With three drivers in Cup contention, Richard Childress Racing is giving the
super teams a run for their money
IT HAS been
proven again and again in Sprint Cup racing: Bigger is always better. After
all, the teams with the most cars, fattest budgets and deepest staffs are the
ones that consistently win races. This season alone the sport's three
resource-rich superpowers—Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe
Gibbs Racing—have combined to win eight of the 11 points races. Meanwhile, the
smaller, cash-strapped one- and two-car operations continue to fade into
obscurity, and this lack of parity won't change anytime soon.
Childress, who broke into stock car racing in 1969 as an independent
owner-driver, falls in the middle of this great disparity and is determined not
to be left behind in the era of big-team dominance. Next season Richard
Childress Racing will add a fourth Chevy to its stable, but RCR is already well
into a growth spurt, which helps explain why it has been the surprise team of
that were beating us all had four and five cars, and I knew I had to move in
that direction to be competitive," says the 62-year-old Childress, who last
won a championship in 1994, with Dale Earnhardt Sr. driving RCR's only car. For
more than a year Childress courted potential sponsors for a fourth car, and
that search finally ended in April when General Mills agreed to put up about
$15 million, which is typically what it costs to run a top car.
This season the
three RCR drivers—Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick—haven't shown the
raw speed of Hendrick's Kyle Busch and Roush's Carl Edwards, who have each won
three races, but no team has been more consistent than RCR. Burton, who is
second in the standings and has one victory, was the only driver to complete
every lap (3,664 total) of the first 11 races. Bowyer, fifth in the standings
and also with one win, completed the second-most laps (3,662). Harvick is ninth
in points, but he made more green-flag passes (993) than any other driver in
the top 12 except Burton (1,077). More impressive, no RCR Chevy has suffered a
quite where we need to be in terms of winning a championship, but we're getting
close," says Burton. "We now have the resources at RCR that it takes to
win a title."
Over the winter
Childress completed a 93,000-square-foot addition to his headquarters in
Welcome, N.C., creating room for a new body shop, an auditorium and a
gymnasium. He beefed up his engineering staff to 32 (RCR had half that many two
years ago) and now has a workforce of 450. RCR is still smaller than Hendrick
(550) and Roush Fenway (500), but Childress has all the cutting-edge machinery
that can be found in the shops of his rivals. Yet even with all the
technological essentials, RCR is still a tick behind the Big Three. The RCR
drivers are known for their conservative approach to racing—one reason they
finish so many races—but if they are to be taken seriously as contenders once
the Chase rolls around, they may have to change that style.
"The RCR guys
are blue-collar racers; they'll take what they're given and not push it,"
says three-time Cup champion and Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip. "This is a
great way to race, until the Chase. That's when you have to get your game face
on and go for it. But, hey, that whole team is on the rise."
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Lars Anderson's Cup analysis and Mark Beech's Racing Fan.