Richard Childress Racing preview
RCR in SoCal ... In 61 overall NSCS starts at Auto Club Speedway, RCR Chevrolets have earned one pole (Mike Skinner - April 2000), eight top-five and 21 top-10 finishes. RCR boasts a 20.4 average start, a 16.7 average finish and have completed 14,957 of the 15,115 laps (99 percent) contested at the moderately-banked D-shaped race track. The Welcome, N.C.-based organization's best finishes at Fontana came last year when Kevin Harvick scored a runner-up effort in the spring race before Clint Bowyer matched his teammate's effort in the fall. At the same time, each of RCR's four drivers have led laps at the two-mile speedway in their NSCS careers.
Five to Go ... RCR has earned a Sprint Cup Series victory at 18 of the 23 tracks on the 2011 schedule. The only tracks on the current schedule where RCR hasn't earned wins are Auto Club Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Kentucky Speedway. Additionally, RCR has Sprint Cup Series wins at 21 tracks overall, including North Wilkesboro (N.C.), Riverside (Calif.) and Rockingham (N.C.), which are no longer on the schedule.
The Collective RCR ... Over the season's first four races, RCR's four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries have notched two top-five and four top-10 finishes. The No. 31 team kicked off the 2011 season with a win in the second Duel 150 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway. RCR-prepared Chevrolets have also completed 4,711 out of 5,148 total laps (91.5 percent) with drivers Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Harvick and Paul Menard, who have led a combined 129 laps. At least one RCR driver has led laps in each of the season's first four events.
Get to the Points ... For the second consecutive week, three of RCR's four Sprint Cup Series teams climbed the ranks in the point standings following last weekend's race at Bristol. Menard advanced one spot, to fifth, while Harvick leapfrogged five spots, moving the No. 29 driver to 15th in the standings. Burton gained three positions, to 29th, where he now sits 15 markers in arrears to cracking the top 20. Bowyer fell to 24th in the points rundown after getting collected in a multi-car incident at the World's Fastest Half Mile.
Former California Driver ... Director of Competition Scott Miller is a former driver in NASCAR's regional series. The Bardstown, Ky., native was behind the wheel on six occasions at the now-defunct Riverside International Raceway from 1981-1984, with a top finish of 14th at the nine-turn road course in Southern California. Miller raced in the NASCAR Winston West Series from 1983-1986 accumulating two poles, one win and six top-five finishes.
Paul Menard No. 27 Serta/Menards Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes
This Week's Serta/Menards Chevrolet at Auto Club Speedway ... Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 347 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala is a brand new addition to the RCR fleet, and will see its first laps on the race track during Friday's practice session at the Fontana, Calif.-based race track.
Menard in Fontana ... In his eight previous starts at Auto Club Speedway, Menard has finished each of his contested races and completed 98.1 percent of his laps (1,913 of 1,950). He has an average starting position of 28.5 and an average finishing position of 26.5, with his best finish of 18th coming in the February 2010 event. His best start at the two-mile speedway came in September 2007 when he took the green flag in the 20th position.
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WYPALL* Wipers Crew Chief of the Race Honors for Labbe ... Slugger Labbe was voted the WYPALL*Wipers Crew Chief of the Race following the NSCS event at Bristol Motor Speedway. He is now in the running to be named the WYPALL* Wipers Crew Chief of the Year.
Race Rewind ... Last week, Menard and the No. 27 team recorded their best 2011 finish of fifth at Bristol Motor Speedway. The top-five finish moved him to fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings.
PAUL MENARD QUOTES:
What are your thoughts about having only one race at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana)? Do you think it will actually help the race track?
"I think that going back to one race should help the race track's attendance. That's been their biggest struggle - having people show up. I'm not really sure why. There's a big market in Los Angeles. There must be so many other things to do that having two races there has hurt their attendance. Hopefully, this helps them. Traffic may also be a factor. It's an hour east of Los Angeles and traffic is really congested there. If you want to go anywhere, you look by map, and it might be 30 miles but it can take you two hours."
What do you think about the racing at ACS?
"Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) can be fun some days and it can be a nightmare on others. Usually, we have long green-flag runs there, which drivers kind of like. You really get a feel for your car and know what adjustments to make on pit stops. It's just one of those tracks that we go to with our chin up and try to get the best result so we can get out of there with a good finish."
RCR had some good runs at Fontana last year. How confident does that make you going out there?
"It makes us very confident. Our first intermediate track was in Vegas, and we learned some things that will apply to Fontana. You just keep going to all these race tracks and learning and picking up things. You can apply some things at some tracks and, at other tracks, they don't work."
Intermediate tracks seem to be your thing. The mile-and-a-half to two-mile tracks, you've always run pretty well at them but have never won. Do you look forward to going to those tracks with RCR equipment and, hopefully, turning that around?
"Yeah, those tracks are horsepower tracks, and we have the best engines in the garage. The cars are really nice. There are a couple things that Slugger is bringing to the table that is going to help excel the intermediate program. I think it will turn around this year. We had some success last year at intermediate tracks. We know what we did, we know what the RCR group did and now we'll make the best of both worlds and come up with an even better package."
You mentioned potential long green-flag runs at Fontana. That can turn the race at the end into a fuel mileage battle. Are you a kind of guy that doesn't like that kind of racing at the end?
"It doesn't really matter what you like. It's going to happen at some point during the season. You just have to make the best of it. If you have to save a couple laps of fuel, it is pretty doable. It's when they tell you that you're five or six laps short, it feels like you're going really slow trying to save that amount."
Kevin Harvick No. 29 Jimmy John's Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes
This Week's Jimmy John's Chevrolet at Auto Club Speedway ...
Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 299 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. Harvick drove this Chevrolet to a second-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2010.
Looking for a Hometown Win ... The Bakersfield, Calif., native grew up just over 150 miles from where Auto Club Speedway is located in Fontana, Calif., and after 17 starts at the two-mile track without a trip to Victory Lane, Harvick is looking to score the win in Sunday's race in front of his hometown crowd.
Auto Club Speedway Notes ... In 17 starts at the Fontana, Calif., speedway, Harvick has earned two top-fives and seven top-10 finishes. In addition, he's completed 98.3 percent (4,134 of 4,205) total laps and has led a total of 59 laps at Auto Club Speedway. Harvick has an average starting position of 18.4 and an average finishing position of 17.1 at the track.
In the Loop ... Harvick owns impressive loop data statistics at Auto Club Speedway heading into this weekend's Auto Club 400: sixth in Green-Flag Passes (952), seventh in Fastest Drivers on Restarts, eighth in Average Finishing Position (17.1), eighth in Fastest Drivers Early in a Run, eighth in Laps Run in the Top -15 (2,088) and ninth in Green-Flag Speed.
Last Time Around ... Harvick and RCR's No. 29 team made a late-race charge for the win during last year's spring race at Auto Club Speedway and closed to within 0.311 seconds of the leader with less than five laps to go. In the closing laps, Harvick brushed the wall, knocking the right-front fender in, and took the checkered flag in second place. The finish was a career-best for him at the two-mile track.
Points Jumper ... Harvick started the 2011 season off ranked 37th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings after a rare engine failure in the Daytona 500. In the races since, the Bakersfield, Calif., driver has jumped up 22 spots to 15th in the driver point standings thanks to earning a fourth-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway, rallying back from a late-race accident to score a sixth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway and collecting three bonus points for leading laps. Harvick currently sits just 13 points outside of the top 10 entering the fifth race of the season.
How Sweet it is ... As the NCAA tournament enters the fourth (Sweet 16) and fifth (Elite Eight) rounds of competition this week, Harvick is pulling for Duke University to close in on winning the school's fifth NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. In doing so, he's rooting against wife DeLana's beloved University of North Carolina Tar Heels, who are going for their sixth championship.
Doubling Up ... In addition to his driving duties with the No. 29 Jimmy John's Chevrolet team, Harvick, a two-time champion in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, will drive Kevin Harvick Incorporated's No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet in Saturday's 300-mile race. The race will air live on ESPN beginning at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The race will also be broadcast live on MRN Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio.
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTES:
You almost won at Auto Club Speedway last year. A lot of people thought you had it.
"Yeah, I got a little overanxious. I think a lot of that comes from the year before and not being competitive week-in and week-out and just getting in a hurry there at the end of the race. I should have just let the last few laps play out and tried to take control over the last couple of laps instead of trying to force the issue there at the end."
Did that experience help you win races throughout the season?
"Yeah, I think that was definitely the best lesson I learned last year, and luckily it happened early. I got back in that mind frame of running up front, being competitive and putting myself in contention to win races."
Do you think how well you and Jeff (Burton) ran there last year was a signal that RCR turned a corner and is competitive on the big tracks?
"Yeah, you have to be competitive on the mile-and-a-half race tracks to be in contention. I think, as you look at the bulk of the schedule, if you're not competitive on those types of tracks, you're in trouble."
Did you guys know you were that good when you went to California last year, or were you pleasantly surprised you were that good?
"We had a good idea by the way we ended the year before that we were going to run pretty decent. I don't think anyone could have expected it to start off as good as it did last year. Hopefully we can continue that through this season."
What do you like about Auto Club Speedway?
"As its aged over the years, the grooves have become really wide and the setup for the cars is becoming really important there. For the drivers, it's become a lot of fun to race on."
Have you been watching any of the NCAA March Madness games? If so, who have you picked to win?
"My brackets aren't looking great, but I don't think anyone's is with all the upsets. I think Duke is going to win it all.
Has the new points system changed the way you race? Do you like the changes to the points system?
"There's a lot of talk about the points system, but honestly, it doesn't affect what we do. We go out and race as hard as we can each week and get the best result we can. We wouldn't race any different no matter how it was structured.
"I think it's much simpler to follow when you know each position is one point. The intent of the point system was to make it simpler. I think it's done fine and exactly what they intended it to."
Jeff Burton No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet Impala
Race Notes and Quotes
This Week's Caterpillar Chevrolet at Auto Club Speedway ... Jeff Burton will pilot chassis No. 348 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This is a brand new Caterpillar Chevrolet that will be put through its first paces of competition this weekend.
Fontana Minutes ... In 21 Sprint Cup Series starts at Auto Club Speedway, Burton owns one pole, six top-five and seven top-10 efforts, posting a career-best finish of second in May 1999. The 21-time Sprint Cup Series winner has led 127 laps of competition and has completed 99.5 percent (5,181 of 5,205) of the total laps. Burton is also one of four drivers who have competed in all 21 events that NASCAR's senior circuit has hosted at the Fontana, Calif. facility.
Former Winner ... The South Boston, Va., native visited Auto Club Speedway's Victory Lane in 2007 when he took the checkers first in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race after starting fifth and leading 52 laps en route to victory.
Leading the Way ... Out of the 5,205 laps that have been contested at the two-mile oval, Burton leads the way in the most laps and miles completed with 5,181 and 10,362, respectively.
Over the First Four ...Despite visiting Daytona International Speedway's Victory Lane after winning the second Duel 150 qualifying race for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500, the Todd Berrier-led team has faced a string of bad luck in the opening four races of the 2011 season. Burton was credited with a 36th-place result after the engine expired on the Caterpillar Chevrolet just eight laps short of the Daytona 500's halfway point. At Phoenix, a wrong place, wrong time circumstance accumulated the veteran driver in a multi-car incident just 60 circuits in, but speedy work by the crew to repair the damaged machine to the best of their abilities sent Burton back on track where he was able to salvage a 26th-place result. Handling woes and ever-changing track conditions at Las Vegas Motor Speedway got the best of the Cat Racing team that left them leaving Sin City with a 21st-place finish before, most recently, a loose wheel in the early stages of Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, coupled with low battery power on the black and yellow machine kept the No. 31 team fighting for the remainder of the race prior to producing a 20th-place effort.
Jeff Burton Live ... Fans can see Burton live Sunday, March 27 from 8 - 8:15 a.m. on the Chevy Stage, located on the frontstretch in the midway area. The RCR driver will be part of a question-and-answer session hosted by Chevrolet.
Kicking off the Track Walk ... Burton, along with RCR teammate Clint Bowyer, will kick off the Coca-Cola Racing Family Track Walk on Sunday, March 27at Auto Club Speedway at 9:00 a.m. In support of their 'Live Positively' campaign, Coca-Cola is hosting a series of five track walks at NASCAR sanctioned tracks throughout the season. The purpose of the walk is to encourage fans to get active, taking the first lap of the day on foot. The walks will also feature a celebration with live entertainment, simulators, and fun for the whole family."
JEFF BURTON QUOTES:
What are your thoughts on racing at Fontana once a year?
"Well, I hate to see any race track lose a race. We have to go where people want to be. Unfortunately, two races at Fontana wasn't the smartest thing for us to be doing based on the amount of people going to the race. There are a lot of factors. There are economic factors; there are a lot of things that are going on in California that has really hurt them more so than other race tracks. The reality of it is that we weren't having the turn out that we needed to support two races. When you're in that position, I'm a fan of moving the race somewhere else. If there are other race tracks that more people are going to come to and are excited about us being there, then that's where we need to be."
Do you think it will benefit Fontana by only having one race?
"I don't know the economics in running a race track or how you're going to know from a financial standpoint. If they fill the stands for one race, is that better for them financially than 50 percent for two races? I don't know. It seems to me that it would make sense that it would be. I am a firm believer that when you limit the opportunity for people to see, experience and be a part of something, it makes it more special when you can do it. When you have less interest for some reason that results in less attendance, pulling it back has some reasonable fault that more people will be interested in it because they can't do it twice."
You were in position to win a couple of races at Fontana. How do you feel about that?
"Well, I don't know. We ran really well there last year. We had a good chance to win. We had a good chance to win the year before, too. The spring race has been a good race for us. We've struggled there in the fall for whatever reason. We've been in position to win that race a lot of times, but never done it, obviously. It's a good time of the year for us to go there because for some reason, we don't run as well there when it's hot than when it's cool."
Is there extra pressure when you haven't won a race yet? Are you trying to accomplish two things at once with winning a race and moving up in the point standings?
"We're racing for a championship. Winning races gets you more points and we need to get the most points. But, with the new Chase format, if we're not in the top 10 in points, then the only other way we'll get in the Chase is to win races. I'm not thinking about winning races for any other reason than that. In the back of my mind, I'm not saying 'oh no, we haven't won in a long time.' I don't think like that. Matter of fact, if you were to ask me how many races it's been since my list win, I honestly couldn't tell you. I don't like not winning, but worrying about it doesn't fix it. It's on to the next race and you always try to do better. But, when we do win our next race, there'll be a lot more to follow."
Clint Bowyer No. 33 Ronald Reagan Foundation's Centennial Celebration Chevrolet Chevrolet
Race Notes and Quotes
This Week's Ronald Reagan Foundation's Centennial Celebration Chevrolet at Auto Club Speedway ... Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 333 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This is a brand new No. 33 Chevrolet Impala that will turn its first laps on the track in Fontana this weekend.
Career Fontana Stats ... The Auto Club 400 marks Bowyer's 186th NSCS start.
In 10 NSCS starts at the two-mile oval, Bowyer owns two top-five and six top-10 finishes. In all 10 starts at ACS, Bowyer has finished 20th or better. He has completed 99.9 percent (2,449 of 2,451) of the total laps contested at ACS during his career. The Emporia, Kan., native has led 44 total laps at ACS. Bowyer owns a 14.4 average starting position and an 11th-place average finishing position. His best effort at the California facility is a second-place finish that he recorded October after leading 40 laps. Centennial Celebration ... The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation's Centennial Celebration and the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma will be the primary sponsors of Richard Childress Racing's No. 33 Chevrolet Impala. The Ronald Reagan Centennial is a historic, year-long celebration to commemorate the 100th birthday of the 40th President of the United States of America. A series of substantive and celebratory events, partnerships, and initiatives sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation are planned throughout 2011. Future announcements including a second phase of RCR's involvement with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation will be forthcoming. Cheerios and BB&T, the No. 33 team's primary sponsors for the majority of the season, will also have prominent identification on the car.
Thunder Valley ... After being involved in a late-race accident, Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet team suffered a blown engine, resulting in a 35th-place finish in the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Auto Club Speedway Day in LA ... Bowyer will take part in celebrating Auto Club Speedway Day in Downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, March 24. The event, put on by Auto Club Speedway in conjunction with Coca-Cola, was developed to drive interest/excitement around the upcoming race weekend in Fontana, Calif. The double-decker bus tour includes stops at Los Angeles City Hall, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood Blvd and In-N-Out Burger.
Coca-Cola Track Walk ... Bowyer, along with RCR teammate Jeff Burton, will kick off the Coca-Cola Racing Family Track Walk on Sunday, March 27 at Auto Club Speedway at 9:00 a.m. In support of their 'Live Positively' campaign, Coca-Cola is hosting a series of five track walks at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks throughout the season. The purpose of the walk is to encourage fans to get active, taking the first lap of the day on foot. The walks will also feature a celebration with live entertainment, simulators, and fun for the whole family.
CLINT BOWYER QUOTES:
Do you think it's good that we cut back to one race at Auto Club Speedway? Do you think it will be good for the series? Good for the track?
"You know, you never want to think taking a step back is a good thing, but I think it could be. I really do. It will give the track an opportunity to pack the house. It's a lot to ask for in that market area to fill the grandstands for two races in a row. Those are a high capacity grandstands out there. That's the thing that people really don't understand, that it's a big race track with huge grandstands. It's important to go out there. I think we were kind of flooding the market before. We need to take a step back, which they've done. Overall, it will be a good thing."
Given it's such a car culture out in California, it kind of surprised me that NASCAR hasn't really caught on there. How about you?
"I'd say they're kind of a breed of their own out there in California. Hotrods are huge in California because it's where it started. Drag racing is huge. I think NASCAR is big, too - it's like motocross. Motocross isn't that big anywhere else, but California. As for the state of California, it's huge. They just kind of have their own deal out there because it is so big. Extreme sports seem to be the biggest pull out there. It's all good because we have a great fan base out there. It's just not as big as some of the other places we go."
You've had three straight top-10 finishes at Fontana, including a runner-up last October. Did you think you had a chance to win that race?
"I should have won that race last October. There was a huge piece of debris in turn three that was there for about 40 laps and it caused a caution as soon as I built a one-second lead on Mark Martin. I haven't forgotten about it. Not to think that a debris caution was thrown to spice things up at the end, but, nonetheless, I lost because of a piece of debris in turn three."
What was your thought when they threw that caution? You had driven by it for quite a few laps.
"You can ask anyone, the first words out of my mouth were, 'it better not be for this piece of trash up here in turn three that's against the wall, five miles from anywhere that anyone's racing on.' Of course, I found out it was. As you can tell, I'm over it (laughs). That would have been three wins in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, by the way."