Tuesday, April 12, 2011

RCR Driver Previews: Childress Looking for 12th Talladega Win

Richard Childress Racing
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race Notes:

Richard Childress raced in the first Talladega race in 1969
RCR at ‘Dega … Richard Childress Racing boasts 11 victories at the storied Alabama race track amongst three drivers, the most by any car owner in Sprint Cup Series history. Dale Earnhardt captured nine wins while Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer allowed RCR to sweep both events in 2010. Additionally, in 126 starts, RCR boasts four poles, 33 top-five, 53 top-10 finishes and have led 1,654 laps of competition.

The Collective RCR … Over the season’s first seven races, RCR’s four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries have notched two wins, six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. The No. 31 team kicked off the 2011 season with a non-points win in the second Duel 150 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway. Most recently, the No. 29 team visited Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in March and backed that up with a win the following weekend at Martinsville Speedway. RCR-prepared Chevrolets have also completed 8,601 out of 9,284 total laps (92.6 percent) with drivers Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Harvick and Paul Menard, who have led a combined 272 laps. At least one RCR driver has led laps in each of the season’s first seven events.

Get to the Points … Following last weekend’s race at Texas, Harvick moved to ninth in the point standings where he is 28 markers in arrears to the top spot. Menard and Bowyer advanced to 11th and 12th, respectively, after their top-five runs, placing Menard four points and Bowyer 12 points behind Tony Stewart’s 10th-place tally. Burton gained three spots, to 25th, in the rundown and is now 18 markers from cracking the top 20.

Did You Know … Chevrolet holds the record as the manufacturer with the most success at the 2.66-mile superspeedway with 36 victories. RCR contributed 11 of Chevy’s wins.

Bowyer is using the same chassis this week that won at Talladega last fall
Clint Bowyer
No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s BB&T Chevrolet at Talladega Superspeedway … Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 294 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 33 Chevrolet Impala has significant restrictor-plate track success, including a top-five finish (fourth) in the 2010 Daytona 500 and a trip to Victory Lane in last October’s Talladega 500 after starting from the front row.

* In 10 NSCS starts at Talladega, Bowyer owns one win, two top-five and four top-10 finishes.
* He has completed 78.2 percent (1,487 of 1,901) of the total laps contested at TSS during his career.
* The Emporia, Kan., native has led 25 laps at the 2.66-mile oval.
* Bowyer owns a 22.2 average starting position and a 19.4 average finishing position.

Winner, Winner … Bowyer and RCR teammate Kevin Harvick finished 1-2 in last October’s Talladega 500. The trip to Victory Lane with Bowyer gave car owner Richard Childress his 11th victory at Talladega, the most by any car owner at the track. Bowyer led nine times for 19 laps on the way to his fourth career NSCS victory.

Top-Five in The Lone Star State … Bowyer and the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet team, riding momentum from two straight top-10 finishes, led 44 laps en route to a second-place result in the Samsung Mobile 500 under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway.

Points Racing … After his third top-10 finish in as many weeks, Bowyer jumped four more positions, to 12th, in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings

You won in Talladega the last race in October. Are you pumped to go back? "Yeah, I am. We were really, really fast in Daytona, and basically, got destroyed there at the end. Our cars and engines are really good. I look forward to getting to Talladega and having a chance at winning. That’s what it’s all about when you go to a race track. It’s such a good feeling. It’s now up to us to make it happen.”

Bowyer by an inch last fall over his teammate (Getty) 
Do you ever rag on Harvick about beating him by a couple inches there? “No, not really. It just came down to the wire. When you’re sitting in the equipment that we get to sit in at those superspeedways, it doesn’t surprise me that I was racing a teammate for the win.”

That was kind of a weird ending to that race. What were you thinking when the yellow light came on? Did you think you had it won? “I really did think when the caution came out that I was ahead of him, and I was. I didn’t know it was that close, but I really did think that I won.”

Do you have to be more lucky than good to stay out of trouble at Talladega? “Not really. You have to be conscious of your surroundings. You can’t put yourself in a bad situation. If they’re racing hard in front of you and you don’t think you should be around, get out of there! Get out of it and just don’t stay there and hope it’s going to change because nine times out of 10, that’s when it’s going to bite you.”

So, you have to have like a spider sense that something’s about to happen? “Well, usually it’s pretty apparent when things are going to happen believe it or not. There might be someone up there that’s not used to being up there and they are racing pretty wild and erratic. That’s the thing, you get used to racing around people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 20th place team or a top-10 team. You get used to racing around those people. You get comfortable. It’s when those two collide and are racing against one another. That’s when things happen. I hate to say that, but that’s how it is.”

Do you feel like Daytona sets you up for Talladega? “I think it definitely does. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, body work and stuff like that, but we’ll be alright.”

You led 31 laps at Daytona. Was it disappointing to not get something more out of that? “Absolutely. Anytime you run up front as much as we did, we had a shot to win that thing. We really did, with four laps to go; we were one of the six cars in the hunt. We just got wiped out.”

Burton has had some troubles at Talladega, 32nd and 41st last year
Jeff Burton
No. 31 Cat Financial Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Cat Financial Chevrolet at Talladega Superspeedway … Jeff Burton will race Chassis No. 331 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable in this weekend’s Aaron’s 499. Built new for the 2011 season, this No. 31 racer first competed in the second Duel 150 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway where Burton drove it to victory. He then raced this Caterpillar Chevrolet in the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 that ended eight laps shy of the halfway mark for the Todd Berrier-led team when the engine suddenly expired, crediting them with a 36th-place finish.

Unfinished Business … In 34 Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega, Burton owns four top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. Although he has yet to visit Victory Lane at the storied race track, his best finish of third came in October 2001. The South Boston, Va., native also boasts a 24.3 starting average to go along with a 19th-place finishing average and has led 115 laps of competition.

Loopy at ‘Dega … The 21-time Sprint Cup Series race winner is the series’ best green-flag passer. Over the past 12 races at the larger-than-life oval, Burton has made 4,634 passes under green-flag conditions, 553 more passes than Martin Truex Jr. in second place. At the same time, the 43-year-old driver leads all drivers as the sport’s best quality passer. Of his 3,822 passes, 3,202 were made while running in the top 15. Other notable loop data statistics for Burton at Talladega Superspeedway are: Driver Rating (fifth), Fastest Drivers in an Early Run (10th), Fastest Drivers in a Late Run (third), Green-Flag Speed (fifth), Laps in Top 15 (fourth) and Speed in Traffic (first).

A Streak Looking to End … Burton currently owns an 84-race winless streak that he hopes to break in this weekend’s 188-lap showdown. The Caterpillar driver’s last visit to Winner’s Circle was in October 2008 when he led the final 57 laps en route to his 21st Sprint Cup Series career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Last year, you had good cars but bad finishes at Talladega. That must have been disappointing. “Our (restrictor) plate season last year was less than desirable. We had really fast cars. I am grateful for that. I feel like we have cars that can win races, run in the front and lead a lot of laps. We have to miss the wreck. What happened in both of last year’s races was me minding my own business and the next thing you know, I’m in a wreck. That’s kind of the way Talladega has been for everyone. It seems like you go through spurts where you miss the wrecks and, all of sudden, you go through a spurt where you can’t do anything right. That’s kind of what happened to us last year. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It makes you think about what your strategy should be going back.”

Burton using winning Gatorade car this week (Getty)
Given how you ran in Daytona, how does that set you up for Talladega? “We were really fast at Daytona. I was real excited about our car in Daytona. I think the two-car draft is something that everyone is going to try to use at Talladega – there’s no question about that. A lot of people have worked on their cooling packages. It’ll be interesting to see how long people can push each other now. A couple of our cars had engine problems, including us. Those guys work really hard and I’m sure we have that remedied. But, certainly, that will be in the back of our mind.”

What do you think of the two-car draft and do you think we’ll see it again? “We’ll definitely see it again, there’s no way around it. The doors open, and the only way to shut it is to change some rules. I don’t even know how you can change the rules to make it so you can shut it. You would have to do something pretty radical. You’re going to see a lot of that. There’s just no way around it. Two cars can go faster than three. You’ll without a question see a lot of it.”

How uncomfortable was it to be the pusher? “Well, there were times when it was uncomfortable to be both. The thing about being the pusher is you can’t see. If you’re not communicating with the guy that you’re pushing, or the spotter isn’t working well, its very nerve racking because you can’t see what’s going on. A lot of communication is required. You really have to be talking a lot. You spend a lot of time explaining to the guy behind you what’s going on. The guy pushing has to have full trust. If he’s not fully committed, fully dedicated, to pushing the guy in front, a lot of speed will be lost by not being committed. It takes some trust, and it’s an interesting way to race for sure.”

Harvick hoping Daytona engine problem is fixed
Kevin Harvick
No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Budweiser Chevrolet at Talladega Superspeedway … Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 343 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. Harvick led twice for five laps in February’s Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway before exiting the race at lap 22 when the car’s engine expired.

Last Time Around … Harvick and RCR’s No. 29 team went to Victory Lane after last year’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. He started from the fourth position and led two laps during the race – laps five and 200. Harvick took the checkered flag with a 0.011-second margin of victory over Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Chevrolet.

So Close … Harvick nearly swept both races at Talladega Superspeedway last year. He started 14th in the October race and moved all the way up to first by lap two. He led a total of 12 laps and was passed for the top spot as the caution flag waved on the final lap of the race by his RCR teammate Clint Bowyer.

Talladega Notes … In 20 starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Harvick has earned one win, five top-five and nine top-10 finishes. He has completed 97.8 percent (3,706 of 3,789) total laps and has led 120 laps at the 2.66-mile track. Harvick has an average starting position of 21.8 and an average finishing position of 14.8 at Talladega.

In the Loop … Harvick owns several notable loop data statistics at Talladega Superspeedway as he enters this weekend’s Aaron’s 499: fourth in Closers, fourth in Green-Flag Passes (3,980), sixth in Fastest Laps Run (50) and eighth in Laps Led (84).

Double Duty … In addition to his duties in the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, Harvick is also scheduled to compete in the No. 4 NASCAR Nationwide Series entry for Kevin Harvick Incorporated at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday. He has made six previous NNS starts at Talladega, earning two top-five and three top-10 finishes. ESPN2 will broadcast Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 starting with the pre-race show at 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The race will also be broadcast live on MRN Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio.

You hardly got to run at Daytona since your car’s engine expired just 22 laps into the race, but did you get a feel for your car and say “We’re going to smoke them in Talladega?” “I don’t know if anyone’s going to smoke anybody at Talladega. In all of the practices and races leading up to the race in Daytona, the cars were really fast. We had a good Speedweeks all the way up until the (Daytona) 500. Then, the bottom fell out and we had a little problem with the engine. Those things are going to happen. I think we should be good at Talladega. We’ll see where all the rules fall as far as where NASCAR thinks we need to be with our car package and cooling packages and things like that. That will affect how we race. Based on everything we did in Speedweeks and the first 20 laps of the Daytona 500, everything was rock solid.”

Harvick's winning move on turn four last year sent him to victory 
There has been a lot of development that has gone into the ECR engine. Is it shocking when something goes wrong with one of them? “Well, it was 152 races in between engine failures for the No. 29 team. There are just too many parts and pieces and too many tolerances that are way too tight to not have something go wrong every once in a while. I felt like they did a great job analyzing everything and understanding where the problem was and what they needed to do going into Talladega. Everyone feels fairly comfortable with what we’re doing with the engines.”

What did you think of the two-car draft? “Sometimes when race tracks are repaved, they develop new characteristics. When you take the grip option out of a race, you can do things with a race car that people don’t necessarily plan on. I go back and I look at when I won the Daytona 500. I was pushed all the way through Turns 1 and 2 and all the way down the backstretch by Matt Kenseth, and that’s what won the race. We just weren’t able to do it through the corners at full speed like we are now because the race track was bumpy and not as much grip. Now that you take that grip out, you can push each other all the way around. It’s a different concept, and it takes full commitment from the guy in the back because you can’t see what’s going on in front of you. You just have to feel the guy’s car in front of you as to how hard you push. As drivers and teams, you try to race under the conditions that are presented to you that weekend. New race tracks are tough with asphalt because it takes the grip out of the equation.”

We know what the pusher has to do, but what is the responsibility of the driver in front of the pusher? “There’s a lot of different scenarios that are presented as to where you are around with cars, as to how much you have to let off the brakes and things like that, that keep the rear car attached to you because when the air starts moving around other cars it becomes a little more difficult. But, when you’re by yourself, you hold it wide open, and everyone pushes and off you go.”

What’s it like to be the pusher when all you see in front of you is a blade? “It’s just full commitment from the back because you can’t see anything in front of the guy in front of you. You just hold it on the mat, and if you hit something, you hit something. The only way to go as fast as you can is to try and stay square on the guy in front of you. The guy in front of you has as much responsibility just holding his car straight and trying to make as little movement as possible. There’s a lot of responsibility on both sides, and it doesn’t take much to mess it up and wreck the guy in front of you. You have to be paying attention the whole time.”

What did you think about the radio communications at Daytona? Not only were teammates talking to each other, but drivers from other teams could pipe in and talk to you. Do you want anyone else doing that to you? “Anyone that gets on another team’s radio frequency has to get that approved by that team. The only thing that makes me nervous is if we get to Homestead, and your radio has someone else on it, and things aren’t working so well with your radio. It seems like a lot of confusion, and it seems like it will cause more problems that are necessary down the road. Hopefully, that gets addressed, and we can move forward.”

Menard using 9th-place Daytona chassis
Paul Menard
No. 27 Schrock/Menards Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Schrock/Menards Chevrolet at Talladega Superspeedway … Paul Menard will pilot chassis No. 338 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala was a brand new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season. Menard recorded the fourth-quickest lap during the Daytona 500 time trials in February and went on to finish ninth in both the Duel 150 qualifying race and Daytona 500.

Talladega Days … In nine starts at Talladega Superspeedway, Menard has earned one top-five finish and four top 15′s, completed 75.6 percent of his laps (1,295 of 1,713) and led for 14 circuits. He has an average starting position of 23.6 and an average finishing position of 24.9. His best finish of second and his best start of fifth were recorded in his October 2008 visit to the 2.66-mile Alabama facility. The second-place result is Menard’s best career NSCS finish. He also earned one pole award (April 2005) in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and one win (September 2003) with the ARCA Racing Series at the superspeedway.

Race Rewind … Last week, Menard and the No. 27 team brought home a fifth-place finish from Texas Motor Speedway, the team’s second top five of the 2011 season. Menard heads to Talladega 11th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings, only four points out of the 10th position.

You finished 25th and 13th last year at Talladega. How do you feel about those runs? “I definitely feel like our restrictor-plate program is a lot stronger this year. Talladega is a crapshoot any way you look at it. All four of our RCR cars were strong in Daytona. The cars are fast and our ECR horsepower is really good. Talladega isn’t one of my favorite tracks to go to, but I know that we’ll have a strong piece when we get there.”

Do you have a lot of confidence going into Talladega because of Daytona? “Absolutely, we learned a lot in Daytona. I think we’re going to see a lot of two-car drafts – the push-drafting. I think it’s going to be a wild race.”

What do you think about the two-car draft as a driver? “I like it better than being three-wide all day long. You’re still at everybody’s mercy, especially the guy who is pushing you, but I think a lot less can go wrong.”

Is it uncomfortable to be the “pusher” in the two-car draft? “No, it’s actually pretty comfortable either way. Probably more so to get pushed, but it’s not bad to be pushing. The communication between the drivers is very important. The lead car is essentially spotting for the back car and the back car just has to manage his water temperature.”

Does it require a bigger trust factor due to the fact that you can’t really see? “You can see enough. You can’t see directly ahead, but you can kind of see through the windshield of the car in front. When you get to the corner, you have a lot of visibility because you can look up the track and see ahead of you. The guy that is getting pushed, he can’t tell what is going on behind him. He looks in his rearview mirror and sees a hood pushed up underneath of him. But, you do need to have a lot of trust in the two-car tandems.”

What is it like to be involved in a wreck at Talladega – the sights and sounds of the experience?  “Especially with the way that we raced in the past in the big packs, at any given second you know that something can happen so you’re a little bit on edge. When you actually get in the wrecks, it all depends on where you’re pointed and where you are when it happens. Sometimes it hurts and sometimes it doesn’t.”

RCR on Social Media … To keep up-to-date with the latest news and information and to view exclusive content, visit RCR’s Twitter page (@RCRracing), the RCR Sprint Cup Series team Twitter pages (@RCR27PMenard, @RCR29KHarvick, @RCR31JeffBurton and @RCR33CBowyer) and RCR’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/RichardChildressRacing).

- Richard Childress Racing, Press Releases

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