Monday, October 22, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Rolling through Kansas


Rolling into Kansas with only five races left in the Chase and Kevin Harvick mired in tenth place, the chances of Richard Childress adding a Sprint Cup to his collection of championship trophies didn't look bright. Rolling out of Kansas they don't look any brighter but that doesn't mean the weekend wasn't a good one for the organization as a whole. 

Paul Menard led a career-high 110 laps Saturday.
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images
Nationwide Series

Austin Dillon came *this* close to winning his fourth pole of the season, and heartbreakingly close to winning his third race of the season. He sits third in points behind race-winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and RCR teammate Elliott Sadler, whose fourth-place finish kept him in the NNS Championship lead by six points. 

Despite their excellent finishes, the series regulars' performances were overshadowed by that of Cup driver Paul Menard, who led the most laps in the Kansas Lottery 300 with 110. That's the most laps he's led in a single race in his NASCAR career! Had the race gone just the advertised distance, Menard might have brought home the trophy but untimely cautions set up two green-white-checker finishes. The No. 33 ran out of gas on Lap 205 and finished 16th. 

"We were going for the win so there was no reason to consider coming in for a splash of fuel on that last caution." explained Menard. "The Menards/Rheem Chevy was the best car on the track all day and one of the best cars I've ever driven. Ernie (Cope, crew chief) made the right calls and the guys did a great job in the pits. Thanks to the guys at the RCR Nationwide Series shop for building a great car and for ECR Engines building a great motor. We gave it a shot and came up short."

Sprint Cup Series 

Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy: Start- 20 Finish- 28  Points- 19th


Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images
Jeff Burton has to be ready to close the hauler door at Homestead and put a period to the 2012 season. Disappointing doesn't begin to cover it. Burton's never been known for qualifying well, but he managed a 20th place berth but ended up starting in the rear of the field for an engine change. As he tried to move through the field, he ended up tangling with Tony Stewart on Lap 83, hit the wall and had to take the No. 31 Caterpiller Chevy to the garage. Emerging on Lap 137, Burton finished in 28th, 53 laps down. To date, Burton's only had 14 lead-lap finishes for the season. He's 19th in points.

“I’m not exactly thrilled about what happened today on the track and if the roles were reversed that accident would’ve never happened." said Burton. "I am proud of the CAT crew for working hard to get me back out on the track to finish the race for the second straight weekend. I can’t say enough about their never-give-up attitudes. I love short-track racing so Martinsville Speedway couldn’t come at a better time next weekend.”

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevy: Start - 10 Finish - 11   Points - 10th

Another team that must be ready for the 2013 cars and a clean slate, the No. 29 Budweiser crew fought the dreaded "loose-handling condition" on Sunday. They also did not do well on restarts, which, with 14 cautions, kept them trying to catch up throughout the entire race. In the end Harvick salvaged an 11th-place finish and remains 10th in points. 

“We weren't sure exactly what to expect coming into this race with the repave, and we did struggle a bit, but we were able to figure a few things out as the race went on." Harvick said. "This wasn't the finish we were really looking for, but we figured out a few things that worked and a few that didn't  Next week is another race, so we’ll move on and switch our focus to Martinsville (Speedway).”

Paul Menard, No. 27 CertainTeed Insulation/Menards Chevy: Start – 14 Finish –  3 Laps Led –  6  Points – 16th 

The bright-yellow No. 27 restarting up front.
Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR
That bright-yellow No. 27 car's been running consistently all season, just not well enough to have gotten in the Chase. Had crew chief Slugger Labbe given Paul Menard a car like the one he had Sunday more often - legally - Menard might have been in the Chase, too. Though he didn't dominate much of the race like he did on Saturday, Menard kept up with the leaders and pulled off his best finish of the season with a third. 

"We had Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) back this weekend." Menard explained. "He is well-rested after six weeks off, and had some good ideas to try this weekend. Our Rheem Chevrolet in the Nationwide (Series) was probably the best car yesterday. And, our CertainTeed/Menards today was good too. It's a game of track position, and we had a good car. It was just a matter of getting us up there and having good pit stops and gained track position. Once we got up there, we just couldn't hang on. This year we've lacked speed overall week‑to‑week.  Last year we qualified really well, had a lot of good speed, but very inconsistent results.

Menard admitted, "This year RCR as a whole has kind of lacked speed. We found some things in the last month or two that's helped us pick up just overall speed."

That's good news for fans of Menard, and gives hope to the whole organization. 

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