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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wheels have fallen off at Richard Childress Racing

Last year, Richard Childress Racing took two wins and saw all three of its drivers make the Chase. They weren’t a championship contender, but it was a solid year nonetheless. In the offseason, a fourth team was added and Childress hoped that would help his chances of breaking the Hendrick stronghold on the title.

To be kind, things haven’t worked out as planned.

This year, the team is gasping for air as it drowns in a sea of mediocrity or worse.
Their lone Mr. Consistent, Jeff Burton, is hanging around in Chase territory, but it’s from Burton’s usual way of just being around the front most weeks. He is rarely a threat to win a race.

The rest of the team hasn’t been able to compete with the big dogs this year, and their position in the standings is the evidence. The biggest fall from grace has been by Kevin Harvick, who is winless in the Cup series since his famous win in the 2007 Daytona 500.

Harvick sits 23rd in the points, and was 7th at this time last year. To put Harvick’s year in perspective, he sits one spot behind new teammate Casey Mears in the points, and Mears has made a career in NASCAR out of being mediocre.

Harvick’s woes have continued even after a complete swap between the crews of the Mears and Harvick teams. So even radical solutions don’t seem to be curing what is ailing the #29 team.

Clint Bowyer got off to a great start this year, but has been struggling mightily of late. In the six races since Martinsville, he has no top-10 finishes, and only one top-20 finish, dropping him all the way to 17th in the points.

So what is ailing the team that won six Cup titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr.? My first thought is they rushed too quickly to add the fourth team. By expanding their operations and trying to run four teams that are all capable of making the Chase, they may have handicapped several of them in the process. While four cars can provide more data, it’s also easier to manage three teams.

Deep down though, it’s got to be a mechanical issue. It’s clear from the results so far this year that some aspect of the Childress operation, whether it be engines or just finding the proper setup for the COT, is not measuring up to the Hendrick measuring bar.

Unless the team can figure out what’s wrong, and soon, it’s likely three, or even four, of its drivers will be on the outside looking in when the Chase begins.

RPM stuck in slow motion
While I’m on the topic of teams in a funk, Richard Petty Motorsports began the year strongly with a great showing at Daytona, but has since fallen off a cliff. A.J. Allmendinger had some great runs, but has tumbled now to 29th in points. Elliott Sadler is just ahead of him in 28th, and Reed Sorenson is stuck down in 24th . Kasey Kahne, in 15th, is the only shot the team has at making the Chase, and with results like this it’s increasing likely Kahne will look to jump ship as soon as he can. It's hardly an All-Star driving squad (Sadler would have been fired before the season if not for his lawsuit), but Allmendinger's dropoff of late indicates that mechanical issues are also a major factor is the struggles.

In fact, 3rd-place Kurt Busch’s solid year is the only really bright spot this year for Dodge, which did not have a single car in the Chase last season.

All hail Billy Bad Butt

I couldn’t let the week end without mentioning one of the highlights of the terrible rain-soaked weekend at Charlotte – that being Tony Stewart’s description of his interaction with a David Reutimann crew member that had jumped into a discussion the two drivers were having. “Then he's got a bald crew guy down there who wants to jump up there and be Billy Bad Butt.”

Tony has long been the best source of comedy (and drama) in the garage, and this was no exception. Other than the general ridiculousness of the saying “Billy Bad Butt,” I was cracking up at the fact Stewart even bothered to censor himself from saying Billy Badass, because if you read the Rolling Stone article on him that was published last year, you’ll know he’s not afraid to throw around a cuss word.

So once again, I must thank Tony for making the race weekend a little more fun and supplying what is so far the quote of the year.


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