LEMASTERS: RCR Performance Moving Forward In Leaps, Bounds

Ron Lemasters Sr.

Sometimes you need to just step back and take a look at your situation.

That’s what has happened at Richard Childress Racing and, from the stark reality of a race team in turmoil a year ago, a legitimate threat to the dominance of the likes of Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing, a formidable challenge has emerged.

And it’s growing.

RCR will become a four-car team next year when Paul Menard joins Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer.

The new mega-team on the block shook off a 20-year curse Sunday when Harvick won the first race for RCR at Michigan Int’l Speedway in 20 years.

Asked in the winner’s post-race press conference Sunday how RCR was able to look so strong only a year from being on the brink of self-destruction, Harvick had a ready answer.

“It’s probably because we were so damn bad,” he said.

And most likely because Childress knew it and set out to turn it around.

Sponsorship money is what makes the NASCAR world turn, and Childress is good at working that pump handle.

Harvick has Shell and Pennzoil on his car, Clint Bowyer has Cheerios and Hamburger Helper, Jeff Burton has CAT Financial and next season Menard will have family support from Menards, who else?

There is a strong rumor that Childress will announce that Budweiser sponsorship will find its way to RCR.

The travails of 2009, with a four-car team, was obviously a learning experience for all involved at RCR — a teachable moment, if you will.

Among other things, it taught those involved how NOT to do it.

And it surely demonstrated that Richard Childress and his gang are quick studies.

“We actually started a little earlier (this year),” Childress said. “We made changes in personnel, in engineering, a lot of different things.”

Childress tossed a deserved bouquet Harvick’s way.

“Kevin has been so rock solid,” he said of his top driver. “He is into it this year. The whole team is.”

Therein lies the impetus, the inspiration to try a four-car team again.

The obvious question in the media center was why four cars?

Childress got down to the nitty gritty early in a meeting with the media Friday morning.

“We felt that right now is a really a good time to do it,” he said.

So how is this deal different from 2009?

Performance was the answer.

“If we were performing like we did at the start of 2009, we wouldn’t be in this situation today,” Childress said. “We know that we have to keep our teams performing at whatever cost to get back up front because that’s where the sponsors are. As long as we produce on the race track it makes it easier to get sponsors.

“You have to keep growing; you can’t live on what you did last year. We can’t live next year on whatever we do this year.”

It isn’t a new deal for Childress and John Menard, Paul’s father and owner of the home improvement empire that bears his name.

“Robby Gordon and I put together a deal to run with Menards sponsorship,” Childress said. “John owned the (Indy) car with me at Indianapolis.”

Childress stressed that his will be a “one team, one roof” operation.

“We feel that we’re one team with four drivers and that’s the way we look at it,” he said. “We don’t want to separate two and two or anything like that…Everybody works in the same area, all of our shops and crew chiefs are together and it works out really well.”

With all three teams currently in the Chase, who’s to argue?