NASCAR Cup Series
Richard Childress Racing in flux with Kyle Busch up-and-down and Austin Dillon struggling
NASCAR Cup Series

Richard Childress Racing in flux with Kyle Busch up-and-down and Austin Dillon struggling

Updated Apr. 8, 2024 3:07 p.m. ET

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Busch believes Richard Childress Racing has smart people working on ideas to make their cars consistently stronger.

The organization will need to implement those ideas quickly, as the two-time Cup champion has five finishes of 15th or worse in his last six races. His 16th-place finish Sunday at Martinsville was his fourth-best of the eight races this season.

"It's not due to lack of intellect," Busch said the day prior to the Martinsville race. "We certainly have that. There's a lot going on at the shop and things like that, where it seems like there's some pretty good minds being put to use on the stuff that we do.

"It just hasn't correlated to the racetrack yet." 


Busch fell to 15th in the standings — one point above the current playoff cutoff — after Martinsville. His teammate, Austin Dillon, fell to 31st in the standings. If there is an organization that is trying to avoid a downward spiral at the moment, RCR is certainly it.

Kyle Busch speaks on being 13th place in standings and changing crew chiefs | NASCAR on FOX

For Busch, he doesn't want to have to start looking at points being his path to the playoffs instead of an automatic berth with a race victory.

"Anytime you have good runs, you kind of know that the points will take care of themselves," Busch said. "Anytime you aren't having good runs, you probably know that you are not in good point standing.

"So [it's] definitely kind of on the back of the mind for sure. But more importantly, we're just trying to get our program right and up front, and in a position to where we can win a race or two and not worry about points."

Part of getting in position to win a race is having both cars run at a similar pace, and that hasn't happened much so far this year.

Prior to Martinsville, RCR replaced Dillon crew chief Keith Rodden with team competition director Justin Alexander, who was crew chief for Dillon in 2017-2018 and 2020-2022 before taking a new role that would allow him to spend some weekends with his family.

But with Dillon struggling, Alexander agreed to return to the at-track role. All four of Dillon's career victories have come with Alexander on the box.

Austin Dillon on the return of Justin Alexander atop the pit box | NASCAR on FOX

Dillon didn't feel it has been a matter of a lack of speed, but he certainly hasn't finished where his cars seem capable. He has one top-20 finish this year, and he finished a miserable 34th at Martinsville.

"It's just one of those things where execution is what I hope this change brings — being able to execute at the track because I thought Keith was able to communicate with me on the car level and make good adjustments for the race cars," Dillon said. "We just weren't able to execute, whether it was me or him or what it was.

"Justin and I have proven that we can usually execute together, so it's good to have him back. Hopefully the change is just good for everybody."

Alexander has worked with the RCR crew chiefs and is familiar with the cars. The Dillon crew is nearly the same as when he left the role in 2022.

"[Dillon] seems to gravitate and run well with me," Alexander said. "I don't know what it is. We communicate really, really well together and maybe it's just that — me trying to get the most out of him and then him trying to get the most out of me.

"I don't know what it is but chemistry of some sort. And we'll try to use that and try to rebound here."

Justin Alexander on taking over the No. 3 team with Austin Dillon 28th in the standings | NASCAR on FOX

Busch said he has respect for Rodden, Alexander and everyone at RCR who are working through the issues. He says this year has been one of "a lot of missed potential."

But Busch has rotated through several over-the-wall pit crew members as the organization tries to find the most cohesive group. 

"I feel like we definitely have had cars that have been capable of running in the top-10, maybe even in the top-5," Busch said. "I felt like we were the only guy that was close to Larson at Vegas and we threw it away on pit road multiple times.

"There's been other various things. At Bristol, we were fast, but I drove the tires off it one too many times [and they blew] — and maybe that's why we were fast, but in general we have had some good speed."

The short tracks such as Phoenix, Richmond and Martinsville have been a struggle. Busch said the team's simulation program that they use to test setups might be giving them some false readings.

Because teams only get 20 minutes of practice and they are only allowed limited adjustments on the race weekend, there often is little they can do to find speed once they get to the racetrack.

"A lot of it is just the reliance on the simulation and what we're being told in that and making decisions based off of that [of] what makes you faster or better in the sim," Busch said. "And that is not transferring to the racetrack, so we've got to go about it a different way." 

Busch is among those who have struggled with the Next Gen car in trying to find the feeling that he wants. The car, introduced in 2022, has fewer options for teams to work on to adjust the car to fit a driver's strengths, because many of the parts and pieces are supplied to the teams instead of them building those parts themselves.

"Since we've gone to the new car, everything's more similar," Busch said. "You don't have your playbook and your tool set is way limited on what you can do in order to find that rear grip."

Busch needs that rear grip to drive the car to his strength. When he doesn't, he has days such as he had Sunday.

"We made an improvement this weekend from how we ran last year at Martinsville Speedway ... [and] the guys kept working and never gave up," Busch said.

"We made the car better by the end of the race and we were able to get a decent finish, but we still have work to do to get to where we want to be."

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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