With no wins and only four top-five finishes in up to nearly two decades of road races for RCR drivers Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, the team generally tries to make it out of Sonoma without major incident. The 2012 season was no exception, with all three drivers managing to improve on their starting positions, Jeff Burton was even received the USG Improving the Finish award for moving up 24 places during the first of the year's two races where right turns count, too.
While Team RCR isn't burning up the track yet, they're at least holding steady for the time being. With just ten races to go before the Chase, only Harvick looks as if he'll make the cut.
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Wheaties Chevrolet
Start - 35
Finish - 11
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 21
Points Finish - 19
Qualifying has never been one of Jeff Burton's strengths and Sonoma was no exception. Maybe it was the Wheaties on the hood, but his 19th start at the California track came within one position of being only his sixth top ten. By Lap 15 the No. 31 was in 25th position and spent the next 70 or so laps steadily working his way into the top 20. With no major handling issues, Burton finished in 11th place, his best finish at the track since 2007, and climbed to 19th in points.
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet
Start - 26
Finish - 16
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 6
Points Finish - 6
A middle-of-the-pack starting position didn't hurt Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Rheem machine as much as running out of fuel mid-race while running in the top 10 and having to regain all the places he'd gained. Though he wasn't able to get back to the leaders to score a third consecutive top 10 on the twisting course, he did manage to avoid the late-race cautions and finish in 16th, retaining sixth position in the points.
Paul Menard, No. 27 Moen / Menards Chevrolet
Start - 23
Finish - 20
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 14
Points Finish - 14
The highlight of Paul Menard's day was on Lap 106 when he, Kyle Busch, and Juan Pablo Montoya spun, bringing out the final caution and setting up the green-white-checkered finish. Prior to that, he started in 23rd, got as high as 17th, but mostly ran around 20th place, where he ended the day. On the bright side, he didn't get in major trouble and managed to hold on to his points position, but he didn't particularly distinguish himself, and he's no closer to earning a wild card slot.
While the Cup drivers visited wine country, the Nationwide Series raced in cheese country. Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin provided exciting racing through the entire field, with the RCR team in the thick of it. Austin Dillon in the No. 3 AdvoCare Chevrolet held on to his points position and managed to stay mid-pack without major consequence despite dropping a gear.
“We lost third gear on lap 12 and it’s really hard to recover from something like that. The guys did a great job using pit strategy to help me gain some positions on the race track," Dillon said, "and I did the best that I could shifting using only second gear and fourth gear. We were able to maintain in the point standings even with a 20th-place finish, so that is the bright side of the day.”
Elliott Sadler in the No. 2 Charter Chevy leads Dillon by a mere 11 points despite finishing behind him in 15th place. Sadler tangled briefly with Jacques Villeneuve, and said “Today was disappointing for the No. 2 Charter Chevrolet team. Our guys worked hard all weekend, and it was unfortunate to finish 15th after the incident late in the race. We did everything we could to gain as many spots at the end.”
Mad Max Papis joined the RCR on track team for Road America and almost stole the whole show. His fender-to-fender battle with Danica Patrick could have decided the race had Patrick not been booted into the gravel by Villeneuve. Papis, who currently coaches Austin and Ty Dillon, hopes to earn a full-time ride with RCR, and finishes like his fourth place could help.
"It was such an honor to drive the No. 33 Rheem/Menards Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing today at Road America," said Papis. "We had a really fast car and overcame a pit road penalty to finish fourth, which says a lot about this team and all our hard work. I can’t thank Rheem and Menards enough for all of their support. I had a blast today.”