Welcome to the inaugural post of “In The Hunt” with Richard Childress Racing. Over the course of the season I hope to not only recap the races for you, but to introduce you to the crew members and relay any interesting news or witty banter from the RCR group. Think of it as a weekly safari.
“Geez, we haven’t even gotten the race started!” ~Kevin Harvick on his radio about first-lap crash.
When the Houston ABC affiliate mentions the race on the morning news as “Disastrous Daytona 500,” you know the race was eventful. While RCR’s Elliot Sadler, in the No. 33 sponsored by General Mills and Kroger, brought out that crash when he got into Jimmie Johnson, the other Richard Childress Racing drivers managed to avoid being directly involved in the chaos and scored solid finishes.
Jeff Burton in the No. 31 CAT Chevy wound up fifth, followed by Paul Menard’s Peak/Menard’s No. 27 in sixth and Kevin Harvick in the No. 29 Budweiser ride finished seventh despite a late-race charge that didn’t quite get him to the front.
While he only led two laps under caution, Paul Menard pushed Denny Hamlin to the lead where the duo stayed for a long while, until Burton took the lead with the help of Greg Biffle. Menard said, “We just kind of rode around the first half of the race anticipating some big wrecks; there were a couple, but not as many as we thought. I figured it was time to go about Lap 120 and to work our way up there, but it was hard to pass. We could get two cars pushing for about half a lap or so before you could separate them. It was just a lot of riding around the bottom. Sixth is still a good finish and a solid start to our season."
While Burton and Menard stayed near the front, Harvick lurked until about 50 laps to go. The No. 29 stayed in the top five for almost the remainder of the race but was unable mount any significant challenge to the Fords of Biffle and later Kenseth. Harvick said, "Right off the bat we got into a little argument with the cone (the orange commitment cone) there. We had to come in and fix the hole in the nose. We just decided to take care of the car for the first 100 laps and make sure it didn't get too hot. Then there at the end, we just couldn't get everything organized.”
"We had a good evening,” said Burton. “We ran in the front most of the night and were able to keep ourselves in good track position. We thought we had a really good shot at it. Paul (Menard) was hooked up to me and we were coming pretty hard on them going into three. The group on the outside got a run on him and just sucked the air of each other. It's so hard to get tandemed-up. In the past, we could get tandemed-up a lot better. NASCAR did a great job. To be honest, I didn't think they could make these kinds of changes, but they did a great job of breaking up the tandem. It made for a completely different race."
Sadler had some fuel system issues but managed to finish 27th, ahead of all the drivers involved in the crash he inadvertently caused. Not only did he take out Johnson, but Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch, David Ragan and defending race champion Trevor Bayne incurred damage in what would be but the beginning of an action-filled night. "It's really unfortunate. I was really excited about the opportunity to race in the Daytona 500 again this season and we knew we had a good car. It started to lose fuel pressure before the halfway mark and Gil (Martin) and the guys did what they could to get us to the finish. It's not what we hoped for with the General Mills/Kroger Chevrolet but hopefully we can learn something from it they can use at the next restrictor-plate races."
By the numbers:
No. 27 Paul Menard: Start - 37 Finish - 6 Laps Led - 2 Points - 6
No. 29 Kevin Harvick Start - 13 Finish - 7 Laps Led - 0 Points - 7
No. 31 Jeff Burton Start - 9 Finish - 5 Laps Led - 24 Points - 5
No. 33 Elliott Sadler Start - 10 Finish - 27 Laps Led - 0 Points - n/a
Quote of the race: Harvick’s spotter, Billy Odea, during the red flag, "Those blimps are awfully low. I don’t ever want to ride in a blimp. They look scary.”