NASCAR team preview: Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing fans rejoice! After a difficult 2009 season, I think RCR will be better off shrinking back down to a three-car operation this year. I had kind of felt all along that expanding to four teams hurt them a little bit because it spread their resources too thin. But with the way the organization ran late last year, in particular Jeff Burton’s No. 31 team, combined with the shift to three teams, I think you will see RCR back in Victory Lane this year — and very possibly all three teams will get there.
It appeared that they got their arms around some of the things they’ve been fighting. Team owner Richard Childress was aggressive enough that he never quit playing the shuffle game with the crew chiefs, and as a result I think he has his crew chiefs where he feels he needs them to be.
Going into the season, there’s a lot of questions surrounding Kevin Harvick and whether he will be with the team beyond this year. Sure, Harvick wants to make money, but he is a racer first and foremost and what drives him is winning — that’s what drives him and wife DeLana to run their Truck and Nationwide Series team, and it’s what drives him inside the cockpit of the No. 29 Chevrolet. I may be totally wrong, but if Harvick can get a good feeling that the No. 29 team and RCR is in position to win races and bid for a championship, he won’t leave at the end of the year. But if the team struggles again, there’s no question that he's gone.
As for Clint Bowyer, it’s almost like his team came out of the box too good at the beginning of the year. It’s almost like when they didn’t have a lot of notes to go off of. They performed well and as they built up their notebook their performance deteriorated. But much like Burton and Harvick, Bowyer and Co. got things back together towards the end of the year. And now that crew chief Shane Wilson and Bowyer have a year under their belt, Bowyer will go back to the form he had in 2007 and 2008 — contending for race wins and a spot in the Chase. Bowyer knows how to win races, and the biggest thing is he knows how to be there at the end.
By Mike Harmon
Driver: Kevin Harvick (Finished 19th in the 2009 Cup standings, 11 career Cup wins)
Crew chief: Gil Martin
Primary Sponsor: Shell Pennzoil
Harvick was one of many stars to experience a huge regression in performance during the 2009 season. His total of top-10 finishes dropped from 19 to nine, and his average finish dipped by 7.5 positions, his worst overall effort since 2002. He also raced 20th or worse in 17 events last season. He’d averaged 18 top-10 finishes in the three seasons prior to last year’s drop-off and ranks among those drivers primed for a bounce-back season in 2010.
Driver: Jeff Burton (Finished 17th in the 2009 Cup standings, 21 career Cup wins)
Crew chief: Todd Berrier
Primary Sponsors: Caterpillar
Burton had experienced a seemingly magical three-year run of upper-tier, relatively incident-free rides. In 2009, that magical run came to a screeching halt. He struggled through a difficult season in which his total of top-10 finishes dropped from 18 to 10.
During the heart of the season, he produced a horrid run of 16 consecutive runs outside of the top 15. However, he did close out the season brilliantly, racing to six consecutive top-15 finishes to end the year, including back-to-back second-place charges to end it off. We can reasonably expect to see Burton push back toward the top in 2010.
Driver: Clint Bowyer (Finished 15th in the 2009 Cup standings, 2 career Cup wins)
Crew chief: Shane Wilson
Primary Sponsor: Cheerios
Bowyer has claimed his place as one of the circuit’s most consistent drivers. In the past three years, he’s raced to 50 top-10 finishes (17, 17 and 16) with 16 top-five runs, and his average finish has been nearly identical in three straight years. One statistical nugget that stands out to me and perhaps me alone is that he’s logged only one DNF in the past three years.
That’s the beauty of Bowyer from a fantasy standpoint. His place in the overall series point standings doesn’t matter in this venue. It’s all about consistency. He gives fantasy participants a consistent effort, even if there is the rare circumstance where such efforts push him outside of the hallowed Chase.
By Jorge A. Mondaca