Monday, March 12, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Week Three-Las Vegas


Las Vegas casino-goers may celebrate over sevens and elevens at the craps tables, but the RCR team wanted better than Paul Menard’s seventh and Kevin Harvick’s 11th place finishes in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Jeff Burton finished 14th and Brendan Gaughan ended up in 34th in the second race of his limited engagement with RCR.

Photo courtesy RCR/HHR
Paul Menard kept with the Vegas theme, finishing in 7th place, which moved him to 11th in points leaving Vegas, up from 15th after Phoenix. He also managed to top his previous best finish of 12th at LVMS. Starting in 26th, he guided the No. 27 Schrock/Menards Chevrolet to the top ten by halfway and ran as high as fifth before the pit stop during the next-to-last caution dropped him back to 17th place.

A late-race tweet from @RCR27PMenard explained, “Just not good that run. hitting splitter & killed drive off. Back in for rights under caution to try to gain something back. Restart p17.”  Changes during that stop allowed him to crack the top ten before the final yellow and ultimately finish in seventh.

In the Team Chevy post-race debriefing, Menard said “It was definitely and up-and-down week and weekend and race. We started off pretty good and made some good time and then about three-quarters of the way through the race we kind of hit a wall. We tried a little strategy [earlier in the race] with two tires and it just didn’t work out for us. We fell back a little bit and had to make another gamble and were able to drive back up there the last couple of restarts.”

Photo courtesy RCR/HHR
Kevin Harvick's day just got more frustrating as it went along. Baby Otis' father started in 3rd but fought both an ill-handling racecar and an ill-fitting seatbelt that cut off circulation in one leg. He finished in 11th after having run in the top five for much of the race and leading twice for a total of four laps.

Crew Chief Shane Wilson, new to the team this season, adjusted all day but the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet was either tight, tight in-loose off, plowing, or loose in dirty air. Baby Otis' mama, DeLana, who has foregone the firesuit for the duration of her pregnancy, is well-known for her race updates via Twitter, and she documented the up-and-down condition of the No.29 and its driver.                   

Around Lap 39 Mrs. Harvick tweeted "@KevinHarvick needs the front to turn better and needs more rear grip under throttle..." About Lap 80, "'tight,tight' from the cockpit," Before Lap 133, "Seems as though @KevinHarvick seatbelt is digging in his leg and his leg is asleep. Sounds like no fun." Not long after Lap 209, "I don't think dirty air and loose are going to be our friend... P14."

Despite all the adjustments, the crew never got the car just right. Harvick fought his way up another three spots. The 11th place finish might not be what they'd hoped for, but it does put them second in points heading to Bristol.

Post-race Harvick said, “The Budweiser Chevrolet started off strong today. We ran up front, led a few laps and stayed in the top five for the first half of the race. Then we lost track position and it killed us. Track position is so important at these tracks and once we lost it, we were done and struggled with the handling from there until the end.”

Photo courtesy RCR/HHR
Jeff Burton had his work cut out for him, starting in 22nd. The No. 31 Caterpiller Chevy team, lead by crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, worked to adjust to the changing track conditions. Burton reported that the car was loose and that the track had no grip in the desert sun. Running as low as 26th and as high as 11th, the Mayor didn't lead any laps, but he managed to eke out a 14th-place finish to minimize the points damage and leave Vegas 15th in the standings.

Burton's assessment after the race: “To start off, we got behind on Friday when I ran over debris from the No. 42 car and lost valuable practice time sitting in the garage. I’m proud of this team for not giving up today. We didn’t roll over when things got bad and turned nothing into something.”

Brendan Gaughan hoped to perform at his home track in just his third Cup start since 2004 and the second of his four-race limited engagement with RCR. Unfortunately the No. 33 South Point Hotel and Casino Chevy, sponsored by Gaughan's father's Vegas attraction, banged against the wall on Lap 8. Repairs put the team down a number of laps, but the crew kept digging and Gaughan fought for a 34th-place finish. Not nearly as impressive as last week's improvement from 40th to 27th, but a solid day for sustaining such severe damage so early in the race.

“We had a really strong South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet and I appreciate how hard Gil (Martin) and the guys worked on it all weekend," Gaughan said. "I got in the wall early on and really put us behind. I’m learning more and more about these cars every week and I can’t wait until next week at Bristol (Motor Speedway).”

Gaughan fared much better in Saturday's Las Vegas 300 Nationwide race, improving on his ninth-place qualifying run with a fifth-place finish. He'll race another nine times in the No. 33, also sponsored by South Point Hotel and Casino.

Elliot Sadler started on the pole and led the first 26 laps before making major adjustments to keep the splitter from hitting the track. Sadler lost time on the track but guided the No. 2 OneMain Financial Chevy to a third-place finish, giving him the points lead in both driver and owner points.

Austin Dillon never fell below 15th, finishing seventh in the race and moving up a spot in the points standings to second place behind teammate Sadler. Dillon earned his third top ten so far in his first full season in the Nationwide series, and gives RCR a lock on the top two spots in NNS.

Just for grins


More from DeLana Harvick's race tweets
Sometime between laps 49-63: "Might get a little pressure from uncle smoke in the next lap or two, he's a tad faster"
About lap 43: "I swear if uncle smoke wins this race he's cut off! he stopped by to see me on the grid before the race and did his usual grab a$$. #wth"
At the checkers: "That damn uncle smoke.... CUT OFF! finished 11th"

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