Monday, November 19, 2012

In The Hunt With RCR: Homestead-Miami, where championship dreams die hard


While Richard Childress Racing's dreams of a Sprint Cup Championship slipped away weeks ago, the organization entered Homestead with three drivers in two series who had legitimate shots at taking home a title. Four really, if you count Joey Coulter who sat just 29 points back of leader James Buescher in the Camping World Truck Series. Ty Dillon was in striking distance with only a 12-point margin to overcome. In the Nationwide Series, Elliott Sadler needed 21 points to grab the championship and Austin Dillon lurked a mere five points behind Sadler.

But as Carl Edwards discovered last season, Homestead-Miami Speedway crushes dreams on a yearly basis, even when you run a perfect race. When you don't have a perfect run, the track shows no mercy.

Camping World Truck Series

Ty Dillon
Photo credit: Skirts and Scuffs
20-year old Ty Dillon raced his heart out Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway and came within laps of following his ARCA championship with a Camping World Truck Series title. With just five laps to go, he'd closed the points gap; a single marker separated Dillon and James Buescher. Unfortunately,the new K & N East champ Kyle Larson, in just his fourth CWTS start, dove to the inside of Dillon and ended up crashing them both. Dillon finished 25th in the race, which dropped him to fourth overall.

"We were running for I guess second or third, maybe had an opportunity to win the race, but I was going to fight as hard as I could, maybe he could have passed me either way. I'm not blaming him for what happened, it's just a racing move." Dillon said. "I fell back to fourth in points, I guess, in the year, and our team doesn't deserve that.  We ran much better all year than fourth in points.  That's just the disappointing thing to not really finish at speed.  But like I said, I'm proud of my guys, they never stopped working until the last second."

Still, Dillon's record of one win, seven top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, along with three pole awards this season earned him the 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, marking the third straight year an RCR driver has earned that honor. Joey Coulter was the 2011 ROTY, and the older Dillon brother, Austin won it in 2010.

"We laid it all on the line like we knew that we could." said Dillon of the Homestead race. That sums up his season nicely, too.

Coulter's night ended better than Dillon's. In his final race for RCR, the driver of the No. 22 Rip It Energy Fuel Chevy came home in third place in the Ford Ecoboost 200, and third place in the championship standings.

"A third-place finish is a great way to end the season." said Coulter. "At first I didn't think the Rip It Energy Fuel crew was going to be able to pull off that strong of a result, we really struggled during the first part of the race. But thanks to the call Harold (Holly, crew chief) made at the end for right-side tires only, we gained a lot of track position and were able to hold on at the end. I also have to thank my guys for such an awesome season, finishing third in the (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship) point standings shows how solid this team was all season."


Nationwide Series 

Photo credit: Skirts and Scuffs
Elliott Sadler spent most of the season atop the points standings. After stumbling at Texas and again at Phoenix he trailed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by 20 points going into Homestead. Not an insurmountable span, to be sure, but a bad set of tires at the last pit stop under caution shuffled him  back in the field. He finished ninth in his last race with RCR, while Stenhouse Jr. went on to win his second consecutive title.

“Overall, this was a great season. We led laps, earned poles and won races. This OneMain Financial team was so consistent all season, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with each one of them." Sadler said. "This is not the finish we wanted for my team, and it is heartbreaking. This loss hurts a lot more than any other. Thanks to everyone on this team for all of their support and determination all season long.” 

Austin Dillon's chances at stealing the title were slim but he raced as if they weren't, even leading 66 laps before fading to fifth. Still, Dillon won the Nationwide Sunoco Rookie of the Year award to go with his CWTS and K & N East ROTY awards. He remained third in points for the season. 

"As soon as we took tires, it was over." said Dillon. "We went to the front so fast. It was a blast being out there racing like that. We had a chance to win but I was challenged with restarts at the end of the night. The biggest thing we did tonight is build a notebook. We worked on the car throughout the race to learn things that will help me when we race here at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the last race of the 2013 season. I'm excited to come back to the Nationwide Series next year and make a run for the championship. Tonight helped us get a head start on that."

Brendan Gaughan and Joey Coulter did well, finishing third and 14th respectively. Gaughan's effort in the No. 33 helped that team finish fifth in the Nationwide Series Owner Championship standings. 

"We were fast all night. Ernie Cope (crew chief) and the boys gave me a Chevrolet that could run up front. I got a great restart at the end and was able to get the South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet near the front and pick up a solid finish tonight." said Gaughan. "I can’t thank Richard Childress and the No. 33 team enough for everything they have done for me all season, I’ve had my confidence built back up this season because of everyone at RCR, so it was very fitting to finish well at Homestead (Miami Speedway).”

 Sprint Cup

On the Cup side, the RCR group's season may not have ended with a whimper, but it certainly didn't end with a bang, unless you count the bombshell news the last couple weeks that not only has Kevin Harvick moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, but taking Budweiser and Jimmy John's with him. Harvick finished the Ford EcoBoost 400 in 8th, Paul Menard in 11th, and Jeff Burton 19th. 

Few teams in the Cup garage will be as happy to see the 2013 cars as this group, and it's quite likely that the organizational changes have just begun. 

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