Can RCR be a threat once again?

The timing of a crew chief change on the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing team probably didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows Paul Menard.

Can RCR be a threat once again?
Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Danny Stockman, crew chief for Paul Menard
Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing Chevrole
Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Race winner Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Victory lane: race winner Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet celebrates

As a driver who brings sponsorship from his family business, Menard has more pull than most racers.

Yet after qualifying for the Chase last season for the first time in his Sprint Cup career, Menard hasn’t been in the top 20 in the standings since Martinsville Speedway in early April, when he posted his first top-10 finish of the season.

Shaking things up

Since then, Menard, 36, has slipped to 23rd in the standings. Although he finished 10th last weekend at Indianapolis, earning his second top-10 of 2016, the result did not come soon enough to save crew chief Justin Alexander.

No doubt, Alexander was thrown in the deep end at Richard Childress Racing. True, he worked at Hendrick Motorsports under the best in the business as a lead race engineer for Chad Knaus on the championship-winning No. 48 team and the No. 24 team with Alan Gustafson before moving to RCR in 2013. But Alexander had never led a team prior to replacing Slugger Labbe on the No. 27 Menards Chevy in the fall of 2014. Alexander worked as the No. 27 team’s lead engineer prior to Menard selecting him as crew chief when Labbe was initially looking to get off the road.

Two weeks ago, one RCR principal suggested it might have been in Alexander’s best interest for him to hone his skills in the Xfinity Series prior to graduating to the Cup series as a crew chief. Perhaps the wheels were already in motion.

There have been rumors circulating about changes with crew chiefs and the engineering staff at RCR since May. That was also around the time the Menards sponsorship ended up on Simon Pagenaud’s IndyCar for the events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Soon after, speculation started that an alliance between Paul Menard and Team Penske could occur on the NASCAR side as well.

Over the last month, RCR has appeared a little more confident that Menard — both the driver and the sponsorship — would remain with the company. The promotion Danny Stockman Jr. this week as crew chief of the No. 27 Chevy is likely a precursor to a subsequent announcement that Menard will sign on for another year at RCR.

Stockman led Austin Dillon to Truck and Xfinity titles. As a crew chief, he’s won two races in 26 truck starts and seven victories with three different drivers in NXS — including Menard at his home track of Elkhart Lake (Wisc.).

“We look at the balance of our team and as has happened multiple times in the years you look at the chemistry of the team and after a while you realize you need to do something to keep performance up,” said Dr. Eric Warren, RCR’s vice president of competition. “Paul made the Chase last year, we felt like it was one of his best years, but to be honest, the last part of the Chase we struggled a little bit. It continued a little bit at the beginning of this year.

“We are trying to win a race and get in the Chase. It’s not over until it’s over and we know the guys at RCR and the organization is continuing to bring great cars to the track. We are working on some new improvements that hopefully show. There are a few races left that we still feel like we can get in…It’s really about Paul and Danny. They work well together on the Xfinity side, some of the races; it’s just kind of a natural progression.”

A sudden improvement

Stockman’s presence was felt immediately. Menard led first practice at Pocono Raceway on Friday. He then qualified third, a season-best.

Certainly, RCR has made gains. Last week at Indy, all three cars were running in the top 15 throughout the race. Ryan Newman was going to have a solid finish before Carl Edwards damaged his car with six laps remaining. Austin Dillon led the trio with a ninth-place finish. Menard posted his first top 10 at the Brickyard since his win in 2011.

On Friday at Pocono, RCR placed all three of its cars in the top 12 for the first time since August 2014 at Michigan.

Five years ago, RCR was a powerhouse. The company had three different cars go to Victory Lane in 2011. But Clint Bowyer moved on at the end of the year. Kevin Harvick followed suit two years later. Menard elected to stay the course.

Although RCR appears stronger than it’s been all season, it’s unlikely Menard’s 180-race winless drought will end on Sunday. But showing speed and qualifying well is a step in the right direction.

shares
comments
Almirola on 200th Cup start: "I never thought I'd make it to this point"
Previous article

Almirola on 200th Cup start: "I never thought I'd make it to this point"

Next article

Kurt Busch looking to repeat in postponed Pocono race

Kurt Busch looking to repeat in postponed Pocono race
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Prime

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, but his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines...

NASCAR Cup
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Prime

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR Cup
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Prime

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR Cup
Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Prime

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organization - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR Cup
Aug 31, 2021
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021