Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Without Dale Earnhardt, RCR Drivers Have Become Also-Rans at Darlington

Dale Earnhardt had eight Darlington wins
Race: SHOWTIME Southern 500
May 7, 2011
Location: Darlington Raceway

Richard Childress Racing
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race Notes:
RCR at Darlington … Richard Childress is tied for third all time with Holman-Moody and the Wood Brothers for car owner victories at Darlington with eight – all of them coming with Dale Earnhardt. Additionally, in 99 collective starts, RCR boasts 21 top-five and 35 top-10 finishes at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval with five different drivers including Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Robby Gordon.

The Collective RCR … Over the season’s first nine races, RCR’s four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries have notched two wins, eight top-five and 13 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. 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 10,666 out of 11,636 total laps (91.7 percent) with drivers Bowyer, Burton, Harvick and Paul Menard, who have led a combined 359 laps. At least one RCR driver has led laps in each of the season’s first nine events.

Bowyer has experienced quite a few Darlington stripes over his career
Clint Bowyer
No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s BB&T Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway … Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 315 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This is a new Chevrolet Impala that will be put through its first competitive laps this weekend.

Career Darlington Stats …
* The SHOWTIME Southern 500 marks Bowyer’s 191st NSCS start.
* In five NSCS starts at Darlington, Bowyer owns one top-10 finish (ninth-May 2007).
* He has completed 90% of the laps (1,651 of 1,835) contested at Darlington during his career.
* The Emporia, Kan., native has led 16 laps at the 1.366-mile facility.
* Bowyer owns a 17.2 average starting position and an average finishing position of 23.2.

Former Pole Winner … Bowyer earned his first career NSCS pole at the track deemed “Too Tough to Tame” on May 13, 2007.

Last Time in Darlington … After starting 27th, Bowyer and the No. 33 team suffered a broken brake line during the race, forcing two green-flag pit stops, and limped home to a 32nd-place finish in last year’s SHOWTIME Southern 500.

In the Loop … Over the first nine points-paying races of the 2011 NSCS season, Bowyer has accumulated an impressive resume of loop data statistics. Heading into this weekend’s 500 miler, he is the series’ second-best Quality Passer with 873 passes while running in the top 15 under green-flag conditions – just 8 passes shy of leader Kurt Busch’s total. The four time Sprint Cup Series race winner also ranks second with an average running position of 11.45 and a Driver Rating of 98.5. Bowyer’s 65.9 percent of contested laps running in the top 15 (1,918 of 2,909) places him fifth, his 224 laps led ranks him fourth and his 309.45 miles led positions him third amongst his competitors. Other notable loop data stats include: second in Fastest Drivers Early in a Run, third in Green-Flag Speed, sixth in Fastest Drivers Late in a Run and ninth in Fastest Laps Run.

Points Racing … Since dropping to 24th after a 38th-place effort at Bristol Motor Speedway in March, the No. 33 team has improved 17 positions, to seventh, in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings.

Darlington is Mother’s Day weekend. How much does this weekend mean to you and your family? “This has always been a family sport. As far as I am concerned, I am going to keep it that way until I am done in this sport. I hope they’re around until I retire and my kids retire from this sport. Mom has always been a big part of that. I remember back in the day when she had three boys all racing motorcycles in the mud. There she was trying to wash clothes, keep us all in line and also take care of her family all at the same time. She was a big part of my success as anybody.”

Darlington Raceway: Love it or hate it? She hasn’t been your best friend. Is that just a simple matter of you figuring out a way to drive it differently? “It has definitely been kind of a love/hate relationship with her. We have run well there and have also struggled. We have had good cars, but just can’t get everything put together for a solid finish. Hopefully, we can capitalize on that this year. We really need a good run there. In the past, the month of May hasn’t been really good to this team and Darlington is a big part of that.”

Is there any specific reason for the struggles at Darlington?  “When I first came here, we didn’t always have the best package until last year. We were good off the trailer and I just flat out wrecked it in practice. Then, during the race, we suffered a brake problem. I think it was a brake line or something broke and we had to pit twice under green-flag conditions during the race. You know, it was just one of those bad races and a bad weekend overall. You can’t afford to have those anymore. It’s so important to be solid week-in and week-out. If we want to be a championship contender, which I think we are, you can’t have those 32nd-place finishes on your resume. You need consistency and wins."

Burton is the best of the RCR drivers with two wins and eight top-5's
Jeff Burton
No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Caterpillar Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway … Jeff Burton will pilot chassis No. 355 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This is a brand new Caterpillar Chevrolet that will be put through its first competitive paces this weekend.

The Darlington Report … In 28 Sprint Cup Series starts at Darlington Raceway, Burton has posted two wins, eight top-five and 16 top-10 finishes, with only one DNF (did not finish) and three finishes outside the top 20. He holds a 20.9 starting average coupled with an impressive 11.4 finishing average and has led 817 laps of competition.

Rain Man – Back-to-Back winner … Burton won both races at Darlington Raceway in 1999, leading both events as rain began to fall which forced NASCAR to throw the checkered flag prior to completing the scheduled distance.

Loopy with the Lady … NASCAR’s loop data statistics proves why the track deemed Too Tough to Tame is one of Burton’s favorites. Over the last six races at the historic 1.366-mile oval, the veteran driver boasts an average running position of 13.2 and a Driver Rating of 89.8, which ranks him 11th amongst his competitors. He is the sport’s third-best Green-Flag Passer with 342 passes made under green-flag conditions and is positioned in eighth with 67.6 percent of laps running in the top 15 (1,491 of 2205).

Last Time Around … After taking the top spot with 27 laps to go and a caution flag being displayed one lap later, a late-race pit miscue placed the Cat Racing team at the rear of the field for the final 20 laps of the last season’s SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. But, a hard-charging Burton flexed his muscle and picked off 10 positions to finish eighth when the checkered flag waved.

Making a Charge … After exiting the Daytona 500 early due to a rare expired engine and sitting 33rd in the point standings, Burton and the Todd Berrier-led Cat Racing team have advanced 13 positions, to 20th, heading into this weekend’s 500-mile contest. Although they are 61 markers in arrears to Tony Stewart’s 10th-place tally, they are only 35 points away from cracking the top 15.

A Streak Looking to End … Burton currently owns an 86-race winless streak that he hopes to break in this weekend’s visit with the Lady in Black. 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.

You have a lot of respect for Darlington. Why is that?  “With no disrespect to any other race track, Daytona is the centerpiece of our sport but, Darlington, to me, has the most historic meaning of anywhere we go. Darlington has changed. It is not the way it was 40 years ago, but, it is the way it was 30 years ago. It still has that character. There are no fluke winners at Darlington. It requires you as a driver to push hard, but penalizes you when you push too hard. You have to be precise. It is a track that people that like to drive race cars like to go to. Some of the race tracks we race on, you are a rider more than a driver. This is the type of place where you can make a difference in the car. When I go there, I look at it as a huge challenge because I know that if I operate at 100 percent of my capability and my car’s capability, we’ll get the best finish we can. If I am at 97 percent, then we’re not. That extra three percent at Darlington gets you something. It did for Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. It is the same race track. I know the suites are cool, but, to me, going there is like stepping back in time and you don’t have all that there. It is just a race track that was built around a pond that is the same way it was then. I think that has some special meaning to it.”

You haven’t finished worse than 12th in the last five races at Darlington but how do you expect to improve on those finishes?  “Last year, the Caterpillar Chevrolet was fast and we put ourselves in position to win that race. We got a caution near the end of the race and when we pitted, I ran over the air hose which cost us. We had to start at the rear of the field but we ended up finishing eighth – that just shows you how fast we were. The year before, our car was completely different and we just didn’t have the handle on it. The track is a lot different since they paved it. Speeds don’t fall off so you’re running pretty fast around a track that’s not made to go that fast. So, its changed setup and driving style and I don’t think I adapted to it well as I needed to. I have a different game plan in mind for this weekend and we can be more successful.”

3 of Menard's 4 starts have been 30th or worse
Paul Menard
No. 27 Turtle Wax/Menards Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Turtle Wax/Menards Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway … Paul Menard will pilot chassis No. 328 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 and was last seen on track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Menard brought home a 12th-place result after starting from the 18th position.

Ready to Tame the Lady in Black … In his four previous starts at Darlington, Menard has finished each of his contested races and completed 97 percent of his laps (1,424 of 1,468). He has a 31st-place average starting position and an average finishing position of 28th with his best finish of 15th coming in the May 2009 event.

Year in Review … Menard has recorded career-best performances at many of the race tracks that the NSCS has traveled to this season. Despite slipping to 15th in the driver championship point standings, Menard heads to Darlington a mere 13 points out of the coveted 12th-spot.

Darlington is known as the track that is “Too Tough To Tame.” Why do you think is it so hard? "They will probably have to rename it now. Since it was repaved, it’s a totally different race track. The old surface had no grip at all; the tires would wear out in a couple laps and you would slide everywhere. Now, you run as fast as you do at the end of the run as you do at the beginning. You still have to run up by the fence which leads to right-side damage and the infamous ‘Darlington stripe.’ Driving a foot off the wall, things are still going to happen. It’s not as tough as it used to be, but it’s still pretty tough.”

How much of a sense of history do you feel when you walk into Darlington? “Darlington is definitely a throwback race track. You drive into this little town and all you see is this huge race track. It definitely allows you to feel the roots of NASCAR.”

Compared to other big cities we go to like Las Vegas, it’s nice to go to a small place like Darlington. Which do you prefer?  “I enjoy all the places (race tracks) that we can drive to. It’s always a fun drive down to Darlington. Honestly, when I get to the track, I generally don’t leave again until after the race. We don’t get to go out and experience the night life of the cities and all that. We just see the inside of the race track. Darlington is a good one (infield) though, for camping. It’s pretty laid back.”

Harvick has a 19.1 average finish in 14 starts
Kevin Harvick
No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes

This Week’s Budweiser Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway…Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 304 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. In March, Harvick raced his way to a sixth-place finish in this car at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway after getting spun out late in the race. Last season, the team raced this car four times, scoring three top-five finishes: third at Richmond (5/1), fifth at New Hampshire (6/27) and third at Richmond (9/11).

Last Time Around … A loose-handling No. 29 Chevrolet didn’t stop Harvick from advancing through the field after starting 35th in last season’s Southern 500. After cracking the top 10 prior to a late-race caution, a two-tire pit call by crew chief Gil Martin afforded the Bakersfield, Calif., native the sixth-place restart spot that was protected over the final 20-plus laps.

Darlington Notes … In 14 starts at Darlington Raceway, Harvick has earned two top-five and five top-10 finishes. He’s completed 93.5 percent (4,529 of 4,845) total laps and has led 16 laps at the 1.366-mile track. Harvick has an average starting position of 17.6 and an average finishing position of 19.1 at Darlington.

In the Loop … While Darlington hasn’t been one the tracks Harvick has excelled at in his Sprint Cup Series career, when it comes to loop data statistics, he lives up to his new nickname as “the closer.” Harvick is ranked as the No. 1 closer at Darlington, a statistic that indicates the positions improved in the last 10 percent of the laps in each race. He’s gained an average of 3.7 spots in the final 10 percent of the laps in the last six races at the track. He is also ranked 10th in green-flag passes (253).

What makes racing at Darlington such a challenge for the drivers and teams? “The track was originally not designed for the cars to be running as fast as they are today. The track’s very narrow and you carry a lot of speed. From a driver’s standpoint, it’s very challenging just to keep the car off the wall, but it’s also a lot of fun to drive, too.”

Talk about driving a lap around Darlington: “Well, any lap around Darlington is a lap where you have to be paying attention to what’s going on because you can get yourself in trouble at any point on the race track. You carry a lot of speed into Turn 1 and you run right up the banking right up next to the wall and right back to the throttle. As you come back down the hill, you might have to breathe the throttle a little bit, but it’s a lot of fun coming out of Turn 2 because it shoots you down the backstretch. (Turns) 3 and 4 are probably the hardest because you carry so much speed off of (Turn) 2 into (Turn) 3 and the line kind of moves around a bit there. The easiest place to get in the wall, well it’s pretty easy to get in the wall anywhere, but definitely the easiest place to get into the wall is the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4.”

Do you remember getting your first Darlington stripe? “I don’t. I’ve had so many of them that they all kind of seem to run together now.”

What would it mean to add your name to the list of Darlington winners? “It’d be pretty awesome just for the fact that everyone knows the significance of the Southern 500 and to win at Darlington is something as a driver that you want to check off your list when you have the opportunity. We’ve been close at Darlington, but we’ve just got to put that check in the right box.”

- Richard Childress Racing, Press Release

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