Sunday, July 15, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Loudon


Once again the Nationwide Series side of Richard Childress Racing created more excitement than the Sprint Cup side. This weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, both the NNS and the NSCS teams ran three cars, but had widely differing results. Kevin Harvick ran near the front in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, finishing in the top ten. But in the F.W. Web 200, he came within a lapped car of winning the race and grudgingly settled for second. Cup drivers Paul Menard and Jeff Burton struggled, with Menard ending up in 17th and Burton in 21st.

In NNS, Austin Dillon couldn't catch Harvick or Brad Keselowski, the race winner, but by crossing the finish line in third, he was the highest-finishing series regular, the highest finishing rookie, and nabbed $100,000 in the Dash 4 Cash competition. Elliott Sadler had some handling issues but still wound up in seventh place, his 13th top ten of the season, and he leads Dillon by just three points in the championship standings despite the No. 3 team losing another six points from failing post-qualifying tech at Daytona.
Harvick's no stranger to controversy and Saturday's race pitted him against rookie driver Angela Cope in a conflict. As the laps wound down, Harvick led Keselowski but each time the leaders came around to pass lap traffic, they had to contend with Cope, who disregarded NASCAR's instruction for rookies to move to the outside when the leaders were coming. On Lap 178 Harvick went low to pass Cope, who was multiple laps down, and they made contact, slowing Harvick's momentum and allowing Keselowski to take the lead on the outside.

After the race Harvick pulled over and waited for Cope's No. 24 to pass him heading for post-race inspection and as she turned onto pit road, lightly bumped her. Harvick's post-race interviews were less than complimentary toward the rookie. Still, he scored his fifth top five in his eight NNS starts this season.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ran at Iowa, and Ty Dillon came home in seventh, dropping one spot to third in points. The younger Dillon brother has finished each of the first nine races of the season in the top ten.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series


Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet


Start - 12
Finish - 8
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 6
Points Finish - 6

By Lap 56, Harvick worked his way into the top ten, where he stayed for almost the entire race. The No. 29 was tight through the center of the turns and loose off, not unusual for NHMS. Unfortunately, the changes Shane Wilson and company made sent the car to the loose side and Harvick couldn't mount a challenge for the lead.

Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards / Duracell Chevrolet  Chevrolet


Start - 13
Finish - 17
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 13
Points Finish - 15

The No. 27 started the race loose and the team chased it through changing track conditions but were never able to hit on the right combination. Although Menard finished only four spots back from where he started, he lost two positions in the points and the team will need some major good luck if they want to make the Chase.

Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar  Chevrolet


Start - 25
Finish - 21
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 18
Points Finish -19

Jeff Burton and crew hoped to build momentum on their second-place finish last week, but NHMS wasn't as kind to the No. 31 team as Daytona was. The woes of an ill-handling race car plagued Burton and were compounded by a minor pit road incident with the No. 15. Burton managed to improve his starting position by 4 spots, but dropped a position in the points. On the one hand, i's been nearly four years since his last trip to Victory Lane, but on the other, he already has as many top fives as in all of last season, and is just one shy of the number of top 10s.

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