Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Another Crew Chief Swap at Richard Childress Racing

The crew chief situation at Richard Childress Racing is in revolving door mode again, as it was announced this week that Drew Blickensderfer would be departing from the organization, while Shane Wilson will finish out the final three races of the year. Elliott Sadler’s Nationwide Series crew chief Luke Lambert will take over as crew chief of the No. 31 of Jeff Burton for the 2013 campaign.

Heard this one before? Usually it’s the No. 29 team that is the catalyst of an annual team or crew chief swap this time of year – but to their credit, they got theirs out of the way a few months early. Shane Wilson was Kevin Harvick’s crew chief the first half of the year, until he realized how much he missed yelling and insulting Gil Martin. Luke Lambert finished out the year with Burton in 2011, narrowly losing to Clint Bowyer at the finish line at the fall race in Talladega.

RCR has been in a bit of downward spiral the past couple of seasons amidst a host of personnel changes. Competition Director Scott Miller went to Michael Waltrip Racing while Todd Berrier moved over to the satellite operation of Furniture Row Racing. The No. 33 team could not sustain sponsorship, which prompted Bowyer’s move to MWR as well, helping elevate it to legitimate Cup-contender status.

Sadler will be out the door shortly as well, moving to Joe Gibbs Racing. While Sadler and Childress’s grandson Austin Dillon are first and third respectively in the Nationwide standings, the performance at RCR leaves a bit to be desired.

Burton has not won a race since 2008 and is having yet another miserable season. Sitting 19th in points, his pair of top fives and six top 10s are on par with last season, which saw him finish 20th in points with two top fives and five top 10s. Teammate Paul Menard is 16th in points, while Harvick is 11th-place in the Chase standings; the only reason he’s not 12th is because Dale Earnhardt Jr. took off two weeks with a concussion.

While this has been the pattern for RCR the past couple of years, the continued struggles of the No. 31 team are particularly puzzling.

Might a change to the CoT V3.0 next season be the equalizer that Burton needs to get his career going again? If not, at what point does Burton explore his options and see where else he may consider going?

This year’s World Series between my Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants was the second-lowest viewed ever. I mean, I understand, why wouldn’t you want to see the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, last year’s MVP and this year’s Home Run Derby winner? On SF’s side, you had an improbable collection of cast-offs, one-offs and solid young players who came from within a few outs of elimination to win their second World Series in three years.

Similar comparisons could be made to this year’s title fight between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.

Two teams, neck and neck, the five-time champion versus the young upstart who established himself as a prime-time player late last season, in the swan song for one of America’s most storied automakers. A 2.8 rating for Martinsville was down over 20% from a year ago – and you can’t blame the NHL season starting for this one.

A week after Johnson drove his crippled car to a top 10 at repaved Kansas and the return of Earnhardt Jr. to the track, you’d think there would be a few more eyes on the prize – particularly with the World Series wrapping up 12 hours earlier. Perhaps Sandy had something to do with it, as many were shoring up their homes, bracing for the impact. Or perhaps in a season full of fuel-mileage finishes and lack of head-to-head in-race Chase competition, people are just wore out after 33 weeks of this.

My bet is on the latter.

The season is way too long and needs to be shortened considerably. 30-31 weeks is ideal. Give the teams and the fans a break. Supply and demand are not that hard to manage. FOX wanted the first half of the season and they got it; the second half hasn’t been hashed out yet and for good reason. The Chase Tracks need fixing, and the schedule needs cutting.

Making laps and excuses for constant exercises in fuel economy are not good for racing and turning NASCAR into NAPCAR at the most inopportune time. Heading into Texas, where in April the final 234 laps were run caution free and Greg Biffle won by 3.235 seconds over Johnson, don’t expect the ratings to look much different.

Also, here we are in November now, and nobody has got into a fight yet. About the only one who shows any gumption lately is Danica Patrick. Maybe that’s what might be needed to turn the ratings race around. Unfortunately, anybody who’s even near the front right now doesn’t have beef with anyone and they’re all pretty even-keeled guys. Here’s hoping Kurt, Kyle and Kevin get things together by this time again next season.

About the author


Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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