Todd struck the right chord. Unfortunately, that's the harsh reality of our sport." And Miller is committed to the long-term growth of RCR and climbing from this current funk. With Berrier taking over the crew chief duties on the No. 31 car, Miller will have the next four races to concentrate on building cars for 2010. "Over the course of history — with the exception of the guys that spank our ass every week — this business is cyclical. It's very difficult to identify what the specific problems are," Miller added. "What we have to do is focus everything we can from the front of the car to the back of the car. If we can build the cars the best that we can the performance will follow."

Racing for dollars

Get in line

Newman Ryan Newman won the pole, but where will everybody else line up Sunday? Check out the starting lineup for the Tums 500.
This is the time of year when auditioning for rides is at a premium. Friday's qualifying results for the Tums 500 were a perfect example. Those drivers looking for rides in 2010 — Casey Mears, Bobby Labonte, Reed Sorenson and David Stremme — qualified sixth, eighth, ninth and 11th, respectively. How their futures pan out could depend on the status of Jamie McMurray, who remains the top candidate for the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi ride. Mears could stay put in the 07 if sponsorship can be found. Labonte is a strong candidate for one of the two TRG Racing rides. Sorenson is the favorite for the vacancy at Braun Racing and Stremme's name has been mentioned for the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports car (where he would be reunited with crew chief Bones Lane) or in a Nationwide car with Rusty Wallace Inc.

Baby blues

A funny thing happened on the way to the No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyota's second pit stop at Lowe's Motor Speedway Saturday night: Dave "Woody" Woodhead got the call. Mind you, this wasn't just any call — his wife, Sarah, had gone into labor. Woodhead, the rear tire changer for Chaser Brian Vickers, hadn't anticipated his first son's arrival during the NASCAR Banking 500. The couple had actually planned on inducing labor the following Tuesday. But given that crew guys don't keep their phones on them during the race, he knew when crew chief Ryan Pemberton's wife, Andrea, came running to the pit something was up. Woodhead warned Pemberton he was leaving, took off his knee pads, grabbed his airgun and left in his firesuit for the hospital. "We knew it was coming," pit crew coordinator Lance Munksgard said. "We didn't know it was coming Saturday night. We'll probably be better prepared if something like this happens again. We didn't have a good game plan. We had a good one for the last two weeks, but we didn't have a good one this week." Munksgard's backup plan, developmental crewman John Lucas, signed on with the No. 48 Lowe's team two weeks before. He brought in another backup player, Brett Nenaber, a former footballer from Arizona State, for the next stop. Then Chad Avrit, rear changer for the No. 82 Red Bull squad, finished the race. "When that stuff starts to happen, you lose all track of things," Munksgard said. "I didn't have it planned out well enough. We were in Charlotte, after all. No one had to get on a plane. There are several people we could have found on short notice." The following morning, Weston Autumn Woodhead came into the world. Woody was still dressed in his firesuit when the first pictures holding his son were snapped. Given the unique circumstances, Munksgard isn't beating himself up too badly over the 34th-place finish. "We'll be a lot more prepared for the last five races," Munksgard said. "And all of next year, that's for sure."

It's the pits

Jeff Gordon didn't select the pit box he wanted at Martinsville — the stall at the end of pit road is usually chosen by the polesitter. But Gordon, who will start second on the front row at Martinsville for the 11th time in his career, knows the benefits of that position. The first box — which is positioned in Turn 2 at Martinsville — offers an easy exit onto the racetrack. But that stall also provides an advantage for scoring. "The most important tracks are the ones where the camera is closest to the pit stall," Gordon said. "Like last week, even though we were on a mile-and-a-half race track, the camera is pretty close to the No. 1 pit stall. While there were times we were beating the No. 48 to the yellow line, we weren't beating them to the camera. "There are some tracks where it is further than others. I think it should be the same everywhere we go. Certainly, from size track to size track. Here, it is very close. It doesn't take much to squirt off that number one pit stall, so it is definitely a huge advantage."

In the marbles

  • Hearing John Menard is pushing for his son to drive for RCR in 2010, but Paul wants to remain in his current situation.
  • Johnny Sauter said he's staying put in the ThorSport truck for 2010. "It's nice to be competitive again," Sauter said after qualifying 13th for the Kroger 200 on Friday.

    Say what?

    It's not over

    Johnson It may look like nothing can keep Jimmie Johnson from a fourth straight title. But Jorge Mondaca actually found five potential pitfalls.
    Mark Martin said it "isn't fair" to compare Jimmie Johnson's dominance today with what Dale Earnhardt was able to achieve. Martin, who has competed against both champions, finds Johnson tooling his performance for a new era: "Jimmie does his on technical. Earnhardt did his with his hands," Martin said with a laugh."Earnhardt did a lot of what he did with his hands and he wasn't near above playing head games as well. Jimmie is good because of technical, because he works physically and understands about the car and writes things down. Dale Earnhardt didn't take notes after every race and make out a full page set of notes after every single race so that they could go back to them before the next race. Dale just piled in that thing and wheeled it like an animal, you know? Jimmie understands that the way he can win is to make his car better than everyone's and he focuses on that and he makes his health better, physically, as well. So he's doing it all."
  • Tagged: Jeff Burton, Casey Mears, Paul Menard, Brian Vickers

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