Sunday, April 29, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Richmond





Saturday night racing under the lights at Richmond International Raceway usually means lots of excitement. Unfortunately all three of the regular Richard Childress Racing drivers experienced and guest driver Stephen Leicht created some of the wrong kind of excitement during the Capital City 400. Paul Menard finished in 13th despite drama in practice and on pit road. Kevin Harvick, unable to overcome handling issues, wound up 19th. Jeff Burton limped home in 30th after making hard contact with the wall. 

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches
Start: 3
Finish: 19
Points start: 6 

Points finish: 7 
Photo by Debbie Ross
for Skirts and Scuffs
For weeks now handling problems have plagued the No. 29. Driver Kevin Harvick has used the term "plowing" on the radio often enough that John Deere should look at associate sponsorship. The last two weeks the Shane Wilson-led crew adjusted well enough to earn better positions but on Saturday night The Closer couldn't stay close enough to the leaders to finish in the top ten, much less challenge for the win. Harvick lost another position in the points standings, slipping to seventh. 

"The Jimmy John's Chevrolet was good during the first run of the race, but we couldn't find the right setup to be there in the end," Harvick said. "We made some mistakes tonight, and as a team, we really need to work on keeping the mistakes to a minimum if we're going to win races this season." 

Photo by LJ Cloud for
Skirts and Scuffs
Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards /NIBCO 
Start: 31
Finish: 13
Points start: 14
Points finish: 14

After hitting the turn-four wall in final practice on Friday, Paul Menard switched to a backup car and qualified in 31st. Despite the lack of practice that led to a poor qualifying effort, Menard fought his way through the field to a 13th-place finish. During the race the No. 27 crew ran into problems on pit road when the front tire changer lost control of a tire and chased it out onto pit road. According to Sporting News' Bob Pockrass, the incident occurred when Erik Pringle tripped over a tire left in the Menard's pit stall. Pringle then visited with a crew member from the No. 48 team and expressed his displeasure. 

Crew chief Slugger Labbe quickly let Pringle know that his reaction was unacceptable and, as was broadcast on FOX, that if he (Pringle) ever acted that way again, he'd never work on pit road again.  Pockrass quotes Labbe as saying, “Our crew member went out of our box into the 48 pit box. He went after the rear tire carrier, and to me that’s unacceptable, we don’t do that.” Labbe went on to say, “It’s just short-track racing. At the end of the day, if you’re a crew member or whatever, you’ve got to keep your head on straight and don’t cause no fights. We travel 36 weekends a year, we’re with these guys every weekend and you just don’t do that.” 

Menard fought his way to a 13th-place finish, his career best at Richmond. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong yesterday. We had a really fast car and wrecked it. We didn’t have much time with the back-up car and qualified really terrible." He explained, "Grant (Hutchins, team engineer), Slugger, all the guys got together last night and came up with some changes to do to the car overnight and this morning and it worked. This is the second best car I've ever had here. The first we wrecked on Friday. Thirteenth isn't something to write home about, but after the weekend that we had, it is a good finish.”  

The No. 27 remains 14th in the points.  

Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/
Getty Images for NASCAR
Jeff Burton, No. 31 BB&T                                  
Start: 31
Finish: 30
Point start: 17
Points finish: 20

Jeff Burton may be the Mayor of NASCAR but he certainly doesn't get diplomatic immunity on the track. His luck this season hasn't been the best and Saturday night didn't change that streak. Burton qualified the No 31 BB & T Chevy in 31st, but with lots of work from the crew and chief Drew Blickensderfer made it to inside the top 15, but on Lap 311, little more than a lap after pitting, the No. 31 hit the wall, causing significant damage. Burton said he didn't know what happened, but from the broadcast booth, announcer Darrell Waltrip said that the front tire had really low air pressure and wouldn't turn when cold. 
Burton tweeted post-race "Tough break tonight. Feel bad for my guys. They work so hard." The team slipped three positions in the points to 20th place.

The weekend started out on a more positive note for Burton, though. He raced a late-model car for the first time in 20 years in Denny Hamlin's Short Track Showdown. Burton built a brand-new car for the event and while he finished fourth, he gave the winner, Tony Stewart, a run for his money. Read more about Burton's reason for getting back into a late-model car here.

Stephen Leicht, No. 33 LittleJoesAutos.com / Link-Belt
Start: 40
Finish: 35

Making only his third Sprint Cup start, Stephen Leicht's performance in the No. 33 wasn't brilliant but he didn't finish in last place, either. However, he did inadvertently cause a bit of drama for Dale Earnhardt Jr. during a green flag pit stop at Lap 206. Leicht pulled in at a slight angle and toward the back of the pit stall, so Earnhardt Jr. didn't have room to pull out around him. Earnhardt lost about 10 positions and Leicht earned the wrath of Junior Nation, deserved or not. 

Leicht crossed the finish line in 35th position, improving five spots from his start.

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