Monday, April 2, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Week Six - Martinsville

Kevin Harvick started the No. 29 Budweiser is Back Chevy from outside the front row, led the first 21 laps of the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville but couldn't keep up with Jeff Gordon. Jeff Burton kept the No. 31 BB&T car in the top 10 until about lap 175 but a mysterious electrical/ engine problem had him struggling to finish in the top 20. Paul Menard's No. 27 Menards/Libman machine wouldn't turn and he slipped back through the field. Hermie Sadler drove the No. 33 for this race in his home state and managed to improve his position by more spots than any of the regular RCR teams.

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kevin Harvick No. 29 Budweiser is Back
Start: 2
Finish: 19
Points: 5 (down from 2nd)

Harvick and his brew crew came into Sunday's race riding the high of his dominant victory in the NCWTS on Saturday and for a short while he looked as if he'd bring back a trophy like Budweiser brought back the beer after Prohibition. (Don't blame me, it goes with the paint scheme!) However, handling issues prevented him from posing any serious threat to the leaders over the long haul. The No. 29 went a lap down and wasn't able to make up much ground despite major adjustments. Harvick fell three spots in the point standings to fifth.

Post-race, Harvick said, “We just went in the wrong direction with the setup for today and learned what not to do when we come back in the fall. It was just not a good day at all. As a group we probably made some wrong decisions before the race but as a group we will fix them for the fall race.”

Paul Menard No. 27 Libman / Menards
Start: 11
Finish: 26
Point Standings: 14 (down from 10th)

The No. 27 Menards car started near the front but fell victim to the handling problems that plagued the whole team. Paul Menard slid back through the field as Slugger Labbe worked to get the car better, but a late-race speeding penalty kept the team from finishing anywhere near as well as they qualified. Falling from 10th to 14th in points, Menard described the day as tough for both the No. 27 team and the whole RCR organization.

Menard said, "We felt like we had a good setup coming off of our practice sessions but we struggled with the early long green-flag runs. Then the speeding penalty toward the end of the race hurt us even further. We’ll regroup and get back after it at Texas (Motor Speedway).”

Jeff Burton No. 31 BB&T
Start: 22
Finish: 18
Point Standings: 15 (down from 14th)

South Boston, Virginia native Jeff Burton qualified relatively well considering he's been known to qualify in the back of the field more than most during his lengthy career. He even ran as high as fifth before the No. 31 BB&T car started suffering from handling woes. Rear grip seemed in short supply across all teams, but to compound the issue the car developed engine problems around the halfway point of the race. Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer worked with ECR engine representatives to determine it was an electrical problem but by the time they got the offending part replaced it was too late to recapture his earlier position. Still, by improving on his 22nd place start with an 18th-place finish, Burton lost only one spot in the championship standings.

Burton said, “It is very frustrating to have another race where we had a competitive car and suffered terrible luck.”

Hermie Sadler No. 33 Anderson's Pure Maple Syrup
Start: 41
Finish: 31
Point Standings: 44

Emporia, VA's Hermie Sadler and brother Elliott grew up just about 90 miles from the Jeff Burton and his brother Ward. The elder Sadler brother joined the RCR posse to race for the first time this year and only his fifth Cup race since 2006. Though he started in 41st position, Sadler steadily improved over the course of the race until he, too, had what appeared to be electrical problems with his engine. Still, he improved more positions than the other Childress teams and did well enough to be sitting in 44th in driver points.

While the official Childress reports don't mention Sadler's performance, post-race he tweeted, "Car drove decent. Had electrical miss in the engine last 250 laps. Hung in there and kept the 33 in top 35 in points. Good to be on track." A bit later he clarified, "For those asking, our issue was not actually with the engine today. Rather something electrical. Will find out tomorrow."

On a personal note for Sadler, his daughter Halie visited the track with him. He explained via Twitter, "Halie is my daughter with autism. 2 years ago she wouldn't come to the track. Tomm is a big day for both of us."


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