Monday, May 28, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Charlotte


Two words sum up the RCR group's night at Charlotte Motor Speedway: Handling issues.

Continuing the theme song from weeks past, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, and Jeff Burton fought loose conditions, tight conditions, and loose and tight conditions for much of the Coca-Cola 600. The trend of few cautions and green-flag pit stops poses challenges for the crew chiefs as they attempt to adjust the cars and not lose places on pit road. The same could be said of most teams, but for some reason the RCR cars seem to be plagued with handling issues from start to finish these days.

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Folds of Honor
Start - 14                    
Finish - 8                
Laps Led - 1            
Points Start -  8
Points Finish - 7


Harvick started in 14th but improved to 8th by Lap 120 and with a great pit stop by the No. 29 Budweiser Folds of Honor crew came out of the second caution in fifth place on Lap 138. Unfortunately that's the best Harvick could manage and while he stayed within sniffing distance of the lead the rest of the night, only led one lap under caution. Despite having a fast car, Harvick settled for an eighth-place finish and moved up one spot in the points.

"We had a solid night. We snuck up there in the top-five and got our bonus point for leading a lap. The pit crew was awesome and we were able to adjust our car. This isn't our strongest race track, but I feel like we have a solid package to build on," declared Harvick.

Paul Menard, No. 27 Serta/Menards
Start -  9           
Finish -  15         
Laps Led -  0       
Points Start -  14
Points Finish - 14

With a top 10 start, Paul Menard hoped to get the No. 27 Serta/Menards Chevy in the vicinity of Victory Lane but had just as many handling issues but not nearly as much luck. Good work in the pits kept Menard from losing multiple laps from major adjustments. Falling as low as 32nd at some points, by the end of the race Menard and crew clawed back to fifteenth. Tied with Ryan Newman for 13th in points, Menard shows as 14th since Newman has better finishes overall. 

"We definitely hit on the setup for the night race. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of ground getting there and with the long-green flag runs, never could get our lap back," Menard said. "The No. 27 Serta/Menards team never quit tonight. They threw everything they had into making adjustments on the car and the pit stops were on the mark. To say this was a hard-fought finish is an understatement, and I want to thank them for all of their hard work."
Harvick and Burton converse in the garage on Thursday.
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR

Jeff Burton, No. 31 Wheaties
Start -  22           
Finish -  19         
Laps Led - 0       
Points Start -  17 
Points Finish - 17

Jeff Burton's season hasn't been much to write home about but he and the No. 31 team keep digging, as they say. This week wearing the Wheaties sponsorship, Burton certainly could have used a Wheaties boost. The cars simply don't run well in race trim and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer spends an enormous amount of time trying to get the handling to Burton's liking. Sunday night a tire issue forced and unscheduled pit stop and the momentum that Burton worked so hard to create stalled. Had he not had the tire issue, perhaps he'd have gotten into the top 10, but  Burton settled for a gain of three positions on the night and no change in points. 

"I know the finish doesn't show it, but we made huge strides with our 1.5-mile program tonight. We had a top-15, maybe even top-10 race car at the end, but that tire issue pinned us down a couple laps, " Burton said. "While I am disappointed about the random issue, I am very proud of the No. 31 Wheaties crew. We are working hard and slowly getting where we need to be week-in and week-out."

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