Should the three Richard Childress Racing drivers make a charge for the Nationwide Series championship in the fall, perhaps they’ll look back at the month of June as their catalyst. It was a month where their cars were in firm control of the series and all three races that were run.
Michigan, Road America and even Kentucky to some degree each were the Childress Show. It was two wins — Paul Menard in Michigan, Brendan Gaughan in Road America — in three weekends and capped off with top-eight finishes for all four cars last weekend. At one point they ran second, third and fourth, leaving one to wonder if they were going to go up and spoil the Brad Keselowski vs. Kevin Harvick party. They also pulled off the same feat at the road course, while it was three of the four in Michigan.
The surge hasn’t gone unnoticed and stands remarkable because I, like many, had forgotten or at least overlooked the Childress camp recently. Half of the year already gone by, it’s been a biopic of the two JR Motorsports drivers, Elliott Sadler representing Joe Gibbs Racing and even Roush Fenway Racing with Trevor Bayne, taking off from the starting line with Childress still not having fired the engines.
We could have passed it off as championship hangover after Austin Dillon squeaked out the title in Homestead last November, only to be followed up by an offseason of excitement and attention around his move to the Sprint Cup Series and the return of the No. 3 Chevrolet. That move was part of the many changes Richard Childress Racing saw, particularly with their Nationwide program, aside from the part-time No. 33 machine.
With Austin gone, the other Dillon stepped in to the big shoes all expected him to fill. Younger brother Ty is carrying the banner quietly while experiencing the conundrum of rookie racing.
“I think RCR’s Nationwide program is starting to head in the right direction as you can tell with winning the last two weeks in a row …” Dillon stated in a recent interview.
Winning but also finding their footing. We knew that it was going to take time for Gaughan to get acclimated to his new yet old surroundings. Although with plenty of past Nationwide Series experience to his name, Gaughan has now gone full-time for the first time since 2010. However, he No. 62 team encountered a slew of mistakes and failures early on that kept them from many potential top-10 finishes. Last week was a phenomenal story in Gaughan’s triumph on the road course of Road America.
And then there’s Brian Scott, who has tried like hell recently to grab his first career win, but it remains elusive. Scott has fit right in to the Childress family after coming over from Joe Gibbs, though. Once an afterthought, he’s developed nicely into a constant contender.
The biggest benefactor for all three, however, which none of us or even them probably would have argued weeks ago, is that they look stronger, are running faster and certainly have found their own consistency. In doing so along with the ill fate of the competition, they have climbed back into championship contention. Slowly, but it’s noticeable progress. All enter Daytona International Speedway this weekend with a less than 100-point deficit and sitting in the top seven.
“The Richard Childress Chevrolets, we’ve been talking about for a few weeks now that we have rolled out a brand new generation of chassis and our bodies. I have the racecar that raced Charlotte, which is kind of a hybrid of our new technologies,” Gaughan said ahead of Kentucky. “We feel very strongly about the new technology that Chevrolet has helped RCR get with our new Nationwide cars. We expect great things when we come to a place like this and we’re starting to prove it.”
One month certainly doesn’t make a season and isn’t exactly proof your organization has turned the corner. But Childress and co. haven’t just improved; it’s been a dramatic turnaround that culminated in a very short span to provide a belief they’re about to go on an impressive summer run. Dillon is the best shot, currently at least, of them contending for the title.
He’s fourth in points, only 29 behind leader Elliott Sadler. But Dillon and crew chief Danny Stockman are still learning. He ran trucks last year and a few Nationwide races, while Stockman has been paired all his career with Austin Dillon, the two winning a Truck and Nationwide title together. Now he’s back to square one with another Dillon.
“Haven’t had a whole lot familiarity and now that we’re kind of getting a couple races into the season I think that me and Stockman are really starting to hit it and finding things that are making our racecars better week in and week out and we’re starting to progress in the right direction,” Dillon said. “We’ve been fairly consistent, last week wasn’t a good for us, we burned up a transmission but I feel like from here on out we can start making some gains and getting some points. Main thing for me, I just want to win races, the points will come. I think we’re heading in the right direction to start making that happen.”
Dillon has just as many (11) top-10 finishes as those, except Regan Smith, in front of him, though the team is still searching for their first top 5.
“Last year we were winning in the Nationwide and running really good and it seems to bleed over into Cup,” said team owner Richard Childress, who has been through this all before in both series. “I can see gains every week. We know some of our weaknesses and as long as you admit and know you have weaknesses and work on them, you can fix them. But as long as you have excuses, you can’t.”
Whatever Richard Childress Racing has been doing is working. And now we’ve got more players to pay attention to.
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