Few owners in the Sprint Cup Series have experienced the highs and lows that Richard Childress has in his 40 years of competing in the sport. His roots in the sport goes back to 1969 when he was not only wearing the hat of the owner but also put on the driver’s helmet on race day.
He never tasted the success as a driver that he eventually would as an owner, but he did manage to finish fifth in the point standings in 1975. He continued to drive in the sport until midway during the 1981 season when he decided that if he wanted to have any kind of real success as an owner he was going to have to get out of the driver’s seat. That is when he made the best decision of his career by turning over the wheel to a driver by the name of Dale Earnhardt Sr. Richard and Dale went on to becoming one of the most dominating duos in the history of the sport as they won six series titles between 1986 and 1994.
Childress and Earnhardt were the team to beat and in many ways their enormous success contributed to the struggles that soon would come after their last championship. The ’90s brought in the multi-car ownership approach to the sport that put single-car operations at a disadvantage as owners that were fielding more than one car were benefiting from added sponsorship dollars and resources than those with a single entry.
Childress stayed a one-car operation until 1997 when he added a second team with Mike Skinner as the driver, but by that time he had fallen behind the bigger operations of Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush. Making matters worse for Childress was the untimely death of Earnhardt Sr. during the 2001 Daytona 500 that left his team struggling just to show up at the track each week.
Childress proved that he knew how to win when he rolled up his sleeves and began the long road back as he added a third team in 2002. There wasn’t an instant fix for the organization but at the heart of his operation was a loyal employee base that had been through both the good and bad times and was eager to get back to the top.
People were added while drivers and crews changed until the right chemistry was achieved and in 2006 Richard Childress Racing put its first two drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with the teams of Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick. The following year the long road back was completed when RCR put all three of its teams into the Chase including Clint Bowyer.
This season got underway with RCR adding a fourth car with Casey Mears behind the wheel but he along with the other three Childress drivers failed to make the 12-man Chase. Bowyer leads the RCR drivers in 15th, followed by Mears 18th, Burton 19th and Harvick 21st.
Childress has already swapped crew chiefs this season in hopes of shaking up the teams but it is going to take more and he said this past weekend that additional changes will be announced in the weeks leading up to the end of the season. There is also the possibility that Mears’s team will not be back as his sponsor Jack Daniels has already announced that it would be leaving at the end of the season.
One change that Childress will not have to face next season will be the future of Kevin Harvick who is under contract to RCR for the 2010 season. Harvick has been vocal about his plans of leaving RCR after his contract is up but an improvement in the organization might entice him to remain.
Childress has had to climb the hill before back to the top and even though it may be tougher this time around; he is more than willing to go to work. His driver lineup is solid; the key will be to get this new generation car on the same playing field as those of Hendrick Motorsports. Of course, this is the same battle that the entire series is now facing.
CHASE NOTES: Only four Chase drivers finished in the top 10 with Jimmie Johnson winning his third Chase race. Mark Martin is now the only driver within 100 points of the lead (90). Johnson’s win also breaks a tie with Martin for the season lead as he now has six victories.
Race Preview — Event: Tums Bring It On 500. Track: Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile oval, 12 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: Oct. 25, 1:43 p.m. TV: ABC. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.