Monday, September 3, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Atlanta

Ty Dillon's first NASCAR win / Photo credit:
Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
From the high of Ty Dillon winning his first NASCAR Camping World Truck race to the frustration of Kevin Harvick losing the Nationwide race he'd dominated and the excitement of Harvick contending for the win in the Sprint Cup race, Richard Childress Racing finally had something to cheer about in all three series. The Cup teams didn't bring home a trophy, but their overall performance showed obvious improvement.

Camping World Truck Series 

After a heartbreaking finish at Bristol last week, 20-year-old Ty Dillon earned his first NASCAR win in his 17th NCWTS start Friday night. Starting from the pole, Dillon outran Kyle Busch, who was making his first Truck Series start since Texas last November, to take home the trophy in the in the Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 200. Busch led more laps, 75 to Dillon's 40, but in the end just didn't have the speed to catch the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Museum Chevy.

Dillon said, "It's such a relief to finally get my first NASCAR win. My whole life has revolved around NASCAR. My whole dream was to win a race in NASCAR and maybe one day become a champion. I accomplished one of my goals tonight. It feels great."

"I couldn't be more proud of Ty and what he did tonight," said proud grandfather Richard Childress (Pop-Pop). "He has the heart and the drive to win races. I couldn't be more proud from a grandfather's standpoint. He really looked like a pro out there tonight like he had been doing this for awhile."

The younger Dillon brother held on to third in points while Joey Coulter, who got his own first win just a few weeks ago at Pocono, finished seventh, moving him up to sixth in points. Teammate Tim George Jr. got caught up in an accident on Lap 37 and came home 28th. George Jr. remains 25th in points.

Nationwide Series

Harvick in front of Dillon, who's being pushed by Sadler
Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Kevin Harvick earned his sixth top five in his 10th Nationwide start in 2012. The No. 33 Bad Boy Buggies Chevy stayed up for 157 laps of the NRA American Warrior 300, but a late caution for debris allowed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to take the lead on the final lap with a push from Brad Keselowski.  Harvick wasn't particularly pleased with the outcome of the race and some drama ensued first on pit road then in the media center. If you missed the media center action, Jeff Gluck of SBNation goes over it here, with video.

At the same table in the MC, Austin Dillon sat, as he often has this season, as top-finishing rookie. "There was a lot of slipping and sliding out there," Dillon said. "The AdvoCare Chevrolet was not handling very well at the beginning of the race but we worked together as a team and recovered well."

Leaving the drama to Harvick, Elliott Sadler ran well all night, finishing in fourth after starting seventh. He said, “I am so proud of this OneMain Financial team this weekend. This team never gives up, and we had a great car this weekend. We just couldn’t hold up on the long runs tonight." Sadler holds on to the top spot in the Nationwide points standings, with Dillon 37 points back in fourth.

Sprint Cup Series 

In what's a case of "too little, too late" for Jeff Burton and Paul Menard and a case of "about dang time" for Kevin Harvick, all three of the RCR cars finished in the top 12, all three significantly improved on their starting positions, and Harvick led more laps than he has in any Cup race all season and almost twice as many as Burton and Menard have this season combined. This weekend RCR finally looked like the top-tier team they should be.

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Rheem Chevy
Photo Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Start - 24                           
Finish - 5                             
Laps Led - 101
Points - 9

With son Keelan at the track for the first time, Kevin Harvick began the race with the familiar words "It's plowing," but he quickly moved into the top five and stayed there. Leading four times for a total of 101 laps, the No. 29 Rheem Chevy looked good at the front of the field for a change. Handling issues arose near the end of the race, though, and while Gil Martin adjusted as best he could, Harvick couldn't keep up with Denny Hamlin or the streaking No 24 of Jeff Gordon. Harvick's fifth-place finish kept him in ninth, though, and clinched a spot in the Chase. He'll be seeded near the bottom unless he can win next week.

"We had a really good car in the first half." Harvick said. "It wasn’t bad in the second half but about 150 laps to go we just got too tight getting into the corner and never could get that out of it.  We led some laps, finished in the top five..." He went on to say, "I just have to thank Gil (Martin, crew chief) for coming back with everything we put him through it wasn’t a great situation.  It takes a big man to do what he did and things are going in the right direction.”

Paul Menard, No. 27 Quaker State / Menards Chevrolet
Start – 18
Finish – 8
Laps Led – 0         
Points – 15

Paul Menard scored his third consecutive top-ten finish with an eighth at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He fought handling issues and crew chief Slugger Labbe adjusted on them until the No. 27 Quaker State/Menards Chevy reached the top 15 by Lap 160 and the top 10 by Lap 280 where he stayed for the rest of the race.

“We kept making the car better." Menard said. "We started off in the daylight and it wasn't that good.  As the sun went down we got better, made the right adjustments and came away with another top 10.  Always want more, but a solid night.”

And according to Rea White of, RCR's appeal of the No. 27 team's penalties for the altered frame rails found after the Michigan race will be held on Monday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. ET.

Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy
Laps Led-0                   

While Jeff Burton's car wasn't nearly as good this week as it was last weekend at Bristol, he still managed to work his way into the top 15 by Lap 240 and knocking on the door of the top ten by Lap 280. The 12th place result was Burton's best since Daytona, and one of only eight top-15 performances this season.

“The team effort tonight was outstanding on the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet." said Burton. "Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer made great calls in the pits and the pit crew was solid all night on every pit stop. We were fighting a tight-handling condition most of the night and it turned out the left side of the front splitter was completely ripped off so that explains a lot. We improved again with our 1.5-mile program which is very encouraging. That’s definitely a step in the right direction.”


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