Richard Childress Racing must be feeling that stomach knot unwind after the Cup Series race Sunday. Largely uncompetitive for 2009, the new season is off to a strong start. RCR stepped into the spotlight and held a starring role.
The Childress organization left Daytona one year ago with strong showings and a positive outlook. That was about the last positive energy the racing team had for several months. Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Casey Mears struggled on the racetrack week after week.
Without knowing the exact nuts and bolts of how the cars were constructed it is difficult to say what went wrong. As a group, RCR admitted part-way through the year that it had tried some new things in an effort to gain an advantage. Its plans resulted in the opposite effect.
By the time the problems were discovered, the year was partially gone. New chassis were built to fix the problems of all four teams. To race, discover the issues, identify the problems and construct new vehicles for everyone is a process that takes months. In a nutshell, throw away 2009.
As the summer heat faded and the leaves began to change colors, strength was shown by the RCR cars. No drivers made The Chase or sprayed champagne in victory lane but the cars were seen running near the top 10 instead of outside the top 25. The season ended stronger, but an anxious off-season waited.
Daytona 2010 brought another Shootout win for Harvick, chart-topping practice speeds for Burton and strong runs in the 500 for all three. But everyone is aware that the Florida superspeedway is not an accurate indicator for the year and look to Fontana as a better gauge.
Enter Sunday’s 500.
Harvick challenged for the lead early on. Bowyer spent nearly the entire race in the top 10. At times Burton appeared to have the winning car. In the closing stages Harvick caught winner Jimmie Johnson to offer a challenge before scraping the wall.
The final tally shows Harvick second, Burton third and Bowyer eighth. And they all are in the top five in championship standings, including the first two positions.
Granted, no one has won a race, and after two events The Chase is far from set, but after how last year went for RCR, how could everyone within the organization not feel pumped up and a little relieved?
The team was forced to close the Mears-driven 07 after a sponsorship loss. Lost employees and lowered morale can cast a negative cloud over the group remaining trying to be competitive. This start is something badly needed.
Richard Childress Racing has a long history of wins and championships, not running around mid-pack and simply logging laps. Spotlights shine on many stages in the Los Angeles area. Fontana was the theater for RCR to stop playing a supporting role and return to playing a starring one.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who co-hosts the One and Done auto racing radio talk show Tuesdays at 11am ET. Listen at www.wsicweb.com.)
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