Turnover in NASCAR is as much a part of storylines during the season as making Daytona 500 predictions or prognosticating the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
While Silly Season usually brings us the sanitized press releases of wishing drivers the best in the future endeavors, RCR has brought us back to an era of GTFO – the most recent example being the very public and pointed words from both team owner Richard Childress (of watch removal fame) and Vice President of Competition, Andy Petree towards their current driver Sheldon Creed.
While Creed is off to greener pastures in 2024, RCR will have Jesse Love in the No. 2 Camaro next season. Given the palpable bitterness of the ownership towards outgoing drivers in recent years, is RCR an attractive environment for drivers looking to make a move in the future?
This week Garrett Cook and Vito Pugliese have different perspectives of the racing landscape in 2-Headed Monster.
Symphony of Self-Destruction
“I’ve had drivers drive for me before, but nobody as stupid as Sheldon Creed.”
With that, the question in the matter at hand almost answers itself. As much as Richard Childress has done for this sport over multiple decades, and the impact made by some of his drivers, especially one in particular, I can’t see how anybody would want to drive for him after the fallout from this past Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
I fully understand the frustration coming from Austin Hill, Andy Petree, and Childress, but what happened seemed to be poor decision making on both fronts, resulting in what in any other circumstance would be termed as a “racing deal.”
While scrolling through social media, I discovered an analysis of the situation broken down by Creed’s mentor and former RCR bad boy Robby Gordon that I simply can’t help but agree with.
Gordon commented that blame fell onto Hill, who simply should’ve given Creed the spot. Had he lived to fight another day, if you will, both Creed and Hill would be representing the vaunted race team in the Xfinity Series Championship 4 on Saturday, according to the racing veteran.
Instead, all that’s left between them is hard feelings and resentment with an added dose of controversy.
Surely, Gordon has a bit of bias when it comes to Creed, and the driver (for at least one more race) of the No. 2 Whelen Chevrolet isn’t completely blameless. Whether or not he brake-checked the No. 21 coming to the final lap out of turn 4, he absolutely raced Hill far too aggressively from the moment the green flag waved. It’s also not entirely true that both would’ve made it through, but even still, they could’ve raced it out instead of leaning on each other for an entire lap.
I honestly do not think that this all started in turn 4 that night, though.
I think it all comes from a place of bitterness that Creed is moving on, and not only that, moving (unofficially) to a championship rival in Joe Gibbs Racing in 2024. I think it comes from building animosity between Hill and Creed over the course of this season.
I think it comes from the fact that Hill has set the world on fire in his two years as RCR, winning multiple races and being a championship threat, whereas Creed, who was arguably the hotter prospect coming off his Craftsman Truck Series run in 2020 and 2021 — has not won a single race for the organization.
He’s been close more than a few times, always coming up short, whether from messes of his and the team’s own making, or the mistakes and aggressiveness of others.
I think that is what ultimately divided this team over time. Of course, Petree and Childress are going to back Hill in this situation. I don’t really blame them for that, that’s human nature. “What have you done for me lately?” comes to mind. I for one have been on record telling the world that Hill is Cup ready and should take the reins from Austin Dillon sooner rather than later.
But to publicly call Creed the “stupidest” driver you’ve ever had drive for you is wholly unprofessional. Petree publicly lambasting his driver on pit road in front of media, fans, and other race teams is even more egregious.
This is not the first time a driver leaving RCR has had issues with the legendary car owner during their final season with the team. Let me take you back to 2013.
Kevin Harvick, the very same man who virtually saved the organization after Dale Earnhardt’s untimely death in 2001, was on his way out and heading to Tony Stewart’s new, but championship-winning Stewart-Haas Racing team the next season.
During a Truck Series race toward the end of the season in 2013, Harvick was bumped and spun by Ty Dillon late in the race. Shenanigans ensued, and after the dust settled, Harvick told a national audience that, “Punk ass kids are the reason I’m leaving RCR.”
This was the first time the curtain had been pulled back on the team, as Harvick seemed to be alluding that he was being pushed out of the ride in favor of Austin Dillon, Childress’ other grandson.
While that’s never been confirmed publicly, and Childress and Harvick have built a bridge with water under it in recent years, it’s the earliest example I could find of dysfunction inside the Welcome, N.C., based race team.
The second is much more recent.
Tyler Reddick was the darling of RCR throughout 2022 and had been before that, too. Reddick won a championship in the Xfinity Series with the team. He also won multiple races in that 2021 season and made an impressive playoff run, something that hadn’t been done since Harvick was with the team, despite the efforts of Austin Dillon.
But Reddick wanted to leave the team for a better opportunity at 23XI, but was under contract with Childress until 2024. Reddick stated publicly that he wanted to fulfill his contract with RCR, but the boss wasn’t having it.
Several reports leaked that Childress was “furious” over the situation and didn’t want Reddick on the team any longer than 2022 because of it. Eventually a buy-out was worked through, and Reddick was replaced by Kyle Busch this past season, which worked out great for both parties.
The fact remains though, that RCR continues to embarrass itself when it feels slighted. It presents an attitude of, if you’re not with me, you’re against me. While I think Jesse Love is a big pickup for the team from a talent standpoint for next season, what happens if Love eventually gets a call from Joe Gibbs Racing to take over the No. 19 or No. 11 in the Cup Series? Or if Rick Hendrick needs a driver for one of his cars? Is Love supposed to ignore that call because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings?
Of course he isn’t.
Somewhere along the way, the idea that this sport is also business has gotten lost over at RCR. When a driver wants to move on with his career and go somewhere else, it’s usually not some sort of personal attack on the organization he’s leaving.
Unfortunately, it seems that Creed’s actions this past Saturday and the subsequent reactions of the high ranking people within RCR have been perceived that way, and it’s just bad PR for all involved.
For Creed, he’s going to move on to a different team, one that has unquestionably been one of the best in the business for over thirty years. For RCR, they end up with a super talented prospect who they hope is the future of their race team.
That’s the short term though, and as long as these things keep happening over in Welcome, the amount of young talent in ARCA and the Truck Series are going to find it hard to feel welcome at one of NASCAR’s most pivotal and historic organizations.
Unless this business is acknowledged as such, RCR could very well return to the dark days of the early 2000s and mid to late 2010s, where all of their drivers, outside of Harvick when he was there, were failing to meet expectations week in and week out.
I for one, would hate for it to come to that. – Garrett Cook
Perennial Contender Makes Life Tolerable
One of the most overused words to describe a relationship or environment over the last few years is “toxic.” After Saturday night’s Xfinity race at Martinsville Speedway, it seems a bit apropos when describing the goings on within Richard Childress Racing.
The comments seemed unnecessarily harsh – if not completely divorced from reality. Childress deemed Creed the “stupidest” driver to ever work for him – which apparently includes the brief stint with the late Jon Wes Townley – since he didn’t yield to their favored driver to ensure his competitor won the race and qualified for the championship race. Read that again – and ask yourself if Creed is wrong for looking forward to moving on in three more days.
That said, is RCR still a destination for talent on the move up the ladder – or even laterally within NASCAR’s middle series?
Of course it is.
Much like any other line of work, there are companies that people strive to work at for one reason or another. It may be because of a salary jump, superior benefits, or simply moving on to attain a job title to help build a resume. In any field of work there’s places that are known to be absolute meat grinders, with a known short shelf live and low long-term retention. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s others that are forever homes that rarely see much changeover. The NASCAR world is no different.
When you think of teams that are buy and hold type operations, ones that quickly come to mind are Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing. Look how long Kurt Busch lasted at Penske Racing, despite being a complete menace on the radio with no shortage of profanity laden outbursts at a very low point in his career and life. Brad Keselowski only left recently to buy into one of the legendary Ford teams in the history of the sport. Ryan Blaney has been in the fold either as an extension of Penske Racing or key member for a decade now.
RCR however is a different story.
Since Harvick departed at the end of 2013 – with a sledgehammer thrown at the side of his Silverado by the No. 3 team during a truck race – RCR has seen a fair number of drivers pass through and move on over the years. Other than his grandson Austin Dillon on the Cup side there hasn’t really been a lot of long-term stability driver wise.
Despite winning three races last year, Reddick left while there were still sponsorship gaps that needed to be filled. While RCR noted the move happened “at the worst possible time” in its announcement of his departure, it did end up securing the services of a two-time Cup Series champion and one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers.
Creed has been a work in process for a few years. He won eight Truck races for GMS Racing in 2020 and 2021, but is winless in 2022 and 2023 at RCR. However, he has proven something to somebody at Joe Gibbs Racing who – let’s face it – has had a pretty solid track record the last few years particularly in the Xfinity Series. Daniel Hemric won his lone race to date – and championship – in 2021 at JGR, while Ty Gibbs ran roughshod over the competition last season en route to the 2022 title, while John Hunter Nemechek has been consistently the fastest car all season long.
So while the move to Gibbs and Toyota has not yet been “officially” announced – other than the mention made by Public Relations rep Austin Hill – it is absolutely is a destination ride in motorsports. Childress is still highly regarded in the Chevrolet camp, and ECR engines supply six teams each in Xfinity and the Cup Series. Any driver looking to have a shot to win, advance their career, or simply remain relevant would be a fool to pass up the opportunity.
No, you may never make it to Cup or realize a lifelong dream by piloting Dale’s No. 3, there’s still worse ways to make a living if you can endure some belittling. – Vito Pugliese
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