Richard Childress Racing entered the 2011 season with some serious momentum. All three of the team’s drivers finished last season in the top-12 in points – Jeff Burton in 12th, Clint Bowyer in 10th and Kevin Harvick in third – and they had five wins in between them. After a disastrous 2009 season, it was a quick return to glory.
Then this season started. And what have we seen from RCR? Well, not much.
Clint Bowyer had a decent run at Daytona, leading 31 laps, but ended up finishing in 17th. Add to that finishes of 27th, 35th and a season best 15th and Bowyer sits 30th in the points. His teammate Jeff Burton isn’t much better off. He’s averaging a finish of 25.8 – he hasn’t had a finish above 20th – and he sits 24th in the points. And how about Kevin Harvick? He’s had bright spots at Phoenix and Bristol (4th and 6th) but sits 15th in the points thanks to 42nd and 17th place finishes.
Then there’s RCR newcomer Paul Menard. This is a guy who’s in his fifth (full) Cup Series season. Prior to this year he had just two top-fives and seven top-10s in 147 starts. His best points finish? 23rd last season.
This year? One top-five and two top-10s so far. He’s sitting 5th in the points. Who would have thought after four races it would be Paul Menard who was sitting at the head of the table at RCR? I certainly didn’t.
Last year Richard Petty Motorsports brought together Menard and crew chief Richard “Slugger” Labbe. Menard saw big improvements over the season and when the driver announced his move, Labbe and a good portion of their crew weren’t far behind. Those relationships are paying dividends this season.
As the obligatory caveat emptor I’ll say there’s a lot of season left, but so far Labbe and Menard look pretty darn good (not to mention Richard Childress). With teammates like Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, Menard has a solid support system, not to mention some of the best equipment in the sport. All things considered, he’s definitely one to watch this year.