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Up to Speed: Can Richard Childress Racing Rebound?

Quick, name the last time either of Richard Childress Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series drivers, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon, dominated a race.

The answer probably does not spring to mind easily. The team had only one dominant performance in 2023, which was Busch’s victory at World Wide Technology Raceway in June.

That was Busch’s third win of the season but ultimately his last. Since then, things have been rough for RCR, and so far, there are no signs of an impending turnaround in 2024.

Eight races into the season, Busch is 15th in overall points but 16th in the playoff grid, one point ahead of Chase Briscoe for the last postseason spot. Busch has not missed the playoffs since 2012, and he holds the longest-running streak of consecutive years in the postseason among active drivers.

Busch has also earned at least one win in every full-time season of his Cup Series career, a NASCAR record and a personal record that stretches back to 2005. There is still a long way to go this season, but the performance of the No. 8 team is putting both of Busch’s streaks in jeopardy.

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Yet even if Busch has not been quite as fast as he usually is, his struggles are nothing compared to Dillon’s. The driver of the No. 3’s last win came at Daytona International Speedway in 2022. That was the regular season finale race where Dillon’s victory clinched him a playoff spot at the last possible opportunity.

Ever since then, things have been brutal for the No. 3 team. Dillon has not had a top-five finish in the last year’s worth of races and has not even had a top 10 in 2024. Buried 31st in points, he will need a Hail Mary win to get into the playoff conversation.

It feels like RCR is getting mired in the struggles that have plagued the team for the past decade. After Kevin Harvick bolted for Stewart-Haas Racing, the organization fell behind its peers and struggled to reach victory lane regularly.

But things appeared to be on the upswing in 2022 when Tyler Reddick enjoyed a breakout year. Reddick won three times, the first multi-win season by an RCR driver since Harvick’s last year with the team in 2013. Then, just when it looked like Reddick was going to lead RCR back to relevancy, the news broke that he was heading to 23XI Racing. Reddick’s impending departure clearly did not sit well with Childress, but it allowed him to sign Busch, whose contract negotiations with Joe Gibbs Racing fell apart.

As much as losing Reddick had to sting, getting Busch was a huge win for RCR. Childress had a bona fide superstar joining his team, a two-time Cup Series champion with a proven ability to win on every type of track. Busch was the kind of driver who could make RCR better right away and even put it in championship contention.

When the 2023 season started, the Busch/Childress partnership looked like a great one. Busch scored a win in just his second race with the team, followed by two more victories in the next 13 races. He was winning with greater frequency than he did in his last several seasons with JGR, and it looked like he really was going to elevate RCR into a contender.

But by the late summer, the No. 8 team lost its momentum and never recovered. Busch seemed to struggle to get the feeling he needed out of his cars, and the races where he charged to the front became less and less frequent.

After two bad finishes in the Round of 12 put his championship hopes in peril, Busch raced to a top five at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, but that was not enough to avoid elimination. The No. 8 fell to 14th in points by the time the season ended, a disappointing outcome for such a promising start.

As Busch staggered toward the end of 2023, Dillon was probably anxious to get the season over with. At the start of the year, RCR replaced Justin Alexander with Keith Rodden as crew chief of the No. 3. The switch did not make any sense. All four of Dillon’s Cup Series wins came with Alexander on the box, and Rodden struggled mightily in his previous run as Kasey Kahne’s crew chief.

The opening weeks of the season were not kind to Dillon, but the lowest point came after the spring race at Martinsville Speedway when the No. 3 team got hit with a 60-point penalty for an improper mounting of the underwing assembly. Dillon fell back to 29th in points, which is where he ultimately ended the season.

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Suffice it to say that in 2024, neither driver’s situation has improved. Busch was part of the three-wide photo finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway but otherwise has not been much of a threat to win anywhere. In fact, he spun out multiple times at Bristol Motor Speedway and was conspicuously absent from the lead at Richmond Raceway, both of which are among his best tracks.

Dillon, meanwhile, has only one top-20 finish this season. His frustrations with Rodden apparently reached such a boiling point at Richmond that he was relieved of his position. Alexander returned as crew chief of the No. 3 at Martinsville last weekend.

The offseason did not provide the reset that RCR needed at the end of 2023. Its NASCAR Xfinity Series team is doing fine with Austin Hill having notched a couple of wins and Jesse Love off to a promising start.

However, the Cup Series drivers will be looking for a rebound as the season continues. Busch needs some good finishes to shore up his position in the points standings, which will only happen if the No. 8 team can help him find the balance he needs in his cars. As for Dillon, hopefully the reunification with Alexander can correct his dismal start to the season.

But if Busch misses the playoffs and Dillon continues to struggle, it will mean that RCR’s upswing from a few years ago was little more than smoke and mirrors.  

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

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Echo

Are the Dillon boys approaching the top of the 2 worst Cup brothers list yet. If you notice, Kyle isn’t throwing tantrums, he’s just collecting that huge contract Richard gives him. Isn’t Grandpa nice.

Christopher

They’ve been a mid tier+ team ever since Dale Earnhardt’s death; occasionally breaking out and showing signs of life, then deflating to average. It’s not going to change.

janice

i realize it’s not going to happen, but dillon needs to go. he’s had more than enough time to prove himself, especially with the huge legacy of driving the #3. if i recall, once richard petty stepped away from racing, the 43 never really set the world on fire with the drivers who drove that car. is rcr a top tier chevy team? i don’t know…seems like trackhouse has adapted quite well.

of course the rcr cars will be in the hunt at dega. that’s just a crap shoot of who survives.

i guess as long as richard doesn’t have to tap into his bank account to field team due to sponsorship issues, they’ll just keep trying every trick in the book to find speed and consistence.

i’m really surprised kyle bush hasn’t had a meltdown. all the hoopla from him signing with childress and the future sure seems like a long time ago.

DoninAjax

The crew chief change really got Dillon going, didn’t it? Grampa will likely keep him in the car in his will.

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