The August portion of the Sprint Cup schedule is the time of year when some teams are still in the hunt for a spot in the Chase and others are already trying to put together their plans for the following seasons. It’s the yearly ritual of the have’s and have not’s, but a few organizations are having to juggle both making plans for the 2017 seasons while still preparing to run for the title this season.
Richard Childress Racing is no stranger to winning titles as it has six Sprint Cup titles, but it has been since 1994 that it won the series championship with the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. Since the untimely death of Earnhardt in 2001, RCR has had several drivers including Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton to try and return to the top of the sport but has come up short as other organizations not only closed the gap it once enjoyed but have surpassed it.
That is not to say that RCR has failed to be successful in recent years, but when you have the championship pedigree that it has, winning races and titles will always be how it will be measured. RCR, with the help of Chevrolet, was the first organization to win championships in all three major NASCAR series. It has claimed five Xfinity Series owner championships, four Xfinity driver championships and two Camping World Truck Series driver championships.
About the time Childress and Earnhardt were peaking in the sport, Rick Hendrick began putting together what is one of the premier organizations in the sport. Hendrick hired Jeff Gordon in the early ‘90s and the pair produced four titles and then, when everybody thought Terry Labonte was in the twilight of his career, he produced another title for Hendrick. Along came Jimmy Johnson and all he did was win six more titles for what had become a four-team operation that was the premier Chevrolet organization, replacing what had been the sole property of Childress for years.
Further hurting Childress’s climb back up to the pinnacle of the sport was the emergence of Stewart-Haas Racing that was campaigning Chevrolets with a strong working relationship with Hendrick that provided both equipment and information. Suddenly what was once the poster boy for Chevrolet in the series was being pushed down the food chain by the manufacturer.
Even though he wasn’t making as many trips to victory lane or winning tiles, the important thing for Childress was that he was still able to attract sponsors. He already had the organization in place that allowed him to do everything in house and the sponsorship dollars allowed him to continue to bring in the personnel that he needed to remain competitive.
RCR’s Ryan Newman (11th) and Austin Dillon (13th) are in the hunt for two of the 16 Chase spots, but both are still looking for their first win. Paul Menard is the third RCR driver and he sits 22nd in points at this time. It would seem that with this kind of success that the entire operation would be looking forward to next season, but Childress has said very little about what his plans will be for 2017.
Dillon is Childress’s grandson and he and his brother Ty are ready to make the move from the Xfinity series to the Cup level and it is no secret that granddad would like to see his grandson in an RCR car. The problem is that there are only three teams and Menard brings too much sponsorship for Childress to let him go. That leaves Newman as the RCR driver that may or may not be back next season even though he has a knack for making it into the Chase without winning a race. Two seasons ago he lost the title by one point to Kevin Harvick without a win.
That kind of success makes it hard to let Newman go, but at the same time Childress would hate to see Ty behind the wheel for another owner even if it is just for one season. There are several small Chevrolet teams that would be happy to sign Ty for one year with the promise of support from RCR that would include personnel and equipment. It would get Ty the experience that he needs while helping another owner strengthen his program. It is decision time for Childress and it will be a decision that will touch more than his own organization.
Event: Bass Pro Shops
NRA Night Race
Track: Bristol Motor
Speedway (.533-mile concrete oval, 24 degrees to
30 degrees banking in the
Date: August 20, 8 p.m.
Defending Race Winner: Joey Logano