Richard Childress Racing Trying to get back on Winning Ways
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.
Germain Racing the Little Team that Could
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.
Championship or Bust for Ty Dillon
Ty Dillon was expected to have great success before he ever competed full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The grandson of legendary NASCAR team owner Richard Childress has experienced the ups and downs of racing for one of the sport’s most prestigious teams.
Richard Childress Racing dates back to when Childress himself was a racecar driver. Since then, Dale Earnhardt Sr. became the face of the franchise long after the unfortunate accident at Daytona in 2001 that claimed his life. RCR has experienced a transition period since its last title at the Sprint Cup Series level, but has established plenty of success in the XFINITY Series.
For Dillon, the XFINITY Series has been no different, expecting to excel with his grandfather’s race team.
The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet is entering his third full-time season in the XFINITY Series with RCR. In his first two years of competition, Dillon has seen slight success. In 2014, he was victorious in his third career start at Indianapolis after passing Kyle Busch late in the event. That race was a huge momentum boost for the team, but ultimately, he came up short of the season end goal of a championship.
At the end of the season, Dillon finished fifth in the point standings and was looking forward to 2015. When the new season began, he was fully motivated with the team that was assembled around him. After earning 10 top-10 finishes in the first 14 races of last season, RCR decided to change the outlook of its lead car by slotting Nick Harrison atop the pit box, replacing Danny Stockman.
From that point on the No. 3 car had 15 top 10s in the final 19 events. But again Dillon came up just short in the championship battle, this time losing out to Chris Buescher.
Dillon is a very driven individual as he grew up in a household full of competition. From competing against his older brother, 2013 XFINITY Series champion Austin Dillon, on the race-track, or even the baseball field, he wants to be the best in his sport, like all drivers do. However, his brother has two national championships, including a Camping World Truck Series title in 2011, and is just a Cup title away from having a championship in all three series.
“The pressure to perform is all on myself,” Dillon told Speedway Digest. “A lot of people try to pressure on you, but it’s nothing compared to what I want to do. I want to win the races, I want to win the championship and nobody is going to be able to put more pressure on me than myself.”
In 2016, the XFINITY Series will have a new outlook. With the newly implemented Chase system which includes 12 drivers making the cutoff, the pressure to perform is there more than ever before. However, after losing series veterans, such as Regan Smith and Chase Elliott who are championship threats, he looks to be the favorite heading into the new season.
The 2014 XFINITY Series champion Elliott has moved up to take over the No. 24 for the retired Jeff Gordon in the Cup Series. In December, it was announced that 2015 champion Chris Buescher would make the jump to the Cup level and drive for Front Row Motorsports. Then on Thursday evening news broke that Regan Smith will be replacing Alex Bowman at Tommy Baldwin Racing.
These three drivers, along with Dillon were in the battle for the championship all the way down to Homestead. But with the other three making the move to Cup, Dillon is in the best position to win a title at this stage of his young career.
The XFINITY Series is gaining the returning Justin Allgaier who is piloting the No. 7 for JR Motorsports and will look to rival Dillon as the top dog in the fight for the championship. Anything but winning a title in 2016 will be a disappointment for the 23-year-old.
“Somewhat, it’s the third time around,” Dillon said. “I just want to win races and with that it will become a championship opportunity. If we get locked in that Chase, you’ve got to win the races just like they do in the Sprint Cup Series. You know you’re going to go down to that last race and I don’t know if you’re going to be battling for the win in the Homestead race for the championship, but I think you will be battling for a top-three.”
In three career starts at Homestead, Dillon has a pair of seventh-place finishes and one finish of 14th. If the team is fortunate enough to make it to Homestead it would need to up its game in order to win the championship, since the one race determines a championship and not a series of races.
Before even thinking about Homestead, the team must get through Daytona and the other 31 races leading up to the season-finale. In the past two seasons, Dillon has had at least 24 top-10 finishes which would solidly get him in the Chase based on points if he fails to earn a triumph before the cutoff.
He wants to win, and in order to do so, the team will need to make the cars more competitive and bring faster equipment off the hauler. If the team continues to bring average cars to the track then that is exactly what the team will be, and more vulnerable to the competition.
Around the XFINITY garage, Dillon is considered to be one of the early favorites to win the title. His statistics out perform any other series driver in the series in 2016 based off the last two years. Of all the other drivers he will be racing against full-time in 2016, Daniel Suarez was the closest to him on points in 2015, 96 points behind the No. 3 team.
“I always see myself as the championship favorite,” Dillon said. “I feel like I’m a favorite to win the Daytona 500, a lot of people might not feel like that, but I’m always going to bet on myself.”
Dillon will running the Daytona 500 for Circle Sport-Levine Family Racing as the driver of the No. 95 Chevrolet, teaming with Michael McDowell. He will be running in at least a handful of events while being paired with veteran crew chief Todd Parrott. Though his final Cup schedule has not been determined, they are looking at up to 10 races in 2016.
Championship Outlook: 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series
Coming off of a rather lackluster season in NASCAR’s second-tier division, 2015 is set to be a lot more enticing. Dominating efforts by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars was taking place nearly each week, and that is going to change for the upcoming season.
XFINITY, which is owned by Comcast (who owns NBC), is taking over as the title sponsor from Nationwide. Not only is the logo getting a face lift for NASCAR’s version of Triple-A, but it will have plenty of fresh names in new places.
But even with all of the changes occurring, 2015 should witness a more competitive environment than ever before.
Chase Elliott, 18, dominated the XFINITY Series last year. Winning three races and having an astonishing average finish of 8.0 in his rookie season, the soon-to-be driver of the No. 24 Cup Series Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports is geared up to repeat his championship efforts. However, 2014 saw a lack of competition for the championship, especially with Cup Series drivers winning week-in and week-out.
Let’s take a look at the predictions for the top-15 in points for the NASCAR XFINITY Series for the 2015 season.
- Chase Elliott: It’s kind of cliché to pick Elliott as the champion once again considering the circumstances surrounding him. But with the amount of success he had in 2014, experience is going to help him run just as strong, if not better in 2015. With a new crew chief at the helm, we might see the reigning champion struggle at first, yet he should be on a steady pace after a handful of races into the season.
- Elliott Sadler: Making the move to Roush Fenway Racing from Joe Gibbs Racing, Sadler is expected to reemerge as a championship contender. The organization began to run stronger toward the end of last season, and Sadler will be the veteran of the team, which should propel him to success. However, he is going to need to find Victory Lane often if he wants to beat Elliott. Working with Phil Gould, the No. 1 Ford crew is going to be fast on a weekly basis, but being mistake-free will be the defying factor in their season.
- Regan Smith: Smith has been coming extremely close to winning the title for the past two years. After coming close last year to his teammate, he has more motivation than ever before to win the whole thing. However, he has experienced struggles at the intermediate tracks, which has been the difference maker against his competitors. It is going to be tough to be more consistent than he was last year, but leading just 133 laps definitely did not help his efforts.
- Chris Buescher: Buescher was exceptional late last season in the No. 60 car. This team found consistency in the latter part of 2014, and that is expected to carry over this season. Earning an average finish of 12.6, Buescher should work his way into the top 10 more frequently. Expect him to record a win or two, especially at the intermediate tracks, which have become his strong suit.
- Ty Dillon: There is just something missing at the Richard Childress Racing stable. Dillon has the potential to emerge as a championship contender this year after finishing fifth in points last year, but he will probably stay around there in 2015. Although the No. 3 team was arguably the most consistent besides the No. 9 crew, they didn’t have the speed to contend for wins on a weekly basis. The same will likely be the case this year, especially with the level of competition increasing. Expect Dillon to have only one win this year, but he will have more top fives than he did in 2014.
- Brian Scott: 2014 was Scott’s chance to have a breakout season. He did just that with 23 top 10s and an average finish of 9.3. However, he failed to find Victory Lane, and that is the difference maker. In 2015, the No. 2 team, led by new crew chief Mike Hillman, Jr., will find the winner’s circle at Chicagoland, Kentucky or Richmond. If they can win at least one event, they have potential to keep piling it on. But Scott has a pattern of struggling early each season, and that could carry on with a new crew chief at the helm.
- Darrell Wallace, Jr.: Bubba Wallace is back in the XFINITY Series. He’s finally getting the chance to race full-time, which is what he deserves. Over the course of his career, Wallace has run a mere six events in this division, so there is going to be a steep learning curve. He will have some trouble throughout the first part of the year, but with his experience in the Truck Series, he should be able to come away with a handful of top-five finishes, and about 15-20 top 10s.
- Daniel Suarez: Suarez is expected to run quite well in his first full-time season in one of NASCAR’s top-three divisions. He is going to get plenty of experience with a handful of ARCA Series races for Venturini Motorsports, along with 13 races for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series. Don’t expect him to score a victory in his first season, but three or four top fives is realistic for the No. 18 team. Gibbs’ full-time car usually struggles compared to the one that runs for the owner’s title, and that might be the case here.
- Brendan Gaughan: Winning two races last year probably wasn’t expected of the No. 62 team. He knew that he needed to win, otherwise his career could be coming to a close. Gaughan has repeatedly said that he needs to be in competitive equipment to continue racing, and 2015 should be a solid year for him. Expect him to earn a victory at an intermediate track, but inconsistency will plague this team once again. Seven top 10s just won’t do much in 2015, and he is certainly capable of doing better.
- Landon Cassill: Cassill was on the verge of breaking into the top-10 in points a few times last year. Although this team is expanding to a third full-time car, his leadership skills and added funding should provide them with more success in 2015. Mechanical issues plagued him for much of 2014, but if he can stay on the lead lap for the majority of the season, expect his average finish to increase to approximately 15th or so.
- Ryan Reed: Reed struggled throughout the entire 2014 season. Earning just one top 10 (a fourth-place finish at Daytona), the No. 16 team didn’t see much success. There were times where he ran inside of the top 10, but always had something go wrong that put him around 12th-15th nearly every week. If he can relax behind the wheel and focus on not overdriving the car, Reed has potential to run just inside of the top 10 on a weekly basis.
- Dakoda Armstrong: Lackluster is probably an understatement for Armstrong’s 2014 season. Having an average finish of 20.2 in decent equipment gave Richard Petty Motorsports a reason to split ways with him. However, resigning for a second season, Armstrong will continue to pilot the No. 43 Ford. Earning three top 10s in the final 11 races last year, he began to finally hit his stride just a bit. If he can run well once a month, he has potential to finish inside of the top-10 in points just like his predecessor, Michael Annett.
- David Starr: Starr is entering his first of three full-time seasons for TriStar Motorsports in the No. 44 Toyota. The four-time Truck Series winner will embark upon his first full slate in the XFINITY Series after running a career-high 14 events in 2014. Expect Starr to run around the top 20 for the most part, but he will have a few races inside of the top 10 with TriStar’s additional funding.
- Mike Bliss: Bliss should have another solid season in the No. 19 car. Although he’s been with TriStar for a few seasons, he has never had a year of more than two top-10 finishes. Coming off of a season with an average finish of 20.4, which is the worst since he joined the organization, Bliss should go back to finishing around 15th in 2015.
- JJ Yeley: Racing for JGL Racing, Yeley has become a team leader for this small team. After he had two top 10s in 2014, the No. 28 team should run better in 2015. Making the swap to Toyota, they had a solid run at Homestead, and that should be expected of them for the majority of 2015. Although it isn’t known if Yeley will run for points in the Cup Series for BK Racing or in XFINITY, the No. 28 car should be inside of the top-15 on a weekly basis.
- Cale Conley: Conley is going full-time in the No. 14 car this year. After running 11 events for RCR, he showed the potential to be a top-10 caliber driver. Expect him to run better than his teammates, with approximately 10 top-10 results. However, consistency has been a problem for this organization, which is going to put him back a bit in points.
- Blake Koch: Koch will get his shot at running full-time in 2015. He ran 28 races each of the past two seasons, but never had enough races to gather momentum. As long as he isn’t forced to start-and-park, Koch should run in the top-20 weekly, with a handful of top-10 finishes.
- Ross Chastain: After a breakout season in the Truck Series in 2013, Chastain didn’t run full-time last year. Earning his first career top-10 finish at Kentucky for Hattori Racing Enterprises, he earned a chance to finally race full-time in the XFINITY Series. Although he is going to be racing for JD Motorsports, Chastain should have a few Cassill-like races, where he runs stronger than the equipment he is in.
- Jeremy Clements: This family-run team has run well over the years. This will be his fifth full-time season in the No. 51 car, and he will continue to work with 1986 and 1987 championship winning crew chief Ricky Pearson. In 2014, he had two top 10s, and ended the season with 11th and 13th-place finishes, respectively. Expect him to have a solid season, but they will likely finish around 20th each week, which is solid with the limited funding that they have.
- Jeffrey Earnhardt: Earnhardt is moving over to Viva Motorsports in 2015. Jamie Dick is stepping out of the seat after running for a few years. This team usually runs outside of the top-20, but is a step up from the equipment that he drove last year. In 2014, he failed to finish inside of the top-10. However, with potential to have a solid season in 2015, expect Earnhardt to earn a pair of top 10s, plus an average finish inside of the top 25.
You can follow Joseph Wolkin on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.
2015 Season Preview: JTG Daugherty Racing with AJ Allmendinger
2014 was a dream come true for the No. 47 team. AJ Allmendinger had joined the organization on a part-time basis in the season prior, and he was set to contend for them full-time. Not only did he run well, but thanks to an alliance with Richard Childress Racing – Allmendinger was able to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his eighth season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Highlighted by a victory at Watkins Glen in an intense duel with road course ace Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger’s season was quite impressive. In his first season working with crew chief Brian Burns, not only did he win his first career race, but he also gave the team, crew chief and most crew members their first career Sprint Cup Series triumph.
Although the team’s top story was the win at a road course, Allmendinger did something that the team had not accomplished since 2012 at Martinsville. He earned their first top-10 finish in a non-plate race in 43 events with an eighth-place result at Fontana. Earning five top 10s on the year doesn’t seem astonishing, but entering the season – Allmendinger’s goal was to move the team from a 30th-place organization into the top 20.
Not only was the No. 47 Chevrolet averaging a finish just near 20th-place, but he led over 25 laps in two races.
Inconsistency plagued the small team throughout the season with 11 finishes of 25th or worse. However, Allmendinger became the leader that he was destined for. Being in a smaller environment compared to what he was once within at Team Penske or Team Red Bull, the California-native finished on the lead lap 19 times, which is equivalent to Bobby Labonte’s results with the team in 2012 and 2013.
For the 2015 season, Allmendinger will continue to work with Burns. The two are signed through 2016, and they have potential to become consistent contenders for the near future. Although it might not be the largest organization, the team has steadily come together.
Aspirations were set on making this a multi-car team several years ago, but now they have begun to set their sights on making the No. 47 car a top-tier one. Allmendinger is proving he is worthwhile, and the team should improve in 2015. As their alliance with RCR continues, things could go well with the new aerodynamic package that is set to go in place as Allmendinger is a mechanical driver, which is where his talent will come into play once again like the road courses.