Darlington Raceway. The Southern 500. Historic race, historic track. The track and race where last year the Kevin Harvick - Kyle Busch on-track feud spilled over onto pit road.
Saturday night racing at its finest, right?
The Bojangles Southern 500 made history, all right. The start of the race yielded the longest green-flag run in track history. Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team finally earned that elusive 200th career win for Hendrick Motorsports. Congratulations to Five-Time and HMS.
But for Team RCR, the night could be summed up in a recap the length of a single tweet. Tight in, loose off. Adjust air pressure. Add or remove wedge. Keep digging, car's getting better. Wait, that's too far, car's getting worse.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Nobody led a lap, nobody fought for the lead. All three teams, the No. 27, No. 29, and No. 31 experienced basically the same things through the 500-mile race. Normally I'd break the action down by team but there was no significant action to break down. Each team performed basically the same as the others, except that Harvick ranked first in green-flag passes with 109, though the passes didn't get him anywhere close to the front of the field. He had the fastest speed in traffic at 162.797mph, but that statistic's virtually meaningless because the leaders were rarely in traffic except when they were lapping cars. Burton, made 57 green flag passes but none of them were near the leaders.
The RCR organization hoped to gain some significant ground in the points this week, for Jeff Burton and Paul Menard to get closer to the strike zone for the Chase and for Kevin Harvick to regain his top five status. Burton gained one position to 17th despite finishing eight spots worse than he started. Menard gained one position to 13th, but Harvick - who last week finished five spots worse than he started but gained two positions in points - lost three spots in the points despite finishing seven spots better than he started. Harvick's crew chief Shane Wilson has to be beyond frustrated at this point.
After eleven races, the group as a whole only has three top-five finishes, eleven top tens, and no wins. They've led only 174 of the 3488 laps run, and most of those were led by Harvick in Phoenix, the second race of the season. They only have two DNFs, but one of those was Harvick's from last week where he actually gained in the points despite crashing out of the race.
Perhaps it's too early to hit the proverbial panic button, but it's not too early for RCR to take a serious look at the way the teams have been running. Harvick needs to win. Menard and Burton need to finish in the top five. Unless, of course, they're going to settle for mediocrity.
By the numbers:
Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards/Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet
Race Start: 14th Race Finish: 13th
Points Start: 14th Points Finish: 13th
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet
Race Start: 23th Race Finish: 16th
Points Start: 5th Points Finish: 8th
Jeff Burton, No. 31 BB& T Chevrolet
Race Start: 10th Race Finish: 18th
Points Start: 18th Points Finish: 17th