Richard Childress Racing is preparing to run three full-time Sprint Cup cars in 2012.
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With Clint Bowyer exiting for Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of this season, RCR’s roster would include Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard. Childress said he hopes to run his grandson, Austin Dillon, in a couple of races as well.
“Right now, we’re looking at three Cup cars with an occasional Cup race (for a fourth car),” Childress said Thursday. “Who knows what may come up between now and then? I’ve had offers to race people and race drivers and had another full sponsorship with a driver; I just want to make sure it’s the right move when we make it.
“So we’re still, as of right now, we’re three Cup teams.”
In the past five years, the four-car model has not worked to RCR’s advantage.
In 2007 and 2008, each member of the three-car squad of Burton, Harvick and Bowyer qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But when the organization added a fourth car for Casey Mears in 2009, the highest RCR car finished 15th (Bowyer). Mears lasted only that season because Jack Daniels pulled out of the sport afterward.
RCR went back to three cars in 2010, and Harvick, Bowyer and Burton returned to the Chase.
This season, Childress added a fourth fully funded team that included Paul Menard, but only Harvick qualified for the Chase. Bowyer missed the Chase cutoff by 13 points.
Childress reiterated Thursday that Bowyer was not retained purely for financial reasons. The numbers just didn’t work.
“We knew what our financial model was, and Clint knew where he needed to be and we just could never come together to make it work,” Childress said. “We had the car completely sponsored, but it just didn’t really work out and I’m very sad that it didn’t because I really like Clint.
“He’s going to be a great driver. Never say never. Hopefully he will be back someday at RCR.”
Childress is not counting out a fourth car — should proper funding come along. However, Childress will not tax the other three teams to scrape together enough money just to put a fourth car on the track.
“I think everybody’s business model changed a couple of years ago, and we’re all having to adjust to it. But at RCR we’ve been very fortunate, we’ve been able to re-sign sponsors, been able to have really good corporate interest. We’ve got a lot of new companies that are looking at us that hopefully in the near future will be making some announcements.
“So things are looking pretty good for RCR, and I think it’s looking good for the sport, as well. There’s a lot of interest, TV ratings have been up; we’re getting the seats (filled) in the stands, so I’m really happy with what I see with the sport today.”
More questions than answers
Kyle Busch’s Chase for the Sprint Cup has not gone as he expected.
Busch, who won four races in the regular season and started the Chase first in points, is eighth in the standings.
Although Busch’s performance in the first 26 races shows true championship potential, the No. 18 team has struggled to capitalize in the Chase.
Busch experienced a similar conundrum in 2008 when he entered the Chase on top and finished a disappointing 10th in the standings.
“It’s not the second time; it’s every time,” Busch said of his Chase performance. “Trust me, if I knew, I’d love to fix it. I have no idea. You know, years past we may have had wrecks or mechanical failures or something to that respect. This year it’s not anything in particular, it’s just we’re not finishing where we’ve been running.
“Fuel issue, obviously, at Chicago. Not being the best, me not being the best and the car not being the best at Loudon. Dover, we kind of missed it on the last run. And Kansas, we kind of got back in traffic a little bit when we came for two tires and some other guys stayed because they could make it the rest of the way.
“So, it’s just been little things, but certainly little things can take you out of the running.”
Busch’s sentiments Thursday echoed what Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin has been saying the past week — the cars have lost speed compared to where the performance was earlier in the season.
Busch’s current average finish in the Chase is 12.5, compared with points leader Carl Edwards’ average of 5.0.
“Certainly, there was a point earlier this year about summertime with Kentucky and Michigan — we were the class of the field those days, really good,” Busch said. “We haven’t had cars like that the last few weeks, and whether that’s me not giving the right information to (crew chief) Dave (Rogers) or us not being able to have the perfect setup.
“It takes so much to get everything exactly right. Jimmie Johnson last week was in a class of his own — I mean, he was gone. It looked like the rest of us were Nationwide cars.
“That’s the car that you look for; that’s what you try to hit on when you’re in the Chase. We’re working on it.”
But Busch cannot point to a single problem with the cars or the team — just a combination of issues.
“It’s just a few things,” Busch said. “Whether it’s bodies or engines or not having the right setup, pit strategy, having the guys on pit road have their head in the game — you know all that stuff — the driver having his head in the game. You have to hit it all on a perfect day, and we haven’t had that yet.
“I’m not saying we couldn’t have it here in Charlotte. I’d certainly love to have it the next four weeks and all of a sudden be the one everyone is worried about. We’ll play it one week by a time."
Busch believes he still has a “fighting shot,” but he’ll be starting in the 25th spot for the Bank of America 500 on Saturday.
Jeff Gordon had his third "did not finish" of the season last week at Kansas Speedway when he had a piston issue. He finished 34th with just his first engine failure of the season.
Although this week’s venue, Charlotte Motor Speedway, is also an intermediate track, Gordon said his failure last week was more a result of the conditions at Kansas Speedway.
“It is always concerning when it happens,” said Gordon, who will start 23rd on Saturday. “We saw some things at Kansas earlier in the year and it seems to be a little more related to the track — the throttle trace and the demand on the engines.
“Not as concerned about it here, and I know I have the best engine shop in the world to address it. They can react fast and we feel good from here on out.”
Gordon will have the next six races to recover from last week — when he dropped to 10th in the points standings. Gordon has 21 wins on five of the next six tracks. The only track in the Chase where Gordon has yet to win is Homestead-Miami Speedway.
NASCAR drivers aren’t shy when it comes to taking jabs at fellow drivers. It’s just a matter of who can dish it out versus who can take it. Harvick remembers an interesting moment last season during the news conference leading to the season finale when he and Jimmie Johnson were taking shots at Hamlin.
“The mind-games thing, it’s all just a matter of circumstances as to how it works out,” Harvick said. “I knew sitting on the stage last year that (Hamlin’s) No. 11 wasn’t going to win the championship because he couldn’t hardly sit still and was so nervous going into that race that he couldn’t hardly stand it. I could see it, Jimmie was gouging, gouging at it. . . . I think when you’ve been in these situations — and for us we were fortunate to be in these situations before, and especially last year — you just do your thing.”