News & Media


Harvick struggles, but RCR makes moves at Texas

April 11, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- After listening to Richard Childress Racing crew chief Gil Martin string out the litany of woes his driver, Kevin Harvick, experienced Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, it was no surprise Harvick declined to speak to the media.

Harvick, who came into the Samsung Mobile 500 having won the past two Sprint Cup Series races, struggled to finish 20th with a No. 29 Chevrolet that was markedly dinged up, front and rear.

"If the biggest problem I have is coming out of the box with a brand new race team this year, we're looking good."

--PAUL MENARD

"We were just horrible," Martin said, summing up the evening after debriefing with his crew in the garage area. "We were just too loose all night, and when we got into the fence [with the car's right rear corner], it didn't help the car none.

"And then when the 2 [Brad Keselowski] checked up, or whatever happened over there on the back straightaway, it knocked a big hole in the front end [from hitting Martin Truex Jr.] and knocked the hood and the splitter up on it, so that killed it.

"So several things just went wrong, right there -- and we just weren't going to overcome 'em."

Harvick was never scored better than 14th in the race, and that came at about the 200-lap mark, before he eventually fell two laps off the pace of race winner Matt Kenseth. In the process, Harvick lost four spots in the standings, back to ninth.

"No, it's not [what we expected at Texas], but it's not the end of the world, either," Martin said. "We've had a good race every race this year. Sooner or later you're going to have a bad one. We'll bounce back from it."

And Martin said he had no concerns whatsoever about going to Charlotte Motor Speedway, the next 1.5-mile track on the schedule.

"No, not at all," Martin said, a smile returning to his face. "It's just one of them things that happens. We'll come back from it. We're tough."

But as there usually is, there was a flip side to the weekend at Texas -- specifically for RCR. As much as Harvick struggled in the race, his RCR teammates excelled, with Clint Bowyer -- who closed 2010 strong but has been largely missing-in-action this season, in second, Paul Menard fifth and luckless (until Saturday) Jeff Burton 11th.

While Martin was in the middle of plenty, he didn't miss his teammates' achievements, or the chance to relish them.

"I just think it shows how strong our whole organization is," Martin said. "All the cars have run good every week; just the other three guys -- especially the No. 31 [Burton] -- have just had some bad luck.

"[Saturday] night they were able to put a pretty decent finish together. It just shows that none of the teams are weak and that they're all pretty strong. We've just been able to put some of them together at the end. And that 33 [Bowyer] ran good, tonight."

It was the fifth time in seven races this season an RCR car was in the top five -- but the first time that two of them finished that well on the same night.

But Menard continued to expand on his career year in Cup, as his No. 27 Chevrolet's second top-five finish this season doubled his previous career best. An overheating issue the previous week at Martinsville knocked him back to 13th in the points, but his fifth-place finish launched him back to 11th.

But even more important, even as being at RCR has obviously impacted Menard's career, is the impact he and crew chief Slugger Labbe have had in Welcome, N.C., at the team's base.

"It's hard to believe that we're a start-up team," Labbe said. "The Monday after Homestead [November 2010] we didn't have nothing and to be where we are [Saturday], with another top-five and another top-10, it's good. Last week at Martinsville really hurt us but we're here to make it back up and go to Talladega with great ECR horsepower and looking forward to it.

"Our mile-and-a-half package is really, really good and the 33 ran what the 27's been running -- like at Vegas and California -- and the 33 has really picked up their program the last three or four weeks. It's great that Shane [Wilson, Bowyer's crew chief] and Clint have grasped onto what we're doing and they're helping us make it better, you know?

"It's all about teamwork and just to have a teammate that's willing to look at what we're doing, the 31 is looking at what we're doing and it's neat that we can add to the program because that's what we're here to do."

Bowyer knows it, and acknowledged it Saturday night after he led five times for a total of 44 laps in the 334-lap race and moved up four positions in the championship standings to 12th.

"You've got to give credit where credit's due -- it's the set up that we have in our car," Bowyer said. "We owe a lot to [Menard and Labbe]. They came over to RCR, and had a good package, a good baseline package.

"We didn't go down that path for a few weeks. We were out to lunch. We switched over to their stuff, and it's worked out good for us. Proud of their race team [and] it's been an asset to RCR so far and we hope to continue it that way."

The timing's good for all of RCR as the series heads to the season's second restrictor-plate race, this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. In October, Bowyer beat Harvick in a photo finish.

"We've come on, we've had solid runs and we're clicking now," Bowyer said. "That's what it takes in this sport. You've got to be able to get on a momentum swing, get some confidence built back up, and you have to start with that.

"Just so proud of everybody for digging in deep, and bringing good equipment to the race track and having great finishes. It was a run we could be proud of."

And in the end, so was Menard, who with his third top-10 already has half as many of the career-best six he accrued in 2010.

"We had a fast car all weekend," Menard said. "We didn't qualify as well as we hoped so we had to do a little strategy with two tires and stuff to get some track position. But we made a lot of small adjustments all night long, just trying to keep up with the sun going down [because] the track freed up a little bit."

But Menard's definitely loving life in the Cup garage this season, especially on a weekend in which he made his first Nationwide Series start of the year and had a top-five there, as well.

"If the biggest problem I have is coming out of the box with a brand new race team this year, we're looking good," Menard said. "I'm looking forward to a lot of these 1.5-miles coming up. Charlotte is going to be good for us I think. I am looking forward to Talladega."