Monday, March 26, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Week Five-California


Sunny California turned to soggy California during the Auto Club 400. Though the day started out sunny, by the time the race was underway clouds had rolled in and teams were working their halfway-point strategies. The impending rain wasn't a surprise; making it to halfway before the precipitation began was.

The only RCR team not hurt by that strategy was the No. 29 of Harvick, who ran up front the whole 129 laps and might have been a contender for the win had the race gone green the whole way. Jeff Burton and Paul Menard needed cautions to work on their cars, but the Auto Club Speedway isn't known for having many cautions and most drivers seemed to be working to avoid cautions so they could get to the halfway point and have an official race. The only caution laps were the ones at the end of the race while officials assessed the track condition before throwing the red flag, so the No. 31 and No. 27 didn't do as well as they'd hoped.

Kevin Harvick,  No. 29 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet Impala
Started 7th
Finished 4th
2nd in points

Harvick and "Uncle Smoke," as DeLana Harvick calls Tony Stewart, provided one of the few race highlights when Stewart passed Harvick with what's become his signature, World of Outlaws-inspired "slide job." Stewart put his hand out and waved at Harvick. Unsure of why Stewart was waving, Harvick said on the radio, "I don't know why he's waving at me. I didn't do anything wrong." Harvick drove right up to the bumper of the No. 14 and skillfully pushed him through the straightaway before moving away in the corner.

Harvick battled lack of grip and and a car that refused to turn, but managed to work up to sixth place when the caution flew for rain. With Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson pitting, that moved the No. 29 up to fourth, and keeps Harvick second in points for yet another week.

Harvick said, “I think that was the right call at the end there, to stay out and not pit. It got us a fourth-place finish. Our biggest battle today was that the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet did not take off well at the beginning of a run and then we spent the rest of the time making up track position. Shane Wilson and the guys made changes on the car throughout the race and towards the end the handling was really good.”

Paul Menard No. 27 CertainTeed/Menards Chevrolet Impala
Started 27th 
Finished 19th 
10th in points

No cautions during the race meant crew chief Slugger Labbe had to make adjustments to the No. 27 CertainTeed/Menards machine under green. How much that hurt the team we'll never know because but Menard gained a few spots by staying out under the yellow thrown when the rain began. He moved from the 23rd position where they ran most of the race up to 19th, where they finished. retaining 10th in the points.

Menard said, “Unfortunately with starting 27th and not having a caution during the race, we just couldn’t gain any ground today. For some reason this track keeps us scratching our heads. At least we stayed out when the rain began to fall and gained a little to finish 19th.”

Jeff Burton  No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet Impala  
Started: 19rd
Finished: 22th 
14th in points

The No. 31 Cat Chevy didn't want to turn, and while crew chief Drew Blickensderfer worked to make adjustments under green, it wasn't enough to get Burton to the front. 

After the race Burton tweeted, "@RCR31JeffBurton Today was not good. Started off good and it just never got better. We were our worse at the wrong time. We will keep digging!"

Burton said, "“The car was lacking rear grip all day in the corners and we also had to recover from some of the adjustments we made early in the event. We knew the rain was coming, but I didn’t think it was going to be heavy enough to cancel it.”

Brendan Gaughan No. 33 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Impala 
Started 37nd 
Finished 43nd 
35th in points 

In the last of his Sprint Cup starts for RCR, mechanical problems meant Brendan Gaughan finished dead last, heading to the garage after just one lap. However, he dropped just one spot in driver points to 35th despite having run only four of the five races this year.

According to a tweet from the RCR official Twitter account, @RCRracing, "The No. 33 @southpointlv Chevy is out for today. A valve train failure after a missed shift on the initial start ended the teams day early."

Though his stint with the No. 33 is over in Cup racing, he'll be in the No. 33 for eight more Nationwide Series races and seven more Camping World Truck races.

Nationwide Series

California was much kinder to RCR Nationwide teams. Austin Dillon finished fifth in the No. 3, Elliott Sadler came in ninth with the No. 2,  and Brendan Gaughan had a great run before finishing 10th in the No. 33.

Sadler still sits atop the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver championship point standings by 18 points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. In owner points, the No. 2 Chevrolet team leads the Nationwide owner championship point standings. The No. 3 team is fourth in the standings and the No. 33 team fifth overall.


Just for grins...Racing through Twitterville

Wives tweeting during the race provide comic relief. Here's an exchange from Sunday:

@DeLanaHarvick  Me! RT @NewmanKrissie no idea“@captbuddyb: @NewmanKrissie hey Krissie who was the blonde Tony was holding onto when he got in the car”

‏@NewmanKrissie better D than Me..he likes to grab butts!“@SherryPollex: @NewmanKrissie @captbuddyb It was @DeLanaHarvick!!he was just having fun with her!”

@DeLanaHarvick  I can confirm that uncle smoke did NOT get a grab in...although he threaten to hold me hostage & drag me along.

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