The Sprint Cup point system is structured so as to reward those teams that show consistency throughout the season. Yes, it is a long season with plenty of races that gives teams the opportunity to make up for a bad start, but with the large number of competitive teams now in the sport, a bad start can be very difficult to overcome.
Las Vegas was only the third race on the 36-race schedule, but that is more than enough for some teams to show the rest of the series that they are going to be a factor to advance into the Chase with a chance to win the title. Richard Childress Racing has made such a statement with its three-car operation that spent the end of last season watching 11 other drivers fight it out to see who would come in second behind Jimmie Johnson.
Childress is the only owner in the sport who had no outside interest when he started in the series driving his own car, and then turned over the duties to others so he could keep his fledging operation afloat. His hard work was rewarded, as his six Sprint Cup (Winston Cup) titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr. is the stuff that legends are made from.
Since the untimely death of Earnhardt in 2001, Childress’s operation has been on somewhat of a roller coaster ride in the sport as he has still won races but hasn’t been a real threat for a title. The lowest point may have been last season when his drivers Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer all three missed the Chase.
Harvick finished 19th, Bowyer 15th and Burton 17th last season on the heels of the ’08 season that saw the RCR trio lock down the fourth, fifth and sixth positions in the final standings. Last season’s finishes outside of the Chase was only part of the story for Childress, as the multi-car operation also failed to win a race.
Everyone at RCR knew shortly after the beginning of the ’09 season that they were behind and would be playing catch-up for the rest of the season. Harvick was very vocal in his appraisal of his team and the entire operation as he called Childress out saying that there was plenty of work to be done, and that when his contract is up after this season that he may be looking for another ride.
Childress, being the veteran of the sport that he is, quietly rolled up his sleeves and went about the business of returning his three teams back into the position where they could once again compete for both wins and the title. There were both changes made in personnel and in the ways the cars were prepared beginning late last season, and all three teams finished the season better than they started.
That momentum has carried over, and this season has found RCR’s three teams all running up front and in the position to win the first three races. Harvick and Bowyer are one-two in the point standings going into Atlanta this weekend, followed by Burton in the sixth spot. Atlanta should be another good stop on the schedule, as last season Harvick led the RCR trio with a fourth-place finish, followed by Bowyer in sixth and Burton coming home in the 14th spot.
Childress knows that to get where he wants his operation to be, he must continue to show the consistency that he has in the first three races and get all three teams into the Chase after the first 26 races. That is a tall order by itself, but to have a real chance to go on and win the title, his teams must make some visits to victory lane in order to pick up the 10 bonus points that come with each victory.
Jimmie Johnson has already showed Childress and the rest of the owners that he is again going to be the man to beat. His two wins so far this season have already banked him 20 points for the Chase in what figures to be another title run for championship number five.
Atlanta is only the fourth race of the season, but as you can see by the success of RCR’s three drivers and the ever-consistent Johnson, it is never to early to start counting points. The points earned now for a race are the same as during the fall stretch of the schedule, and those will not count toward the title if you are not in the Chase.
Race Preview —Event:
Kobalt Tools 500. Track:
Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date:
March 7, 1 p.m. TV:
PRN. Defending champion: