Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: The Brickyard


For the RCR crew, Sunday's 19th running of the Brickyard 400 (now saddled with the cumbersome title of Crown Royal Presents The Curtiss Shaver 400 At The Brickyard Powered By Big Machine Records) seemed almost anticlimactic considering the excitement and controversy surrounding the Nationwide Series debut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, not to mention Elliott Sadler's emotional victory last week at Chicagoland. Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard had solid runs, but didn't have a prayer of catching the Hendrick Chevys. Jeff Burton had worked his way up through the field, but tire troubles sent his hopes of a good finish up in flames.

Nationwide and Trucks: Chicagoland
While the Cup drivers enjoyed their last free weekend of the season, the NCWTS and NNS provided plenty of good racing at Chicagoland. Brendan Gaughan jumped in the No. 2 South Point Hotel & Casino Silverado and charged to a second-place finish after leading 83 laps. Ty Dillon in the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops ride led for 17 laps but handling issues kept him from being able to stay up front.

In the Nationwide race at the Joliet, Il. track, Elliott Sadler earned his third win of the season and $100,000 in the Dash 4 Cash. He emerged from the car exhausted from being sick all week, but jubilant over the victory. Austin Dillon couldn't quite overcome being caught on pit road when the final caution came out and finished sixth. Brendan Gaughan in the No. 33 Rheem/Menards Chevy almost made it back from pit woes but was knocked out of the top ten when he was forced into the wall, ending his race five laps early. 

Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR
Nationwide: Indianapolis

Saturday the Nationwide Series ran at the Brickyard for the first time, and the RCR teams featured prominently in the inaugural race at the Speedway, providing radio and television broadcasts with plenty of material for discussion. Ty Dillon drove the No. 51 WESCO Chevrolet to a third-place finish in only his second Nationwide Series start. Brother Austin Dillon finished fifth in the No. 3 Advocare Chevy, pushing teammate Elliott Sadler to the lead on the final restart. That push garnered plenty of attention when Sadler was black-flagged for crossing the starting line in front of the leader. Crew chief Luke Lambert argued the case with race officials but to no avail; Sadler served his pass-through penalty with only 11 laps to go, rejoining the field in 24th position. The No. 2 OneMain Financial car was fast but ran out of time, finishing 15th and Sadler holds on to the points lead over Dillon by a single point.

Sprint Cup

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet
Start - 27
Finish -13
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 6
Points Finish - 6

Somehow Kevin Harvick managed to improve his starting position by 14 spots even though the No 29 suffered handling issues. By now Harvick fans should be able to recite the litany of complaints by memory. Tight handling. Loose handling. Tight in, loose off.  The car not only ran badly but handled badly. Still, the team didn't give up and Harvick systematically worked his way up to 10th with 18 laps to go. He couldn't hold the position though, the car was too tight and he finished 13th.

"We were junk all weekend, " Harvick said. "No matter if we were turning left or going straight. That pretty much summed up today."

Paul Menard, No. 27  NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet 
Start - 8
Finish - 14
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 15
Points Finish - 15


The defending race champion, Paul Menard went into the weekend with high hopes. Starting in eight position, Menard quickly discovered that the No. 27 car also suffered from the dreaded "tight condition" and Slugger Labbe started making adjustments from the first pit stop. By Lap 70 Menard was running his best laps of the day, but the curse of the tightness returned. Then on the final restart, while running ninth, the No. 27 made contact with the car in front of it and incurred front end damage that appeared to be minor but adversely affected the handling of the car and Menard was only able to salvage a 14th place.

“There were certainly a lot of great memories from last year's win on everyone's mind this weekend and it was great to be back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but we had one focus and that was to win again," Menard explained. "The NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet was solid all weekend, but started off really tight in today's race. The No. 27 team was great in the pits all day and the handling was better until that last restart. We made contact with the car in front of us and were just really tight until the end. We had a top-10 finish until then."

Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Rain-X Chevrolet  
Start - 21
Finish - 32
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 19
Points Finish -20

Jeff Burton sported the paint scheme of new sponsor Rain-X in his 19th start at the Brickyard, a track at which he's not had much luck over those years. With only one top five and five top tens at the Speedway, Burton's experiences at the Speedway haven't been the best, but he was running in the top fifteen when a problem with left front wheel forced him to pit. By the time the No. 31 hit pit road the tire burst into flames. Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer diagnosed a broken brake rotor and sent Burton to the garage for repairs. Upon returning to the track, the car kept pace with the top 15. Unfortunately time ran out and the No. 31 came home in 32nd, nine laps down.

"It was a tough day for the No. 31 Rain-X Chevrolet team. We were hanging around the top 15 when the brake rotor broke and sent us to the garage area for repairs." Burton said. "I'm not sure what happened, but proud of the team for getting me back out there to gain some spots in the end. This team never gives up. We showed some speed once again during the race and had very productive practice sessions all weekend. We just need to stay positive and look forward to Pocono Raceway next weekend."

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