Monday, April 23, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Kansas

All three RCR teams lost points in the championship standings this week as Mother Nature again played havoc with setups during the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway. The sunny, breezy 70° Saturday turned into an overcast just-as-breezy 58° Sunday and that caused the cars to be loose and tight at all the wrong times. With only 3 cautions, most adjustments came under green flag conditions, making fine-tuning the cars difficult at best.

Whatever the reason, the RCR Cup teams just haven’t had the same success that the RCR Nationwide drivers have had so far this season. Elliott Sadler and Austin Dillon sit first and third in points, respectively. The Truck Series teams haven’t been quite as successful but still hold fourth (Ty Dillon) and twelfth (Joey Coulter) overall.

Here's how the Cup teams did this week:

Photo by Debbie Ross
for Skirts and Scuffs
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Rheem
Start: 2
Finish: 6
Points: 6th (down one)

Kevin Harvick came within .043 of a second of putting the No. 29 Rheem Chevy on the pole at Kansas Speedway, and had high hopes of finally capitalizing on qualifying well. He ran in second place much of the first eighty-five laps of the race but ran out of fuel on Lap 86 and had to coast to pit road. Four tires and as much Sunoco fuel as the team could pack into the tank put the team in 26th place when Harvick exited the pits on Lap 89.

The driver got up on the wheel and made it to eleventh after green flag stops cycled through on Lap 98. When the third caution flew for debris on Lap 187, Harvick stayed out since it had only been about ten laps since he pitted. With twenty to go he'd worked up to eighth, and by the time the checkered flag waved that sixth place finish seemed like a victory.

Still, the No. 29 seems to have been plagued by costly errors for several weeks, none of them from behind the wheel. Harvick defended his crew:

“We have fast cars right now. We just are making mistakes. We will clean those up. This team has been together for probably eight weeks now. The Rheem Chevrolet was not exactly like it was in practice. The car was really tight today. It took us until the end to get it right. The guys did a great job rebounding on pit road this week. To run out of gas under green flag and come back and finish sixth is a good rebound.”

Photo by LJ Cloud for
Skirts and Scuffs
Paul Menard, No. 27 Zecol / Menards    
Start: 19
Finish: 18
Point Standings: 14  (down two)

With the hood of the No. 27 carrying Zocol along with Menards as the eighth different co-sponsor in as many races, Paul Menard started in 19th position and faced the same loose conditions many teams fought all race. He continued his trend of finishing in the top twenty...but just barely. Adjusting throughout the race, Menard caught a break on the Lap 130 caution and got the "Lucky Dog" pass to get back on the lead lap. However, Slugger Labbe and crew chased the setup the rest of the race. While Menard ran as high as eighth at one point, he still ended up right about where they started, finishing 18th.

The No. 27 team slipped into a tie with Kyle Busch for 13th, but because Busch has more bonus points, Menard shows in 14th.

Photo by Debbie Ross
for Skirts and Scuffs
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Cat 
Start: 12
Finish: 22
Point Standings: 17 (down one) 

Jeff Burton and the No. 31 Caterpillar team qualified well, but again failed to parlay their good start into an equally good finish. Coming off the line in 12th place, Burton and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer struggled to get the car loose enough, to get it to turn through the corner. He slid back through the field until the first pit stop, which was under green, then fell to 22nd, but the adjustments helped enough to get Burton up to as high as 16th at Lap 90.

While he never cracked the top 15, he also never slipped lower than 26th, fighting to stay in the top twenty-five while running four mph slower than the leader. The 22nd place finish pained Burton though, and prompted him to tweet after the race, "I would like to apologize to all of our fans. I know it's hard to watch. We will improve."

Though he only lost one place in the points standings, if Burton and the No. 31 team want to make the Chase, they're going to have to step up their game significantly.


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