Richard Childress Racing is currently in its longest winless streak in team history. The current drought sits at 73 races, going back to when Kevin Harvick was victorious at Phoenix in Nov. 2013.
There is optimism within the camp heading into the new season.
Ryan Newman and Paul Menard both made the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season, but had early exits within the first two rounds. It was the Menard’s first time competing for a championship after joining RCR in 2011.
In 2014, Newman made it to the championship race at Homestead, still having a legitimate shot at the championship. Unfortunately for the No. 31 crew they came up one-point short of beating Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team for the championship. The Indiana native set his personal best finish of second in the championship standings in his first year with RCR.
Last season, Newman began the season with a lot of raw speed. In the first five races, he posted four top-10 finishes, including three top-fives, with a best finish of third at Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Following the ninth race of the season, momentum began to swing in the wrong direction. Crew chief Luke Lambert was suspended following the race at Auto Club Speedway, but appealed. The final decision didn’t come until after Richmond, in which he was suspended for six races, moving veteran crew chief Todd Parrott atop the pit box after he was named the XFINITY Series Competition Director at RCR during the 2014 off-season.
In the first three races, the duo clicked off three-consecutive top-10 finishes, but then fell off the map with finishes of 18th, 39th and 18th respectively. Lambert came back at Daytona in which the team recorded an eighth-place finish.
It was a tale of two halves of the season for the No. 31 car.
In the first 18 races, the team posted 10 of its 15 top-10 finishes. In the second half of the season, the team fell off the map, but made it to the second round of the Chase when Newman was eliminated after Talladega in a controversial finish.
“We’ve got to win,” Newman told Speedway Digest. “That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to win for the Chase, but you’ve got to win for momentum on your team, your organization, everybody involved. We saw last year because of our alliance with the No. 78 car how big that momentum really is when you do get that victory.”
In order to win a race, Newman will need to spend more time at the front of the field. He is coming off a season in which he led just 20 laps, and in two seasons with RCR, he had led a mire 61 laps. He has been consistent, but in order to put the Caterpillar Chevrolet in Victory Lane, the team needs to lead more laps and contend for top-five finishes on a regular basis.
“After finishing second two years ago, we really expected it (win) to happen last year and it didn’t,” Newman said. “We were close several times, but we didn’t lead enough laps to put our self in position to do that. That’s really what we need to work on is just putting our self in a better position to win and that’s leading laps and the guys in the pits did a good job of stepping up.”
Newman hasn’t won a race since he won the Brickyard 400 in 2013 when he beat Jimmie Johnson. That was when he was with Stewart-Haas Racing, but the move to RCR has had its positives and negatives.
“Everybody on the team has to do a perfect job and then you might still get beat by ability by some other team,” Newman said. “There are so many variables in our sport that you have to have everything right on a given day to put yourself in contention and you still might get beat.”
Menard, on the other hand, is coming off what would seem to be a career year. That is not the case.
The No. 27 car finished inside of the top 10 just five times in 2015, down from a career-high 13 in 2014. Two of those top-10 finishes were top fives, but he led just 10 laps on the season, the lowest amount he’s led in a single season since 2009, when he was a part of Yates Racing.
His best finish of 2015 in May at Talladega, where he finished third and had a shot at the victory until the tri-oval, but Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was victorious blocking from the bottom of the track all the way to the top.
One positive for the organization was that Menard completed 98.7 percent of the laps on the season, with an average finish of 17.1. Though he didn’t record the top 10s necessary to be competitive in the Chase, he is coming off his highest finish in the championship standings of 14th, beating Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth in the 10-race battle.
Menard’s goals are set for this season. He wants to be better than last season, but also make the Chase for the second-consecutive year.
“Our plan is to be in the Chase again and advance further,” Menard said. “When the Chase started last year we were not at our best, we were probably at our worst all year. We got eliminated in the first round.
“Justin is in his second year as being crew chief. He’s got more experience under his belt. We basically have the same team together as last year.”
The team is nearly the same except for an engineer change during the off-season. The same pit crew that pitted Menard’s car in the Chase will be back on the team after shuffling over to his car midseason.
One thing that has eluded Menard from his Cup career is a victory outside of the 2011 Brickyard 400.
It is strange that as to why Menard made the Chase last season, as it could be argued that it was his worst seasons in his tenure at RCR. There is reason to optimism for the team as he seems to always get off to hot starts then collapses in the summer. He doesn’t think that will happen in 2016.
“I feel like it can be any given week,” Menard said. “Especially toward the end of last year we hit on some things that I felt really good about. I feel like we can roll into Daytona with as good of a shot as anybody. When we get to Atlanta which is the low-downforce and the first true test of the season everybody has a clean slate.”
The other driver that yet been mentioned is Austin Dillon. Though he was the lone RCR driver to not make the Chase last season, he led the most laps out of all three teams and seemed to have the most speed throughout the second half of the season.
RCR will look to come out guns blazing in 2016 starting at the Daytona 500. Newman is a former Daytona 500 winner, while Menard and Dillon typically run well on restrictor plate tracks. It would make the season a lot easier for the organization if one of the three drivers wins the Great American Race.
The performance of Germain Racing has increased over the past two seasons by having an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. The alliance has allowed the small organization to up its game, and go from essentially a start-and-park team to a team that each week is battling for top-20 finishes.
Casey Mears is entering his seventh season with Germain Racing, five in which have been full-time. In 2010, the team qualified for just 30 races, 12 of them slotted the California native behind the wheel.
Back when Germain Racing decided to Sprint Cup Series racing, it picked Max Papis to be the full-time driver with sponsorship from GEICO. Six years later, GEICO is still around and supporting the team in every race, for a club that runs outside of the top 10.
It isn’t for a lack of trying. Aligning themselves with RCR has brought the spirit within the team to new heights. In 2015, Mears experienced his best season with the current team.
His top 10 total went down from three to one in 2015 compared to 2014, but the consistency was there more this season than in previous seasons. With an average finish of 23.1, slightly up from 2014, his team has brought optimism into the new season.
He finished 23rd in the championship standings, but hovered around the 20th position all season long. His lone top 10 came in the Daytona 500 where the No. 13 car crossed the checkered flag in the sixth position, giving them a heads up on larger teams that finished poorly in the 500, such as Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski, all whom finished 35th or worse.
In the first month and a half of the season, Mears finished in the top 20 all but two times, giving him the best start with Germain Racing in his tenure. Following Martinsville, he had four straight finished of 25th or worse, costing him valuable points.
One thing that the team improved was qualifying. For the season, the No. 13 had an average starting position of 23.9, including an eighth-place effort at Sonoma, a place that Mears typically runs well at. The speed was there to be competitive, and he looks forward to even better results in 2016.
“Our morale is really high right now,” Mears told Speedway Digest. “It’s been a long time coming for our program. The last five years now it’s been a huge growth from being essentially a start-and-park program, to running half of the races, to now I think this is our third full season. Now being with RCR again for another year, I feel like we are really starting to understand a lot of the details that we need to know and understand to really go out and compete.”
RCR hasn’t won a race since the fall of 2013 when Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix. However, it did produce one of the championship four contenders in 2014 with the No. 31 team and Newman. Over the course of last season RCR continued to grow faster, especially with Austin Dillon.
The No. 3 team may not have got the results that they were looking for, but Dillon became a top-10 to top-15 regular, including a career best of fourth at Michigan in August. Paul Menard made the Chase for the first time, and an alliance with Furniture Row Racing propelled Martin Truex, Jr. to the championship race in Homestead.
Speed wise, RCR is giving high quality equipment to its competition. Being that 2016 will be the third year working with Germain Racing, it is assumed that the No. 13 car will be the best it has been to date.
“A huge goal for us is to break the top 20 in points,” Mears said. “I honestly feel like last year, every single year there’s a handful of races that you can always look back on and go ‘man if we would have just done this’ or something would happen, but in reality we actually had several things happen to us last year that just don’t typically happen.”
Crew chief Bootie Barker and he have worked together for the better part of the past five and a half years. Barker is one of the most respected crew chiefs that sits atop the pit box on a weekly basis. The chemistry has evolved into a close friendship off the racetrack and has proven to work on the track.
This isn’t quite a make or break season for Mears as he is signed with Germain Racing through the 2018 season. But the pressure to perform is always on a race team and for him personally he wants to win, but more importantly have a shot at the championship, something that’s never happened in his career.
In his 13-year career, Mears has had some bright moments that stick out including winning the pole for the Brickyard 400 in 2004. He’s raced for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Red Bull Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Keyed-Up Motorsports and now Germain Racing, but has just one fuel mileage win to show for it in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600.
In recent memory Mears hasn’t had the ability to run toward the front, but heading into 2016, his career might be the most stable that it has ever been.
“I feel like, even last year, if we can just put a solid season together and not had issues we could have probably finished 18th in points,” he said. “I see us if we get everything out that we have and make the right decisions we’re knocking on the door of possibly being in the Chase.”
Making the Chase would be a huge step in the right direction for the small race team that employs less than 40 people. Unloading off of the hauler with something to work with will allow for a better opportunity for Mears and Barker. They can focus on what they have and improve the setup instead of struggling to find the right balance all weekend long.
The transition to Richard Childress Racing has been smooth for Ryan Newman. The latest driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet is consistently one of the best cars at any given NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this year.
However, as the Chase for the Sprint Cup is right around the corner, Newman hasn’t scored a win this year. Although he has shown he has cars capable of winning at some of the sport’s largest tracks, ‘rocket Ryan’ has been running around the top 10 on a weekly basis.
“We have been fairly consistent,” Newman said on Friday at Richmond. “Your radar or somebody else’s might be different. The guys have been doing a really good job of providing the good cars that are holding together, and that keeps us in that position. We’ve had issues like every other team, whether it’s a tire problem or a pit stop of something like that. But we’ve kept ourselves in contention to be ninth in points right now and have a shot at being in the Chase.”
Through his first 25 events with RCR, the 36-year-old has earned a pair of top fives with nine top 10s. Moreover, he sits ninth in the championship standings without a win, and has been a key leader for the organization.
With Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Dillon looking for help at tracks he has never seen before, Newman is the veteran of the team now. He is the one that everyone is going to. Whether it is the organization’s Nationwide Series drivers, Dillon or their teammate Paul Menard – everyone has looked up to Newman as a leader. It is a role that he couldn’t have at Team Penske or at Stewart Haas Racing.
Now, thanks to an opportunity from Caterpillar and RCR, Newman might be set to win his first championship in NASCAR competition.
“After 25 races, I think you’re going to see typical Richmond racing. I don’t necessarily think that their Chase format is going to change the outcome of what happens in the last five laps or what happens in the last five minutes before the checkered flag. I think that’s typical Richmond,” he said. “It’s a little bit different situation this year because you’ve got however many guys that have won a race that are locked in and they might be experimenting or experiencing different things versus the other guys who haven’t won and have a shot at winning the race and racing their way in.”
The Chase kicks off next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, and Newman is set to do well. However, without that elusive victory, his team has shown signs of weakness. But after Kevin Harvick ended 2013 on a high note with RCR, Newman might just do the same this year.
The No. 3 is back in Victory Lane for the second straight weekend. However, this time – it is in a different division. A week after Ty Dillon piloted his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to the winner’s circle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Austin Dillon has captured the triumph in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Pocono Raceway.
Dillon’s victory marks the first time a Chevrolet has won a Truck Series race since his younger brother won at Texas late in the 2013 season. This is his first win in over a year after scoring the victory at Eldora in the Truck Series last year.
“Anytime you can get a NASCAR win, it is huge. Last year, we got a championship without a win and I can’t forget how I saw my brother get a win. These seasons are so long and rejuvenating, so I love watching him do that. It puts the fire back in you to see that place again – seeing him in there in Victory Lane. From time to time, you have to feel how special it is, and I attribute what Ty did last week to how I ran this week. I’m jacked up and wanting to get a Cup win now,” Dillon said in a post-race press conference.
Early in the race, pole sitter Kyle Larson took a commanding lead over Dillon, but he was able to close the gap for a few laps until Larson continued to extend his lead.
During the first caution, the No. 3 truck stayed out along with Tyler Reddick, Justin Lofton and Ryan Blaney. This put them on a different pit strategy from the leaders – enabling them to stretch out the fuel mileage past the half-way mark in order to gain track position.
Right after his green flag pit stop, Larson’s truck lost a cylinder. He was able to keep up with the drivers that pitted with him for a handful of laps, yet his engine just didn’t stick with him. On the straightaways, trucks drove right around the No. 32 truck after he was the strongest truck throughout the day.
On Lap 53, German Quiroga got into Reddick coming out of the tunnel turn. Reddick had been running inside of the top-five throughout the race, but got caught up in traffic on the restart after the caution came out for Kyle Martel hitting the wall in Turn 1 on Lap 47. The No. 19 truck got loose in the corner while going underneath Quiroga, but then the No. 77 just got right into the rear of Reddick’s Ford.
“He ran me to the wall. I just tried to stay off the wall. I didn’t even mean to spin him. He kept running me to the wall. I don’t race like that. I was just avoiding the wall and from there – I don’t know what happened. I didn’t even see him. All of a sudden he was on my back bumper,” Quiroga said after the race. “I’m fighting for a championship. I’ve never got into somebody that is fight for a championship. I don’t know why he did that. I didn’t send him into the wall. He just kept trying to get into me.
NASCAR held Reddick for the final two laps of the 60-lap event for rough driving. Moreover, after the race, his crew chief Doug Randolph and he were called over to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series hauler.
“It was just a racing deal. When it gets down to the end, everyone is fighting for positions. It is very tight and technical coming off of (Turn) 2. We raced at Dover very clean together. We raced at a lot of places together. Everyone is going to have their racing incidents that they don’t want,” Reddick said. “They are looking over what happened and discussing their take on what happened – where to go from there. They just want to make sure that we take it down a notch and keep it under control. I don’t think there were any rough intentions anywhere.”
Ryan Blaney extended his points lead to seven points over Johnny Sauter, who finished second to Dillon. Sauter’s teammate and reigning Truck Series champion Matt Crafton falls to third in points after a 14th-place finish – just 12 markers behind the driver of the No. 29 Ford.
Clint Bowyer drove the No. 05 Toyota to a fourth-place finish for Athenian Motorsports after being tabbed as the substitute driver for John Wes Townley. He led 10 laps in Saturday afternoon’s race, and was battling Dillon for the lead until he had a poor restart with just two laps to go.
Here are some notables from the Pocono Mountains 150:
-Joe Nemechek earned his fifth top-10 finish of the 2014 season. This event marked his first Truck Series race at Pocono.
-Justin Lofton finished ninth in the No. 9 Chevrolet. He finished inside of the top-10 for the third time in four races this year.
-Jason White ended the day in the 11th position. This was his first race at a non-restrictor plate track since running at Homestead in 2012.
-Spencer Gallagher finished 15th in his fourth race of 2014 for GMS Racing. In doing so, he earned his second straight top-15 finish after earning the 11th spot at Iowa Speedway for the ninth race of the yer.
-Ryan Ellis earned his second-best career finish in the No. 28 truck for FDNY Racing. He finished the day in the 19th position. His best career finish was 18th at Daytona International Speedway earlier this year.
Over the past four years, the Pocono Raceway has held a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in August along with the usual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and ARCA Series events at the track. In the four races at the track, fuel mileage has played a large role in the results of the event, and if history serves us right – the same will happen once again this weekend.
This year’s Truck Series race at Pocono will be slightly longer. NASCAR and the track came to an agreement to add 25-miles to what was a 125-mile event. With the added laps, teams will have to adjust their strategy accordingly – possibly throwing some off course during the late stages of the race.
Last year’s winner, Ryan Blaney, enters Pocono as the championship leader. Although he doesn’t have a win this season, the 20-year-old has been a model of consistency as the division nears the half-way point in the season. Coming off of three straight top-three finishes, he has moved from fifth in points to the top spot over the past four races.
Joey Coulter, the only other driver with a win at Pocono in the Truck Series, has three top-10s after 10 races his year. However, the move to GMS Racing has been smooth for him as things have begun to pick up – especially in qualifying. What he called his weakest point so far this year, Coulter has been able to start inside of the top-10 throughout the past four races. With a top-five finish needed for this team, expect the No. 21 Chevrolet to be racing near the front of the pack this weekend.
Austin Dillon will run his fifth Camping World Truck Series race of the 2014 season. Dillon, who is racing for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award in the Sprint Cup Series, has made several spot starts for NTS Motorsports this season. This weekend, he’ll be in the No. 3 truck for Richard Childress Racing for the second time this year (first was in the No. 2 truck). The reigning Nationwide Series champion and 2011 Truck Series victor has his sights set on contending for the win this weekend. In his previous two starts at Pocono, he has a pair of top-10s, yet he never led a lap at the “Tricky Triangle.” Racing in this event should help Dillon, who finished 17th in his first Cup Series race at Pocono in June.
Kyle Larson is making his second straight start in the Truck Series. Larson will be in the No. 32 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports instead of flying out to Iowa Speedway for the Nationwide Series race. He won the ARCA Series event at Pocono in June – holding off a hard charging Mason Mitchell in the process. After running the ARCA race, he capped off the weekend with a top-five finish in the Cup Series race. The team gave him a hard time all weekend as he didn’t know how to shift well in the Cup Series car, but that should change this weekend after his impressive run at the 2.5-mile track.
Here are some notables for the Pocono Mountains 150:
-Joe Nemechek returns to the No. 8 truck. This will be his sixth start of the season as he is looking for his fourth top-10 finish of 2014.
-Jason White is racing the No. 9 Chevrolet for NTS Motorsports. This will be his first Truck Series event since Daytona in February and his first at a non-restrictor plate track since Homestead of 2012.
-Justin Lofton will be racing his fourth race this year for NTS Motorsports. He finished in the runner-up position at Texas, and is looking to catch the attention of sponsors to run some more races.
-Ryan Ellis will be back in the No. 28 truck for FDNY Racing. Speedway Digest will have more on the team’s situation over the course of the weekend.
-Todd Peck will be racing his No. 40 truck for the second time this season. Peck qualified for the race at Dover, but parked his vehicle after a handful of laps.
-Erik Jones will be making his Pocono debut. Jones made his Nationwide Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing at Chicagoland, and won the Truck Series race at Iowa. However, that has been his only top-10 finish this season.
-Kyle Martel will be running his first Truck Series race of the season. Martel made two starts last year with his family-owned team. In three career starts, his best finish was 21st at Pocono in his first event back in 2012.