Hey, didn’t you use to be a top NASCAR racing team? It doesn’t SEEM so long ago, but it’s been three years since RCR put a car in victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series.
It’s not easy staying on top in professional sports, particular in NASCAR, where technology, rules changes and the comings and goings of personnel keep the owners on their toes.
The last time Richard Childress Racing fielded a race winning team in what is now called the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kevin Harvick was driving the 29 car. Since then, he’s gone on to win a series championship, while the one-time racing home of Dale Earnhardt has faded into the crowd as teams like Hendrick, Joe Gibbs, Penske and others grab the major headlines. Oh, Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman have made a little positive noise here and there, but it’s nothing like it was just a few short years ago, when Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer were weekly contenders for wins.
This week, Richard Childress Racing has announced their lineup for 2017. While Dillon, Newman and Paul Menard are back in their respective rides, and the organization will field five cars in the Xfinity Series. There’s been some movement among crew chiefs, but one must wonder if and when that next win will come.
Austin Dillon knocked on the door in 2016. While he was good enough to make the 16-car Chase field for Richard Childress Racing, he’s still looking for that Cup win. One would think he may be the next driver to get his first Cup victory, but as anyone who knows will tell you, it’s a big leap from being good enough to make a top five to actually winning the thing. Dillon gets his fair share of grief being the boss’s grandson and using the race number once synonymous with one of the all-time greats. While it remains to be seen if he can get over the top, Austin Dillon may well represent RCR’s best hope for relevance.
Ryan Newman made more headlines for getting crashed by his former boss and good friend Tony Stewart than he did for competitive driving in 2016. Just a couple of short years ago, in his first season with Richard Childress Racing, Newman darn near won the Chase without winning a race. Though Chase critics would have found the notion amusing, one may safely presume Newman would rather return to the glory he enjoyed when he was known as the “Rocket Man” with Penske. When you’ve gone this long without winning- his last win was at the Brickyard in 2013- the term “washed up” starts appearing in conversations about you. When does a driver reach a point he’s passed his peak? When is he done? Is Newman on the way out?
Speaking of the Brickyard, that’s the site of Paul Menard’s lone Cup victory. This is usually where a critic will opine that the journeyman will remain in a ride because he has his own sponsor. His dad John has been bankrolling Paul’s racing endeavors for some time now. It’s not a bad thing…..if you’re winning. If you’re not, well, it gets thrown in your face. Richard Childress Racing has announced Matt Borland willl serve as crew chief for the 27. Will it make a difference?
An examination of a team begs the question about how much of NASCAR success rides on the car, or the driver. Often it seems like its a little of both. How many times has a driver gone to a team like Hendrick Motorsports in search of more consistent success, only to find they still struggle? Would bringing new drivers on board be the magic bullet for Richard Childress Racing?
Richard Childress Racing has been a part of the NASCAR landscape for some 48 years, back when no less than the owner himself was piloting a car around Talladega. With great intrigue, it will be interesting to follow whether or not RCR can recapture its mojo in Cu racing.