Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RCR Preview: Childress Looking For First Martinsville Win From Current Drivers

RCR Stable has six wins at Martinsville
RCR at Martinsville… In 120 previous NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville, RCR has earned three poles and posted six wins between former drivers Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt. Additionally, RCR-prepared Chevrolets have earned 25 top-five and 49 top-10 finishes at Martinsville dating back to April 10, 1972. Childress, a former driver in NASCAR’s top division, contributed four of those top 10s from 1976-1978.

The Collective RCR … Over the season’s first five races, RCR’s four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries have notched three top-five and six top-10 finishes. The No. 31 team kicked off the 2011 season with a win in the second Duel 150 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway and, most recently, the No. 29 team visited Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway. RCR-prepared Chevrolets have also completed 5,511 out of 5,948 total laps (92.7 percent) with drivers Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, who have led a combined 131 laps. At least one RCR driver has led laps in each of the season’s first five events.

Get to the Points … For the third consecutive week, three of RCR’s four Sprint Cup Series teams climbed the ranks in the point standings following last weekend’s race at Fontana. While Menard slipped to seventh, Harvick leapfrogged six spots, moving the No. 29 driver to ninth in the standings. Bowyer vaulted seven spots, to 17th, and Burton gained four positions where he now sits 25th in the point standings rundown.

Harvick using fourth-place Phoenix chassis at Martinsville this week
Kevin Harvick
No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes
This Week’s Budweiser Chevrolet at Martinsville Speedway … Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 332 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. Harvick drove this Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway in February.

Winning Jump … Harvick’s last-lap pass for the win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 earned the Bakersfield, Calif., native his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in his home state, and moved him up six spots in the driver point standings to ninth position.

Martinsville Notes … In 19 starts at Martinsville Speedway, Harvick has earned one top five and eight top-10 finishes. He’s completed 97.2 percent (9,250 of 9,519) total laps and has led a total of 301 laps at the Martinsville, Va., track. Harvick has an average starting position of 14.6 and an average finishing position of 17.3.

Last Time Around … Harvick and RCR’s No. 29 team had a solid start in last spring’s race at Martinsville Speedway. Harvick started the race on the pole and led 57 laps before mechanical problems sent him to the garage for repairs. He finished the race 100 laps down and in the 35th position.

Going Trucking … Harvick will drive the Kevin Harvick Inc. No. 2 Chevrolet Silverado in Saturday’s Kroger 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville. The race will air live on SPEED beginning at 2 p.m. Easter Daylight Time. MRN Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio will also broadcast the race.

You had a really good car last year at Martinsville and led 57 laps. How frustrating was it for something mechanical to pop up and end the race 35th when you had a car that could have won? “Well, I think as you look at Martinsville, the past finishes haven’t reflected how our cars have run. Last year for both races, we had really good cars. We led a bunch of laps and got a finish we thought we were capable of getting in the second race. I think we finished third or fourth. For us, it’s a fun race track. It’s kind of our (RCR’s) home race track, I guess you could say. It’s so close to the shops, and you end up having a lot of people from the shops come and watch. It’s just one of those places that you have to race all day, and you have to try and keep your track position, and all the parts, pieces and fenders on it. It’s a race track that I really enjoy running at. Sooner or later, we’re going to win a race there because we’ve run well there for years.”

Speaking of the fall race last year, you led 97 laps and came home with a top-five finish. Did you feel at some point during that race that you had a shot at taking on Denny Hamlin or Jimmie Johnson? “Yeah, honestly, we had the No. 48 beat for most of the day. The No. 11, we had him beat most of the day. He really came on the last couple of runs. We had a couple of really long runs and our car fell off 80 or 90 laps into the long runs. Normally at Martinsville that doesn’t happen. You don’t get those extremely long runs, and we had a couple of them at the end of that race. The No. 11 just beat us there at the end. I would take the same stuff back there that we had the last time. I would take my chance at being fast for 75 to 80 laps instead of worrying about 100 laps any day at Martinsville.”

That second race there, you and teammate Jeff Burton got into it. You’ve told me in the past that when these things happen they make you stronger teammates. It gives you a clearer picture on how to race each other, and how to be fair to one another. Is that what happened after that? “That wasn’t the first time that those things have happened. I think we’re all competitive. I think we expect those competitive reactions out of one another. Really, when the race is over, it doesn’t bother either one of us as long as it doesn’t affect the teams. We’ll sit down and talk about it. A lot of times you end up laughing just how your emotions are so much different inside the car. Then you wind up talking about a bunch of other things. It’s no different than having a spat in your own family. You have a spat that leads to something that makes everyone better and leads you forward in situations in a competitive environment. It turned out fine.”

Burton was outstanding in both 2010 Martinsville races 
Jeff Burton
No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes
This Week’s Caterpillar Chevrolet at Martinsville Speedway … Jeff Burton will race chassis No. 319 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. Built new for 2010, this Caterpillar Chevrolet was put through its first paces at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September where the 17-year veteran was credited with a 15th-place result after running out of fuel with two laps remaining in the 300 miler and coasting to the finish. This No. 31 racer also competed at Phoenix International Raceway last November where the team was well on their way to a promising top-10 finish but was forced to pit for fuel with eight laps remaining, relegating them to a 19th-place effort.

Martinsville Details … In 33 starts at the Virginia oval, Burton boasts one win (Sept. 1997), 10 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. Additionally, the 42-year-old holds a 16.9 starting average coupled with a 14.6 finishing average and has led 940 laps of competition, including paces in five of the last seven races. The veteran driver has also been running at the end of the last eight races at the paper clip-shaped oval.

Third Time the Charm? … After showcasing dominating performances in both Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway last year, Burton and the Cat Racing team have set their sights on winning this year’s grandfather clock. In the spring 2010 race, Burton and fellow Virginian Denny Hamlin swapped the top spot seven times during the middle and latter stages of the 500-lap showdown. But, with 15 laps remaining, Burton cut a right-front tire while trying to make a pass on Hamlin for the lead that resulted in an undeserved 20th-place result. Six months later when NASCAR’s premier division returned to the half-mile short track, Burton ran the majority of the race in the top five where he lead the most laps. In the closing 50 laps, while running second and gaining on then-leader RCR teammate Kevin Harvick, the right-rear tire was wearing off that caused the Caterpillar Chevrolet to loose grip and several positions that saw him take the checkered flag in ninth.

Carry Me Back to Ole Virginia … Three members of the Cat Racing team hail from the Old Dominion State. Caterpillar driver Jeff Burton was born and raised in South Boston. Gear specialist Greg Meredith was born, and still resides, in Fancy Gap while tire specialist Tracey Ramsey hails from Fredericksburg.

RCR has a good short track program, but it seems Martinsville doesn’t want to cut you guys any slack. “Well, we had them beat in the spring there last year. We had (Denny) Hamlin beat. It was a done deal. Then, we cut a right-front tire. He won’t admit we had it done, but he was struggling at that point. The deal was going to get closed out. Then, we went back there in the fall and ran really, really well. We led laps. The last run of the race, we just weren’t as good as what we needed to be. I think we finished ninth. We had a really, really good car. What I look at is I don’t know how you keep from cutting a tire, so I’m not going to worry about that. With the race in the fall, we probably raced a little too hard, a little bit too early and ate the tires off of it. Again, who thinks you’re going to run 100 laps at the end at Martinsville? That’s what happened. We went a full fuel run to end the race at Martinsville. We just don’t ever see that. I was racing thinking another caution was coming out and it didn’t. Again, we had good race cars and I think we can go there and be ultra competitive.”

You’ve never been the kind of driver that flips out inside the race car. What goes through your mind? You’re working on ending a winless streak and you have the man you need to beat in your crosshairs. Then, all of a sudden the tire goes down. Walk people through what you’re thinking. “Specifically, in that event, I remember I drove into turn one and the car just acted odd. Right then, I said ‘we have a problem.’ It was four or five laps later that the tire actually ended up going down. At some point, you just have to start managing the situation. You’re upset because you’re certainly losing an opportunity to win a race, but you go into survival mode. Just because it’s not as good as it’s going to be, it’s not going to be terrible. At that point, you have to get everything that you can. You have to make that switch quickly. You can’t be in denial. You have to accept your situation and go make the best out of it. It is very hard to walk out of a race track with your head held as high as you felt like you could have held it. Again, if you analyze the situation, then it’s a whole lot easier to take the good and the bad. If you always don’t think it’s your fault and always someone else’s fault, you have a problem. You have to analyze every situation for what it is and learn from it. If you do that, you tend to get over things a whole lot quicker. My deadline for myself to get over things is Monday at noon. If I’m not over it on Monday by noon, then I tell myself to grow up and quit being a baby.”

Given how you ran there last year, are you pumped up as ever to go there? “Well, I really like Martinsville. I’ve always liked racing there. I think it’s one of the hardest races we run all year. There are a lot of people that hate Martinsville. That’s why I like it. This is the highest form of motorsports in North America. It’s supposed to be hard. This track is hard. I also know that I’ve been there before and won a race and went back there the next year with the same setup and didn’t finish on the lead lap. That track changes more than any track we go to. We have to go there with open eyes, open minds and be willing to change if something isn’t working. I think we have a good basic outline to start with but that won’t be good enough. We’ll have to find a way to make it better.”

I can’t believe how fast things happen at Martinsville. It seems to me that things happen faster at Martinsville than at other tracks. “It does. That’s the thing that people don’t understand. At Fontana, a two-mile race track, things happen slowly, relatively speaking. At Martinsville, a half-mile race track, you’re going a lot slower, but things happen quicker. You never ever, ever have a time at Martinsville where you say, ‘alright, we can relax. We’ll hide out here for a little while.’ That doesn’t happen. You’re always in the midst of something. If you’re not right now, there’s a caution coming pretty quick, and you’re going to be in the middle of it pretty quick. I think from start to finish, that’s the hardest race we run, from managing your car, managing yourself, to staying focused on the goal. I think it’s the hardest race we run all year.”

Being from South Boston, how cool was it to win the Cup Series race in 1997 at your home track? “I was really sick when we won that race. I was really struggling and could hardly stand up. That’s one of the most gratifying wins I’ve ever had because I passed Rusty (Wallace) on the outside before there was an outside (lane) to take the lead. We made a pit stop and he beat us out of the pits. There were a few cautions after that and each time, he kept jumping the restart and NASCAR warned him about that. Well, he did it again and they black flagged him. So, there I am leading the race and here comes Bobby Hamilton. He was on the inside and I was on the outside and I wanted to beat him. It was a really rewarding race because I had to work hard for it. Nothing came easy on that day.”

Martinsville not Bowyer's best track
Clint Bowyer
No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet
Race Notes and Quotes
This Week’s BB&T Chevrolet at Martinsville Speedway … Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 340 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Chevrolet Impala was utilized last month at Phoenix International Raceway where the No. 33 team finished 27th after being involved in a 13-car pileup on lap-68.

Career Martinsville Stats … The Goody’s Fast Relief 500 marks Bowyer’s 187th NSCS start.
* In 10 NSCS starts at Martinsville, Bowyer owns one top-five and five top-10 finishes.
* He has completed 97.1 percent (4,874 of 5,019) of the total laps contested at MVS during his career.
* The Emporia, Kan., native has not led a lap yet at MVS.
* Bowyer owns an 18.9 average starting position and a 15.3 average finishing position.
* His best effort at the Virginia facility is a fifth-place finish that he recorded in the spring race of 2009.

Points Racing … After the strong finish in Fontana, Bowyer jumped seven positions, to 17th, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings

In the last seven races at Martinsville Speedway, you have had five top-10 finishes. You must feel like you guys are closing in on something pretty big there? “Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot better at Martinsville. I needed to. It was one track that I was terrible at when I first started. You must have a lot of discipline at that facility and there are a lot of things that you do different at a track like that. It was a big learning curve for me. We practiced and worked hard at it. I feel I’ve come a long way and our equipment has also come a long way at Martinsville. Jeff (Burton) had the car to beat down there last spring.

RCR has always had a good short track program, except for Martinsville. Does that surprise you at all? “It did when I first came here. We run well on the short tracks. Whether it’s our driving styles, our equipment or what we do as a package collectively. It did surprise me a little bit when I first came to Martinsville. I had my head full of confidence and was thinking, ‘we’re going to go out there and do something good’ and was terrible. My first time there, I was really bad. That little Rockingham track that they built was kind of a test track and is very similar to Martinsville so we’ve spent a lot of time there and learned a lot, both me as a driver, and the team figuring out the equipment we needed on the car to be competitive.”

Martinsville Speedway has kind of been a personal playground for Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. Have you been like, ‘what the heck, we’re running well…’? “That’s Denny’s country. He’s raced there a bunch growing up. Jimmie is kind of like Jeff Gordon and Jeff was great there before Jimmie came along. You know, don’t forget about Jeff either. Your driving style has to fit that kind of track and you must have good equipment. You have to work hard at the setups and provide information to your team. I think Denny has done a good job of getting a package that he needs there to go out, lead laps and win the race. Certainly, Jimmie has found the same.”

Menard sits seventh in the Cup standings
Paul Menard
No. 27 NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes
This Week’s NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet at Martinsville Speedway … Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 349 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala is a brand new addition to the RCR fleet, and will see its first laps on the race track during Friday’s practice session.

Race Rewind … Last week, Menard and the No. 27 team brought home a 16th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. He heads to Martinsville seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings.

Talk about your past experiences at Martinsville. “I’ve struggled at Martinsville in the past. Last year, we actually had two really good races, and the fall of 2009, we ran in the top 10 until a pit stop hurt us. The last three times that I’ve been there, I’ve felt like I had a top-10 car. Things happen at Martinsville that are outside of your control. It’s kind of like a restrictor-plate track – there’s a lot of beating and banging, people not expecting to do it or trying to do it, it’s just apparent with the chain reactions and everyone checking up. You’ll get fenders tore up. You’ll have broken rear gears from wheel spin on exit. There are a lot of things that can happen. You just have to try and minimize all of that and stay out of trouble as best as you can.”

There is always someone around you at Martinsville. Do you enjoy that physicality of the race? “Yes, it’s a very mental race and not as physical as you think. You drive into the corner and you kind lean of against your seat. There’s not a whole lot of load, but it’s very mental. You’re always checking your mirrors to see if anyone is going to dive bomb you, you are constantly trying to protect your inside, and if you get shuffled to the outside, you’re going to get freight-trained. It’s very mental just like a restrictor-plate race track.”

How much carry over is there between Bristol and Martinsville?  “Zero. There’s nothing similar in the way you drive it or the setups on the car. Probably, the biggest thing that is carried over is the drive off of the corners. We have great ECR engines, over 800 horsepower, and trying to hook that power up off the corner is tough to do at Bristol – it’s even harder to do at Martinsville.”

- Richard Childress Racing, Press Release

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