Sprint Cup team preview: Richard Childress Racing
January 26, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RCR undergoes driver shuffle as trademark No. 3 returns
-- Richard Childress Racing drivers have won six series championships since 1995. None of those titles came in NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series.
-- For an organization that dominated the decade before that, winning six Cup titles between 1986 and ’94, that’s quite a dry spell.
-- RCR, based in Welcome, N.C., will have a decidedly different look for 2014 with driver changes in two of its three full-time Cup entries. Can those changes help put the organization back on top?
2014 Driver Lineup
Dillon makes the move to Cup after winning championships in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series, replacing longtime RCR driver Kevin Harvick. The team will carry the familiar No. 3, which hasn’t been on the track in Cup since the 2001 Daytona 500. Dillon, one of several drivers vying for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title, has 13 career Cup starts with a best finish of 11th last season at Michigan. Gil Martin, crew chief for the team under Harvick, returns atop the pit box.
Menard, starting his eighth full season, is the lone returning Cup driver for RCR. He has one career win, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011, and finished 17th in the 2013 points standings. Richard "Slugger" Labbe, who has been paired with Menard since '10, returns as crew chief.
After a five-year stint at Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman moves into the No. 31 previously driven by Jeff Burton. The 36-year-old scored one win (Indianapolis) and finished 11th in last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Luke Lambert will handle crew-chief duties again.
Dillon has proven to be a quick study as he has made his way up the NASCAR ladder, and in time will be competitive at the Cup level. The focus for 2014, however, should be on making the most of seat time and coming away from each week's race wiser than when he arrived. He'll do well at some tracks and struggle at others as he becomes adjusted to the increased level of competition.
While Menard and the No. 27 team have shown improvement, they have yet to prove they can be a top-10 contender on a weekly basis.
Newman has won races and qualified for the Chase in both of his two previous places of employment (SHR and Team Penske), so it's not farfetched to see the No. 31 team as the foundation of the organization. But that could be a tall order for a team that hasn't been in Victory Lane since 2008.