Team Preview: Richard Childress Racing
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on February 11, 2013 | 9:07 A.M. EST
Kevin Harvick will be under the spotlight as a lame-duck driver with RCR in the coming year but promises the effort will still be strong. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
MotorRacingNetwork.com counts down to the start of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and the running of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway, with a series of team previews. Next up is a look at Richard Childress Racing.
Richard Childress Racing enters the 2013 season determined to get back to elite status in the Sprint Cup Series garage.
Despite Kevin Harvick winning a race and making the Chase, last year proved to be another frustrating season for the three-car stable.
"We know we've got to do our work here," team owner Childress said. "We've got to get our cars better, we've got to get our handling better, got to get to running better."
Harvick began the year with Shane Wilson as crew chief. That move was initiated in 2011, when the driver was very vocal about his displeasure with Gil Martin, who had previously called the shots for the No. 29 team.
But while Harvick and Martin return in 2013 hopefully headed in the right direction after their Phoenix win last November, the pair could be dealing with some awkward moments.
That's because Harvick's next direction is out the door of RCR. News broke late last season he'll vacate the team where he has spent his entire Cup career for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, leaving a major void on the Childress effort and creating a potentially sticky situation.
However, Harvick doesn’t see it that way. He reiterated his commitment to the team and vowed to remained focused during what will be his last season working with Childress.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” Harvick said. “Having Gil and everybody working together over the end of the year and during the off season has been good. There are a lot of unknowns with the new car, but to see the structure and the things going on and the plan we have going into the season, I’m looking forward to having fun this year and doing the best we can to win races.”
Harvick will be under the spotlight as a lame-duck driver with the team in the coming year but promises the effort will still be strong.
"Regardless of what happens on the business side of things, Richard Childress and myself will always be friends," said Harvick. "We may agree to disagree, but we still have a lot of racing left to do, and we owe it to our sponsors and our company to go out and race hard."
"It has been a struggle. But I know that these guys all want to win. I know Richard wants to win, regardless of what happens in 2014."
One of the major changes for the team also came at the end of last season when Dr. Eric Warren was brought in to serve as competition director.
Warren filled a major hole left by the departure of former competition director Scott Miller, who joined Michael Waltrip Racing at the start of last season.
"I think obviously when Scott Miller left, there's kind of been a void in that particular area of the company," Harvick said. "As many of you know and you hear us preach all the time, this sport is really all about people. I think for us having Eric in that position will lead to some structure and some focus on a lot of things that we need to get better at.
"Just having somebody there on a daily basis is going to be a step in the right direction. Now it's all about putting a system into place that everybody buys into to lead everybody on a day-to-day basis and hopefully make things better."
Warren, who came on board late in 2012, says he’s already seen a difference in the organization in a relatively short period of time.
“Started at the end of last season, kind of built a method of preparing and trying to look at the teams separately to kind of develop ideas and bring them all together when it counts, when the season starts,” he said. “We’ve had two successful tests . . . We’ve got high expectations and I look forward to bringing that to reality.”
Teammates Jeff Burton and Paul Menard also struggled in 2012.
Veteran Burton finished 19th in the final Cup Series point standings and was in the rumor mill as well as possibly retiring. He vehemently denied any plans of hanging up the helmet but understood why his name was being discussed.
"When you're in your 20th year and people are talking about you being replaced, it is not the position you want to be in,” said Burton, who is determined to get back to being competitive. "When you've put in as much as I've put into it and it means as much as it means to me, you want everybody saying, 'That's a driving son of a [gun].' "
Burton is optimistic the team’s personnel changes, move to the new Gen 6 Sprint Cup Chevy SS and a renewed energy will lead to better results in 2013.
“We’re as prepared as we can be,” said Burton. “Obviously, everybody is behind. There is a lot of energy around here; there’s an enthusiasm – you can feel it.”
When the final checkered flag of the year flew, Menard finished 17th in the standings.
He’ll return this year with veteran crew chief Slugger Labbe calling the shots with high hopes for a much better performance.
“We didn’t accomplish what we were after last season that’s for sure,” said Menard, who won the 2011 Brickyard 400. “It will be nice to set the restart button and we’re confident things will change for the better this year.”
Although recent times in the Sprint Cup Series have been lean, Childress believes the pieces are in place for a much better performance all the way around this coming season.
“We’ve got a good lineup,” he said. “The tests we’ve had, I’m really pleased with what we’ve seen. Hopefully, when we put it all together, it will be what we expect for this year.”