Wednesday, April 6, 2011

RCR Texas Samsung Mobile 500 Preview: Harvick Going For Three-Peat

Jeff Burton has the only Texas win for RCR, which came in 2007
Race: Samsung Mobile 500
April 9, 2011
Location: Texas Motor Speedway
Richard Childress Racing

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race Notes:

RCR at TMS … In 57 starts at TMS, dating back to 1997, RCR has recorded one win, six top-five and 23 top-10 finishes with drivers Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Green. Prior to TMS’s inaugural season, Richard Childress, a former driver in NASCAR’s top division, earned a pair of top 10s while he was still behind the wheel at the now defunct Texas World Speedway in College Station.

The Collective RCR … Over the season’s first six races, RCR’s four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries have notched two wins, four top-five and eight 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 7,267 out of 7,948 total laps (91.4 percent) with drivers Bowyer, Burton, Harvick and Paul Menard, who have led a combined 228 laps. At least one RCR driver has led laps in each of the season’s first six events.

Harvick and the Bud crew have won two races in a row coming into Texas
Kevin Harvick
No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Budweiser Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway…Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 309 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. Harvick drove this Chevrolet to fourth-place finishes in both races at Pocono Raceway in 2010.

Texas Notes … In 16 starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Harvick has earned three top-five and eight top-10 finishes. He’s completed 99.8 percent (5,342 of 5,354) total laps and has led five laps at the 1.5-mile track. Harvick has an average starting position of 20.5 and an average finishing position of 12.4 at Texas.

In the Loop … Harvick owns a couple impressive loop data statistics at Texas Motor Speedway, heading into this weekend’s Samsung Mobile 500: second in Closers and third in Green-Flag Passes (796).

Double Up … Entering Saturday night’s race, Harvick has scored back-to-back wins at Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway so far this season. The last time the Bakersfield, Calif., native scored two wins in a row was in September 2006 at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Solid Start … Harvick’s two wins advanced him to fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings and he sits just 15 points behind point leader Carl Edwards. Six races into the 2011 season, Harvick has earned two wins, three top fives and four top-10 finishes. His average starting position is 16.3 and his average finish is 11.8.

Last Time Around … Harvick and RCR’s No. 29 team had a good run in last year’s Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. He started the race from the 19th position and brought home a seventh-place finish.

You haven’t won at Texas Motor Speedway yet, but you’ve been pretty solid there lately. “Last year, everything was rock solid. This year, our goal is to put ourselves in position to win more races. Obviously, you want that consistency and the things to go with it. Right now, we kill for the consistency over the first few races, but I think that’s the biggest difference of what we have from last year to this year. You’re going to have a bad week, and you need to move on and forget about it and try to make your car better. Texas is a really fast race track. The grip goes away fast on the cars. You have some bumps to contend with, so you have to keep the splitter off the ground but as low as you can to make as much grip as you can. It’s a tough place to do that.”

Harvick using 4th-place Pocono chassis from 2010
Because you guys have been so rock solid, do you feel like you guys can take it to the next level and get a top five or even have a chance to win at Texas? “Well, we hope so. Obviously, we had a few things that we needed to work on when we left Las Vegas in order to have that raw speed that we thought we were lacking compared to a couple of the other cars. We’ve been working on some things. The off weekend gave us time to really try some things and, hopefully, those things pan out this weekend at Texas.”

How has the track in Texas been changing? Every track changes over time. “You know, it really hasn’t changed over the last couple of years but, for a while, every year we would come back, it would change a lot. Goodyear has done a good job with the tires to make them wear out, but they’re really, really fast at the beginning of the run and they last fairly long through the runs. As far as the race track goes, it still has big bumps in the middle of Turns 1 and 2 and it still has the little bumps on the bottom of Turns 3 and 4. There’s still a big bump in that corner over the tunnel, so it has character. It wears the tires out of the car and they become harder to drive as the run goes on. It’s a fun race track to race on because you have options to move around, but you still have really, really big speed at the beginning of the runs.”

Clint Bowyer's career best finish at Texas was fourth in 2008
Clint Bowyer
No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway … Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 350 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This is a brand new No. 33 Chevrolet Impala that will turn its first laps during opening practice on Thursday at “The Great American Speedway”.

Career Texas Stats … The Samsung Mobile 500 marks Bowyer’s 188th NSCS start.
* In 10 NSCS starts at Texas, Bowyer owns two top-five and five top-10 finishes.
* He has completed 99.3 percent (3,326 of 3,350) of the total laps contested at TMS during his career.
* The Emporia, Kan., native has led 40 laps at the 1.5-mile oval.
* Bowyer owns a 13.5 average starting position and a 14.5 average finishing position.
* His best effort at the Texas facility is a fourth-place finish that he recorded in the spring race of 2008.

Red and Yellow … After a four-race hiatus, the familiar Cheerios/Hamburger Helper paint scheme will return to the No. 33 Chevrolet this weekend for the 334-lap event.

Chat with Clint … Clint will participate in a NASCAR.COM Chat with Miss Sprint Cup, Kim Coon, which will be streamed live to the NASCAR.COM homepage on Thursday, April 7 at 2:45 p.m. CT. Viewers will have the ability to log-in during the chat and ask Bowyer questions.

Last Time in the Lone Star State … Bowyer and the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper team backed up their 2010 Talladega win with a strong top-10 effort by finishing seventh in the AAA Texas 500 last November. The finish was the team’s third straight top-10 effort in the last three fall races at TMS.

Top 10 in Virginia … Bowyer and the No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet team, riding momentum from a top-10 finish in California the week prior, led 91 laps en route to a ninth-place finish in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway after starting from the 15th position.

Points Racing … After another solid finish in Martinsville, Bowyer jumped one position, to 16th, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings

Looking at the stats, you finished seventh in the fall after a rough outing in the spring. That’s a ying to the yang there. “Yeah, we’ve always run decent in Texas. It’s just sometimes things don’t workout like you want them to. There’s a lot of different things that come into play. Sometimes its fuel mileage and I think we even got caught up in a wreck last year during the spring race. I’m looking forward to going there. It’s always a lot of fun.”

You debuted at Texas in a RCR Nationwide Series car back in 2004. A lot has happened between then and now. Do you ever think about that when you go to Texas? “I actually haven’t. I used to think about it a lot, but it seems like that was a long time ago. I will never forget that day though. I can promise you that. I was really, really nervous. I was about 10 feet over my head. I qualified high, things were going well and I think I got a little over confident. I had a flat tire. My first actual flat tire in a NASCAR race and I didn’t even know it. The car kept getting looser and looser and, finally, I wrecked. The crazy thing was everything was going well and we were a top-10 car. As nervous as I was, I was actually pretty confident that we were going to run well. However, it didn’t go very well.”

There are times now when you’re running 200 mph at Texas. Is that 200 mph different than running 200 mph at Daytona this year?  “Yeah, you pull on the wheel a lot harder getting into turn one than you do at Daytona. Certainly, you get the sensation of speed during qualifying, rolling around in turns one and two.”

Can you try to explain to race fans the kind of speed you have there? “You’re going over 200 mph, but when you turn off into the corner, you’re turning a pretty sharp turning-radius. The G-forces throw the car and slam it down in the corner up near the banking. It’s a pretty wild feeling. You’re really getting after it.”

When I think of Texas, I think of cowboys. I could picture you being a cowboy and riding around the range. Could you picture yourself riding around on the range in chaps? “Oh, I’ve done that before. I’ve actually gone out on the foothills and rounded up some cattle. I’ve been on a horse before. All my buddies back home are cowboys and farmers. I’ve certainly been around animals.”

Have you roped cattle before? “Yes, I can rope.”

Burton has two wins at Texas Motor Speedway
Jeff Burton
No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Caterpillar Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway … Jeff Burton will pilot chassis No. 344 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. Built brand new for the 2011 season, this No. 31 racer most recently competed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where handling issues relegated Burton to a 21st-place finish.

The Texas Report … In 20 starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Burton boasts two wins, three top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Over those same 20 races, he holds a 25.4 starting average to go along with a respectable 16.1 finishing average. The track’s first repeat winner has finished no worse than 13th in seven out of the last eight races held at the Fort Worth facility. Burton is also one of four drivers who have competed in all 20 events held at the 1.5-mile oval.

900 for JB … This weekend’s Samsung Mobile 500 will mark Burton’s 900th career NASCAR start. Over the course of 899 NASCAR starts, the South Boston, Va., native has accumulated 48 wins, 17 poles, 219 top-five and 393 top-10 finishes. Additionally, he helped capture RCR’s 2007 NASCAR Nationwide Series owner’s championship and has finished in the top 10 of the Sprint Cup Series point standings in eight of the 17 years he has run the series full time. This milestone places the veteran driver ninth on NASCAR’s all-time starts list across their top-three national series and ranks him second to Mark Martin in active drivers.

Loopy in the Lone Star State … The RCR driver is the series’ seventh-best Green-Flag Passer at Texas Motor Speedway. Over the last 12 races, he has made 752 passes at the Fort Worth arena under green-flag conditions.

Inaugural Winner … Burton won the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held at Texas Motor Speedway on Apr. 6, 1997, capturing his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Additionally, the South Boston, Va., native became the track’s first repeat winner when he took the checkers in April 2007.

This Time Last Year … A fast race car, coupled with excellent pit calls, helped Burton and the Cat Racing team overcome a commitment line violation just past the 100-lap mark and be in contention for the win in the rain-delayed Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. A two-tire pit call with 22 laps to go gave Burton the lead but, six laps later, a nine-car melee broke out that forced NASCAR to display the red flag for clean up. After the engines re-fired and a couple of pace laps were taken, Burton led the field back to green with 12 laps remaining. Much to the disappointment of the driver and team, the Caterpillar Chevy produced a tight-handling condition that aided in the loss of positions and a scrape with the outer retaining wall before the checkers flew, crediting them with a 12th-place finish.

Catch the Driver … In honor of the track’s 10-year celebration of the former Samsung Mobile 500 race winners, Burton will appear on the main stage in front of the frontstretch grandstands (Gate 4) and be a guest on KRLD’s 105.3 FM airwaves from 2:45 – 2:55 p.m. local time on Saturday, April 9. The Dallas/Fort Worth radio station is Texas Motor Speedway’s official radio partner.

Texas will be your 900th NASCAR start. What do you think when you hear a stat like that? “My wife was telling someone the other day that she took a leave of absence from her teaching job because she was pretty positive she’d need that job the first year we went Cup racing. She wanted to go do that with me and experience that with me, so she took a leave of absence pretty much believing that she’d be asking for her job back. We’ve been fortunate to be doing this as long as we’ve done it. I love what I do. It’s a way of life. I think I have more respect for it today than I did then. I don’t know why that is, but having been through the peaks and valleys of a career, I appreciate it more. I’m extremely hungry to win a championship before I’m done. I really respect people like Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd. I respect people that have dedicated their life to this sport – Richard Petty, Richard Childress, those kinds of guys. They’ve done things that a lot of people could not have taken because it’s hard. It’s a hard way to make a living. I don’t want to be a guy that’s just been here for a long time. I want to be a guy that’s been here a long time and been competitive.”

You can’t help when you were born, or when you started racing, but do you feel like you came along in a good era of NASCAR? “I think I came along in the best era when it was unprecedented growth. I came along when the TV coverage was wide open and when the fans and sponsors were fully excited. I hope I can look back on my career and say ‘it wasn’t the best time in NASCAR,’ but I can truly say at this point, that it is the best time. There’s no question about that. My luck of timing there was great. We were afforded a lot of opportunities. If you go back and look at the Rookie of the Year class the year I came in, it was stout. There were a lot of people that won a lot of races. I think it was seven, or eight, or nine of us. Now, you look at rookie classes, and it’s one or two. We came in at a time when young drivers were given an opportunity; sponsorship was there to give them an opportunity. Davey Allison and Jeff Gordon opened a lot of doors for us. People were looking for the next young guy, like a Jeff Gordon, and he gave us a lot of opportunities.”

Gordon got upset with Burton at Texas because of this
Talk about how tough Texas was for the Cat Racing team last year. “I really don’t remember it. I remember the second Texas race – that’s when Jeff (Gordon) and I had our altercation. That certainly was unforgettable for me. That’s been a sticking point for me. It’s not something I’m proud of. It was a bad day for the No. 31 Caterpillar team and me, in particular. In the same token, Texas is a track where I’ve had a lot of success. At this track, we’ve either done really, really well or really, really bad. I was leading the race in the spring race, had a great opportunity to win the race and drove away from Hamlin. Then, we got a red flag. We sat there for 30 minutes and I don’t know if we lost air pressure in the tires or what, but we couldn’t run a lap after that. We finished 12th. I thought we had the race won. That was kind of how our year went. If you look at Texas, we ran really well and had a chance to win the race and finished no where as near as where we should have. Then, towards the end of the year, we had that calamity with Jeff (Gordon). Those two races summed up my year to be honest.”

The spring race was an example where your car was much better than where it finished. “There are days when you finished 12th and you’re like ‘alright great, we got 12th.’ Then, there are days when you finish 12th, and you feel awful about it. That was definitely one of those days. We played our cards exactly right and had the right pit strategy. We just took our time all day and got to the front, drove off and then we got that red flag. It went downhill from there.”

Texas, on paper, kind of looks like Charlotte or Atlanta. What makes it different? “When they built Texas, they said it was going to be just like Charlotte but whoever was working the GPS that day missed some coordinates. They didn’t quite hit the buttons correctly. Texas is just an incredibly challenging race track. The corner entries are really bizarre. Getting into turn one is very, very different than any other race track and turn three is very different than any other race track. Once you get there, there’s a lot of throttle. You get into the throttle quickly, and there’s a big bump in the middle of (turns) one and two that’s caused a lot of issues. So, it’s a difficult race track. Turn two used to be the place that everyone had trouble and that’s kind of switched. It’s turned into turn four being the place that a lot of people have trouble. Matter of fact, in the last few races there I’ve been really excited about our car because of how well it turned in turn two, but then I start watching other people and everyone’s going good through (turn) two well, too. Something has changed there where turn two has become the easier corner – easier, not easy. It’s still a very difficult corner, but certainly something has changed.”

Menard's career best finish was 10th last season
Paul Menard
No. 27 Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway … Paul Menard will pilot chassis No. 351 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 Thursday’s opening practice session.

Deep in the heart of Texas … In his nine previous starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Menard has one top-10 finish, completed 94 percent of his laps (2,835 of 3,016) and led for one circuit. He has an average starting position of 22.3 and an average finishing position of 23.6, with his best finish of 10th coming in his most recent visit to the 1.5-mile facility (November 2010). His best start at the Fort Worth-based speedway came in April 2009 when he took the green flag in the fifth position.

Race Rewind … Last week, Menard and the No. 27 team were relegated to a 38th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway when damage to the Menards Chevrolet was sustained on track, causing the motor to expire. Menard heads to Texas tied for 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings.

Double Duty Weekend … In addition to his driving duties with RCR’s No. 27 team, Menard will drive Kevin Harvick Incorporated’s No. 33 Menards Chevrolet in Friday night’s 300-mile race. The race will air live on ESPN2 beginning at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and will be broadcast live on PRN Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio.

It seems like you’ve done pretty well at Texas. You had a 10th-place finish in the fall. How do you feel going back there? “I feel really good about heading back to Texas (Motor Speedway). We actually had a better car there in the spring race. We didn’t qualify very well, but we drove up into the top 10 pretty quickly. There was a big wreck on the front stretch, and we were involved in that. There were about 10 cars involved, and it ruined our day. Then we had a top 10 in the fall. It’s a good track for me. You drive Texas a little different than you would Charlotte (Motor Speedway) or Atlanta (Motor Speedway). There are some characteristics of TMS that I enjoy and seem to work out pretty well.”

It seems you run well on the intermediate tracks. Why do you think that is? “Honestly, our intermediate package was really good last year. Our short track package was not so good. None of the four (Richard Petty Motorsports) teams ran well at short tracks, with the exception of the No. 43 car. Everyone threw in what they had, and it didn’t work as well. Fortunately, RCR has a really good short track program and we’ve been able to improve our performance on tracks other than intermediates. We had a really good car in Phoenix; however, we made some contact that knocked the tow out, and fought tire wear issues for the rest of the day. That kind of ruined our day and we didn’t get the end result that we should have. The car was fast in practice and pretty good in qualifying. It was probably the best short track car I’ve had, and it’s something we can build off of.”

How would you explain the kind of speed you run at Texas to a race fan? “The speed at a race track is relative to the track itself. At Martinsville, things feel like they are happening really fast even though you’re only going about 90 mph. In comparison, at Texas, where you’re more spread out and going 190 mph, the pace feels a lot slower. There’s a lot more gap in between the cars so you don’t feel the speed…until you hit the wall. Then, you know how fast you’re going.”

So, you’re not impressed much going over 200 mph into turn one on fresh tires after a restart? “Oh no, it is impressive there. One of the coolest sensations I’ve felt while racing is when we qualified at Texas in the fall. I think we broke the track record. We had a really good car held it almost wide open.”

- Richard Childress Racing, Press Releases

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