joe gibbs racing

Racing with a purpose: Richard Childress Racing focused on returning to Cup victory lane

1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Aligned side-by-side, NASCAR’s hierarchy is parked for all to see. Each race weekend, team haulers are positioned in the garage based on performance.

When the trucks arrived Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway to begin the new season, reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s hauler led the parade, followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Then came the Team Penske trucks. And Joe Gibbs Racing and three other organizations before the RCR trucks could park.

To walk from the Childress haulers to Johnson’s at the front of the field takes 136 steps. It’s a path that leads by exhaust-spewing cars, rumbling engines, scurrying crew members and gazing fans. Admittedly, some might take a few more steps, some not as many. But those steps more than anything measure where RCR is as it begins a critical season with Sunday’s Daytona 500.

A proud organization, which began with a headstrong driver and rocketed to prominence with an icon in the No. 3 car, has seen its place in the sport decline from its halcyon days.

“He and Dale Earnhardt, they were the standard,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said of Childress. “When I first started, I didn’t think anybody would ever beat them.’’

Now, the organization is mired in a three-year winless drought, its longest since 1983. Richard Childress Racing faces a challenge to remain competitive against Hendrick, Penske and Gibbs, which have combined to win 80 percent of the last 56 Cup races.

While teams are known to go through cycles where they’re not as competitive — Gibbs won two races in 2014 before winning 26 the next two seasons — it is rare for an organization to go multiple years without a win and return to a spot among the elite.

Ten organizations have won since RCR’s last Cup victory, which came 109 races ago at Phoenix International Raceway in Nov. 2013.

“It’s not cool,’’ Ryan Newman said of his and RCR’s winless droughts. “You take it personally, and you fight harder.”

The battle cry is to win now, a feeling spread by car owner Richard Childress and passed to every executive, driver, crew chief, mechanic and employee.

“I can promise you the winless drought is keeping him up at night,’’ said NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton, who drove for Childress from 2004-13, about his former boss. “He wants to win in the worst way. I’m sure the wick is turned up pretty high.’’

Nothing else matters for an organization that once was so used to winning.

HALL OF FAME CAREER

Richard Childress was among the independents who drove in NASCAR and never had the same backing as the sport’s stars.

All but raised at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Childress set out to drive when he was old enough. Sometimes just getting to a race was as much a challenge as racing.

Wife Judy recalls one time when it didn’t look as if her husband would be able to drive at Charlotte. His windshield was broke and he needed a replacement to compete. A search for a replacement proved futile. Childress rented a car and removed the windshield so he could put it on his car to race. After the race, he put the windshield back on the rental car and returned it.

While determined, Childress’ success was limited. As Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty and David Pearson won, Childress scored only three top-five finishes in 187 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

Childress realized he would be better off putting someone else in his car. The driver who replaced him in 1981? Dale Earnhardt.

The union lasted 11 races before Earnhardt went elsewhere for the 1982 season and Childress hired Ricky Rudd.

Two years later, Earnhardt joined Childress, forming one of the greatest teams in NASCAR history. They combined to win six championships and 67 races before Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

After Earnhardt’s death, Richard Childress Racing went through a transition period. The organization won only one race from 2004-05. The team recovered and won 16 races from 2010-13 for its best four-year stretch since the mid-1990s with Earnhardt.

Since, though, Childress has not been back to Victory Lane in the Cup Series.

FALLING BEHIND

How does an organization struggle to win after having so much success for so many years? It’s never an easy question. Rule changes can throw teams off. Sometimes another organization or manufacture finds something that gives those cars extra speed. Or it could one of many other things.

Sometimes success can hide the truth.

Three years ago, Newman nearly captured the championship despite not winning a race. The old Chase format rewarded consistency. While the Childress cars weren’t the fastest, they could challenge for a crown with a steady performance.

Dr. Eric Warren, RCR’s director of competition, admits that thinking would impact the team later.

“It kind of masked the fact that we lost that kind of ability to close out and get some wins,’’ he said.

“We’ve … had a lot of discussions over the winter with the crew chiefs and everything else that when I’m in that fifth or sixth place in the race, those moments when you’ve got to make the right kind of calls, we need to not be trying to protect a top-five finish.’’

There have been other issues as well. Austin Dillon needed time to adjust to the Cup series after joining in 2014. The organization needed to find the right people for the right jobs. The cars weren’t as strong.

Childress began to see some signs of progress last spring even after Newman crashed in a test at Pocono when a tire went down. The team had been trying some new suspension geometry. They used what they learned at Pocono in August.

Dillon, who had never finished better than 13th at Pocono, hounded leader Kyle Larson in what was viewed as a race to halfway with rain the area that day. Rain eventually arrived, allowing Chris Buescher to score the surprise win for Front Row Motorsports. Although Dillon finished 13th, he spent more than 89 percent of the race running in the top 15. Only three other drivers were in the top 15 more. One was his teammate Newman.

Richard Childress Racing took what it learned there and debuted new cars at Charlotte in the playoffs. Dillon advanced to that second round but wrecked after he was hit from behind by Martin Truex Jr. on a restart. Dillon had taken two tires on the pit stop during that caution while the rest of the field had taken four.

That incident played a role in Dillon losing a tiebreaker to Denny Hamlin to advance to the third round. A couple of weeks later at Texas, Dillon, with a new car, won the pole but wrecked after contact from Kevin Harvick. Newman showed speed two weeks later when he qualified third in the season finale in Miami, another 1.5-mile track, providing signs of progress on those tracks for the organization.

Of course, none of that guarantees any type of success this season.

“We have to work very hard to maintain our confidence and direction in our program and that means looking for incremental goals … and not allowing the ultimate prize that we’re trying to get to become overwhelming,’’ said Luke Lambert, crew chief for Newman. “If you want to climb Mt. Everest, you’ve got to do it one foot in front of the other.’’

PUTTING THE PUZZLE TOGETHER

In race shops full of cars, equipment and tools, it is the people that many say are the greatest commodity. Richard Childress Racing made a couple of key additions late last year.

Sammy Johns, a former crew chief and team executive, was hired to be the team’s operations director. Mark McArdle had held the position until leaving in Dec. 2015. His position was not filled but absorbed by Dr. Eric Warren.

“We missed that spot,’’ Warren said, noting the additional duties he had while also directing the competition efforts.

The team also added former crew chief Matt Borland to return to that role for Paul Menard. Borland is the third crew chief Menard has had since July 2016 as the organization seeks to find a way for that team to excel.

“You’ve got to keep bringing people to the team that are winners,’’ Warren said of the additions. “It’s important because that instinct of, ‘Hey, if I’m not winning, I’m upset.’ You have to have that kind of killer instinct.

“One of the things about Matt coming in is he has a very strong work ethic, been successful in the past. Not to take anything away from Slugger and Lambert, they both have great assets. We needed that, that person that can bridge the engineering side … but also has been a winning crew chief and an experienced crew chief.’’

WAITING TO CELEBRATE

The sport has been waiting years for the No. 3 to return to victory lane in a Cup race.

The number made famous by Dale Earnhardt, last went to victory lane in October 2000. Earnhardt charged from 18th to first in the final five laps to record the memorable victory. After Earnhardt’s death, Childress retired the No. 3 until Feb. 2014 when it returned with Austin Dillon, Childress’ grandson.

While the number reverberates with race fans for what Earnhardt did, it has a special meaning for Dillon. When he and brother Ty told Childress they wanted to go racing, he got them go-karts. Ty wanted No. 2 because that was his father’s number when he raced. Austin wanted No. 3. Childress reminded him about the statue of that number because of Earnhardt. Austin told him that he wanted that number because that had been Childress’ number when he raced.

To older fans, the No. 3 always will represent Earnhardt. They eagerly await when that car will return what is to them it’s natural place — in victory lane.

“There’s so many things that could happen this year that would, I think, be really impactful for the sport,’’ said Fox Sports analyst Darrell Waltrip. “The 3 winning a race would be pretty big to me.’’

To do that will take a team effort. Dillon enters his fourth full season in Cup and second full season with crew chief Slugger Labbe.

Dillon said Labbe learned last year what type of motivation works best for Dillon.

“I think he’s constantly giving me a little bit of a push, but it’s respectful,’’ Dillon said. “It’s not like a pump-you-up kind of push because he knows I’m already motivated. I think that’s where, when we first started, that’s where he thought he’d have to motivate me, but then he quickly learned I’m really motivated in everything I do.’’

TIME TO GO

Even as Richard Childress Racing seeks to move forward, Ryan Newman notes that it needs to look behind, if only for guidance.

“I think Richard Childress will sit here and tell you right now that last year we learned a lot of what not to do,’’ Newman said. “If you can take the things that you learned not to do and not making the mistake of doing them again and correct the things that you have done wrong than you should be a stronger team the following year.’’

The time is now to prove it.

“We’ve got to win races,’’ Menard said. “When Richard is mad it’s not a good day. When he is, happy things go well. We are going to do our best to make him happy.”

 and on Facebook

Team Penske extends deals with Shell, Joey Logano, Todd Gordon

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 23: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, stands in the garage area with his crew chief Todd Gordon during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 23, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
2 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Joey Logano, crew chief Todd Gordon and sponsor Shell all have extended their contracts with Team Penske for 2022 and beyond, the team announced Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

The announcement marks the second consecutive day that a NASCAR team has announced a driver and sponsor contract extension. Joe Gibbs Racing revealed Thursday that it had signed Denny Hamlin and sponsor FedEx to a multi-year extension.

Logano’s contract was set to expire after the 2018 season, team owner Roger Penske confirmed. The extension is a play on Logano’s car number (22). Team officials declined to say how much beyond 2022 the contracts go. Penske said that Shell would be the primary sponsor for more than 30 races a season on Logano’s car.

Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 champion, won the Clash on Sunday to begin Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway. He has 15 Cup victories since joining Team Penske in 2013 and has never finished worse than eighth in the points during that time. Twice he’s gone to the season finale in Miami with a chance to win the championship, finishing a second last year.

Penske said that the long-term commitments announced Friday are “a priority for me.

“I want long-term commitments and people want them from us,’’ Penske said. “It’s the same thing with the drivers. I think a driver with a solid ride for a long time, it’s all he’s going to worry about rather than ‘Is my deal up?’ and then you get all this commotion around the driver. It’s a real calming effect.’’

MORE: How Penske took chance on Joey Logano

Penske confirmed that Brad Keselowski’s contact is set to expire after this season but that they’re working on an extension.

Penske and Shell executives touted the deal in how it helps Penske’s businesses, including Penske Truck Leasing and the Penske Automotive Group, while also helps Shell extend its footprint.

“It gave us a chance to combine the business side,’’ Penske said.

Said Istvan Kapitany, Executive Vice President, Shell Global Retail, of the deal: “What is so exciting about the Penske relationship with Shell is the strategic nature of it and also the fact that it is a global opportunity for both of us to grow together. In Shell, we do believe in long-term strategic partnerships. Ferrari is a partner with us for more than 60 years. We believe with Penske we found the partner who can be with us at least for 60 years.’’

The partnership also can play a role on the track, noted Colin Abraham, President, Shell Lubricants Americas.

“We can formulate the oil to suit the vehicle and to suit the engines and it’s a wonderful test track for us with formulation development,’’ he said. “We have scientists working literally week by week looking at the performance of the engine and the performance of the oil, even changing the oil during the season to try to get some more horsepower. It’s almost like a live laboratory to test products.’’

 and on Facebook

Forbes: NASCAR team values dip slightly, but some flourish

Two of NASCAR's top team owners: Rick Hendrick, left, and Richard Childress.
Getty Images
1 Comment

Forbes magazine has released its annual list of the value of the top-10 teams in NASCAR.

While the business magazine said team values dropped 7 percent from 2015 to 2016, the average team value is $137 million.

While some organizations such as Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports have leased charters, other teams have expanded or strengthened their value with additional charters, including Furniture Row Racing and Front Row Motorsports, Forbes reported.

Here are the top 10 teams, their value and 2016 revenue:

  1. Hendrick Motorsports – team value $350 million, 2016 revenue $200 million.
  2. Joe Gibbs Racing – team value $225 million, 2016 revenue $135 million.
  3. Stewart-Haas Racing – team value $180 million, 2016 revenue $112 million.
  4. Richard Childress Racing – team value $170 million, 2016 revenue $141 million.
  5. Roush Fenway Racing – team value $150 million, 2016 revenue $102 million.
  6. Team Penske – team value $135 million, 2016 revenue $62 million.
  7. Chip Ganassi Racing –  team value $65 million, 2016 revenue $47 million.
  8. Richard Petty Motorsports – team value $48 million, 2016 revenue $43 million.
  9. Furniture Row Racing – team value $24 million, 2016 revenue $17 million.
  10. Front Row Motorsports – team value $22 million, 2016 revenue $20 million.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Signed on the dotted line (again); Joe Gibbs Racing keeps Denny Hamlin, FedEx in stable

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, walks through the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Joe Gibbs Racing announced Thursday that it has signed Denny Hamlin and sponsor FedEx each to a multi-year contract extension.

Terms of the deal – first reported by NBC Sports last month – were not disclosed.

This season marked the final year of Hamlin’s four-year deal with the team. The 36-year-old has 29 career Cup wins and finished sixth in last year’s standings, marking the 10th time in the last 11 years he has qualified for the playoffs (He missed the 2013 playoffs after he sat out four races because of a fractured back).

JGR is the only team Hamlin has raced for in his NASCAR Cup Series career. Hamlin, the reigning Daytona 500 champion, made his Cup debut Oct. 2005 at Kansas Speedway. His first full season was 2006.

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is the only active Cup driver who has been with the same team longer than Hamlin. Johnson first drove for Hendrick Motorsports in 2001 and ran his first full season with the team in 2002.

Also, FedEx announced efforts to improve road safety through a new program, ”Delivering Laps for FedEx Cares” that it will donate $111 for each lap Hamlin leads and $11,000 for each victory to Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit working to protect kids on the road. FedEx will also contribute $111,000 to Safe Kids if Hamlin wins the series title.

 and on Facebook

Subway to sponsor Daniel Suarez for four races

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 01: Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Subway Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Subway announced Thursday that it will sponsor Daniel Suarez for four Cup races this season.

Subway will serve as the primary sponsor of Suarez’s car at Auto Club Speedway (March 26), the Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), at Daytona (July 1) and Talladega (Oct. 15). Suarez also will appear in upcoming commercials for Subway.

“We thank Carl Edwards for many years of success, and in particular for his caring and always enthusiastic support for the brand and causes we championed,” said Chris Carroll, Chief Advertising Officer for Subway Restaurants. “We are excited about the future with Daniel Suarez!”

 and on Facebook