Few owners in the Nextel Cup Series have experienced the tremendous highs and lows of longtime Cup owner Richard Childress. He teamed with Dale Earnhardt Sr. to dominate the sport for much of the ’80s and ’90s. During their time together they won six championships and were always considered the team to beat anytime a green flag waved signaling the beginning of another race.
During the final years of their run together, stronger multi-car operations began dominating the sport leaving Childress in the strange position of having to play catch-up. Even though he and Earnhardt could still run up front, long gone were the days when their famous black #3 Chevrolet was a shoo in for trips to victory lane and to contend for the title.
Childress began making changes to his operation as the decade of the ’90s came to an end, but by that time his operation was no longer the dominating outfit it once was. Just as it seemed he was ready to turn the corner to reclaim his spot in the sport’s food chain, Dale Sr. lost his life at Daytona in 2001.
The organization struggled after Dale’s death even though Kevin Harvick took over the ride and was able to win two races on his way to a ninth-place finish in the point standings. His operation continued to show signs of struggling to the point that Harvick went to the media and complained Childress wasn’t giving him the kind of equipment it took to win races.
Childress and Harvick were often at odds but all of that seemed to change when he hired Jeff Burton in 2004 to become Harvick’s teammate. Burton came in from the powerful Roush Racing stable and knew what it took to be competitive in the sport. His talks with Childress over the team’s needs never went public, but the changes needed to once again become one of the sport’s elite operations began to come around.
Childress has continued to revamp his operations since Burton’s arrival and the results are his operation is once again considered one of the best in the sport. Burton and Harvick both made the Chase last season, but so far this season Harvick has posted two of the biggest wins on the entire schedule.
His win in the season-opening Daytona 500 not only makes a season, but also, in many cases, a career. On Saturday, he backed that up with a win in the Nextel Challenge All-Star race but that wasn’t the only good news for Childress over the weekend.
He announced just prior to the beginning of the all-star weekend that he had joined forced with Dale Earnhardt Inc. to form Earnhardt-Childress Racing, uniting both operations to build engines. Plans call for a standalone facility to be ready for occupation by 2008 but until then the work will be shared between the two team’s current shops. Both teams are expected to use the first engines from the merger at the July race in Daytona. Plans also call for the production of Busch Series engines with the long-term goal of having an engine lease program for other teams that campaign Chevrolets.
Just when you thought the weekend couldn’t get any better for Childress, he found out on Friday that a judge had handed down a favorable ruling that would allow Burton’s sponsor Cingular to change to AT&T. Cingular no longer exists as it was taken over by AT&T, but NASCAR said Childress couldn’t change his sponsor’s logo to show the new ownership because Cingular was the company of record when it was grandfathered in when Nextel became the title sponsor of the series.
That ruling makes AT&T one of the most coveted sponsorships in the garage area, as there is little chance of it leaving the sport as long as its business rival Nextel is sponsoring the series. Childress is in negotiations with Burton to extend his contract and with the news of AT&T winning its lawsuit, that team should be together for years to come.
This weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway be sure to look for Childress. He will be easy to spot as he will no doubt be the owner in the garage area with the biggest smile!
Race Preview – Event: Coca-Cola 600. Track: Lowe’s Motor Speedway (1.5-mile trioval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: May 27, 5 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kasey Kahne.