Sunday, July 1, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Kentucky



Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR
The biggest news out of the RCR camp this weekend came Friday night with rookie Austin Dillon earning his first win in NASCAR's Nationwide Series. The 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck champion scored a perfect 150 driver rating as he drove off and left the rest of the field on his way to putting the black No. 3 Chevy in Victory Lane and taking the championship points lead. That lead will almost certainly be brief, though, since the car failed post-race inspection with a too-low rear end. While Dillon will keep the victory, the team will likely lose as many as six championship points when NASCAR convenes on Tuesday.

According to the NASCAR wire service report, Richard Childress explained, "We use 1,200-pound springs to keep the back end up. A rear jack bolt worked its way back on a rough track. It was certainly nothing intentional -and it certainly wasn't an advantage." 

All three RCR Nationwide Series drivers finished in the top 10 in the Feed The Children 300, continuing the organization's dominance in that series. Series regular Elliott Sadler and the No. 2 OneMain Financial car landed inside the top ten, and Kevin Harvick parlayed his sixth Nationwide start of the season into his fifth top ten and fourth top five when he ended the night in third place. 


Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
In addition, Ty Dillon and the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops NCWTS entry finished the UNOH 225 in third, his second top-five finish in a season in which he's not finished out of the top ten. His back-and-forth battle with Brad Keselowski provided some of the most exciting racing of the weekend. The younger Dillon sits third in points. Joey Coulter's No. 22 Steak-umms truck came in seventh while Tim George Jr. fell victim to a late-race incident and came in 24th in his No. 2 Applebee's ride. 

However, the Sprint Cup teams continue to struggle. In the Quaker State 400, Kevin Harvick fought to finish 11th, Paul Menard wound up in 12th, and Jeff Burton chased his car all race, ending up in 24th. Not a disastrous night by any means, but certainly not the kind of night Menard and Burton need to make the Chase, or that Harvick needs to be seeded well when the points field is leveled. 

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet

Start - 4
Finish - 11
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 6
Points Finish - 6


A strong qualifying effort buoyed the hopes of the No. 29 team but once the green flag dropped, Harvick slid back through the field, as low as 25th at lap 90. On the radio he told crew chief Shane Wilson, "We're terrible." The team continued to work to get the right setup and Harvick fought the bumpy Kentucky track to finish just out of the top ten.

In his pre-race media availability, Harvick was candid about the team's performance and prospects. “It’s mistakes. It’s mistakes from top to bottom. There is nothing to hide on the cars run fast enough to win races. The cars run fast enough to be in the top 10 and until the mistakes stop…stuff can’t fall off the car, you can’t run out of gas for the fifth time this year," referring to the recent costly mistake at Sonoma.

He stated, "It’s just flat out mistakes and those guys know that. I know that. It’s not something that we have set out and planned it’s just…and we talked about it very openly this week. This isn't something that I’m getting defensive about or anything. It’s very obvious as to why this team hasn’t won a race. We are fortunate to be in the position that we are in points, but we can’t scramble. You can’t win a championship and you can’t win races on a week to week basis making the mistakes that we've made.”

Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards/Sylvania Chevrolet

Start - 15
Finish - 12
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 14
Points Finish - 13


Paul Menard's night went pretty smoothly, with just a small hiccup in the pits costing the No. 27 Menard's/Sylvania Chevy a few positions. By mid-race, however, Menard ran most of the time around 15th or better. The No. 27 seemed to not have the same extreme handling issues that the other RCR cars did. But while it was a solid night for the team, improving on their starting position and gaining a spot in the points, Menard wasn't able to break into the top ten, much less contend for the win he'll most certainly need to nab a wild card spot in the Chase.

Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet

Start - 29
Finish - 24
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 19
Points Finish - 20


With guests from sponsor Caterpillar in attendance, Jeff Burton had hoped to have a much better performance than the top-25 he earned. As has been the case most of this season, the No. 31 hit the track and needed major adjustments. Loose everywhere, not able to turn through the corner - any corner, the car was faster than they were able to run.

After the race Burton tweeted, "Tough night. Slow early, decent speed in the middle of the race, ran out of gas late. We have to improve and we will."

As determined as the Mayor is, it's hard to believe that the 31 team will be able to do what's necessary to get a wild card entry into the Chase. Too many drivers outside the top ten have wins under their belts, and Burton's struggling to finish in the top 20.

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