Monday, March 5, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Week 2-Phoenix


 Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images North America)
Kevin “The Closer” Harvick ran out of fuel just before the white flag lap, preventing him from potentially providing a photo finish at Phoenix International Raceway. The No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet  managed to maintain enough momentum to complete the final two laps and pull out a second-place finish in the Subway Fresh Fit 500. The rest of the Richard Childress Racing team met with less satisfying results. Paul Menard’s No. 27 Tarkett / Menards car sustained damage that had him finishing 31st, and the Wheaties No. 31 of Jeff Burton finished 33rd with engine problems that took him out of contention.


Leading five times for 88 laps, Harvick essentially ran out of fuel on Lap 310, but managed to coast to the checkers. In the post-race Media Center interview, he credited the new electronic fuel injection system with keeping him at speed.

“Really, you have kind of a little bit more of a cushion because the EFI kind of kept us running there at the end. Basically what it does is knocks the engine down to just a minimum RPM, it's like a rev limiter and that's basically caution car speed there and that's as fast as it'll go.  But it will keep running. It got us back to the start finish line, and it ran out coming off of Turn 2 after the checkered.”

Harvick lead five times for a total of 88 laps, but said that he didn't think he could have caught winner Denny Hamlin.

“Our cars were pretty evenly matched.  Really the whole second half of the race, he was a little bit better on the restarts and was able to kind of scoot by on the one restart there, I lost a couple spots, so that was our weak point of the day was the restarts. We were able to match him, make up a little bit of ground, and just -- I don't know that there would have been enough time.”

New crew chief Shane Wilson’s communications with Harvick and spotter Billy Odea seemed natural, not at all like one might expect weeks into the season. With a seventh place at Daytona and second at Phoenix, Harvick and company sit in third place, only eight points back of points leader Hamlin.
As he crossed the finish line, Harvick said on the radio “That’s what it takes to win championships. Good job! Owner Childress came on with, “Hell of a job.”

Photo by Tyler Barrick/
Getty Images North America
Paul Menard started 20th and finished in 31st place after sustaining damage in a Lap 132 spin involving AJ Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray. While the No. 27 climbed as high as tenth before the incident, they were unable to  crack the top 30 afterward. Still, Menard was able to finish the race and only fell to 14th in the overall point standings despite completing only 303 of the 312 laps.

"We had a really good car here this weekend," Menard. "The Tarkett/ Menards Chevrolet was fast in practice on Friday. Unfortunately, the warmer temperatures for qualifying hurt the balance and we ended up in the 20th position to start today's race. We tried to run a patient race but got caught up in a mess when the No. 22 car got loose. Otherwise, I think we would have had a top-10 finish."

While Jeff Burton’s No. 31 certainly seemed to have eaten its Wheaties, running near the front for much of the race after starting in eleventh. He lead seven laps, but around Lap 286 began reporting engine problems and at Lap 288 NASCAR warned Burton to pick up his speed. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so. On Lap 291 Burton got black flagged and headed to pit road and ultimately the garage, finishing in 33rd place. Burton started in seventh place,

Photo by Todd Warshaw/
Getty Images North America
"I don't really know what happened.” Burton said in the team’s post-race report. “We broke something. It felt like a valve or valve spring or something. We don't really know just yet. It's really disappointing because we had a pretty easy top-10 finish. We didn't run quite as well as we wanted to, but we ran well and put ourselves in position to have a good day. These things are going to happen."  Burton and the No. 31 team fell to twelfth in the points standings. 

While their finishes didn't truly reflect the on-track performance for the RCR drivers this week, perhaps with the exception of Harvick, the three teams have a solid foundation for the season.

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