Cup preview: Richard Childress
One in a series of 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team previews ahead of the season-opening Daytona 500:
RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING
Principal owner: Richard Childress
Engine source: Earnhardt-Childress Racing
Alliances: Tommy Baldwin Racing, Germain Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, Furniture Row Racing
2013's top finisher: Kevin Harvick, third
2013 grade: A-minus
2014 preseason grade: B
2014 outlook: An interesting transition year with a significantly different driver lineup awaits one of NASCAR's marquee teams. Kevin Harvick, the man who stepped into the unenviable role of replacing the late Dale Earnhardt, is gone after 13 years and 23 Sprint Cup race wins. In his place is Richard Childress' grandson and defending Nationwide Series champion, Austin Dillon, who not only will make his full-time Sprint Cup debut, he'll be doing it with the evocative No. 3 that Childress and Earnhardt made famous. Meanwhile, Jeff Burton has transitioned to a part-time ride with Michael Waltrip Racing, opening the door for Ryan Newman to take over RCR's No. 31 car. The only returning driver is Paul Menard, who finished a career-high 16th in the 2013 standings. Meanwhile, the driver change at Furniture Row Racing, as RCR's strongest alliance (Martin Truex Jr. in, Kurt Busch out), will also have an effect on the Childress organization. By finishing third in the Sprint Cup standings three of the past four years, Harvick showed that RCR still has the capability to consistently contend for the championship. The question is if the revamped driver lineup will keep them in that position.
Quotable: "It's going to be really special to see the 3 car back on the race track and I hope it's really special for the fans as well. It will be emotional for a lot of folks, for sure. But at the end of the day, I know Dale's up there smiling down, saying, 'This is what we really wanted and what we talked about.' Austin has run that 3 all the way through and won championships with it, but now he's stepping into the Cup Series with it and that's going to be a different level. I think he'll handle it really well. Paul Menard is just a super guy to work with. He puts so much into it. We let him down a little last year with some of the cars that we gave him, but I think he'll have a great year this year. I tried to hire Ryan Newman six or seven years ago, and I'm excited to have him with us now. You can see the success that Martin Truex has had, so we're excited to have him in the 78. Really, the relationship between RCR and Furniture Row and the success of that relationship is what has led to the ability to add these other teams. You can do a broad variety of things more quickly by having a broader base. I know Hendrick Motorsports is a really strong organization, and Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson set a really high bar for everyone. But we want to get in there and win a championship. It's been way too long since RCR's won a Cup championship. We've won a lot of other championships, but we haven't got that Cup championship yet."
-- Richard Childress
Austin Dillon (No. 3 Dow Chemicals/Cheerio's Chevrolet): "The legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to continue to live on forever. Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number. He is Dale Earnhardt. He was a hero in everybody's mind, including myself. Hopefully [unhappy fans] are open enough to take a look at everything that we're doing. I think as far as performance and moving forward, hopefully we can win them over. I've got to stay focused on what my goals are this year. Rookie of the Year in the other two series [Craftsman Trucks and Nationwide]. ... I definitely want to accomplish that in the Cup series. Hopefully what I learned going through the championship battle with the stout competition we had last year in Nationwide will help me this year going forward. I'm very fortunate in the fact that I've got a great team. We're going to go out there and definitely stay a tight-knit group working with each other."
2014 goal: Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year.
Paul Menard (No. 27 Menard's Chevrolet): "We've said making the Chase is the No. 1 goal the last few years now, and with these different Chase rules, it's even more important to make the Chase. We've come close the last three previous years going into Richmond. We've been in the hunt; we've been in contention. This year is our year to do it. Richard leads from the top, and I've got lots of great support around me. Ryan is going to fit right in. He's a hunter and a fisherman, so he gets along with Austin and me. Ryan's got great experience and Austin's a young enthusiastic kid, so I'm really looking forward to working with them. I think we've got good rapport and we're honest enough with each other that we can have real conversations."
2014 goal: Get back to Victory Lane and into the Chase.
Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar/Quicken Loans Chevrolet): "It's a great opportunity for me. I feel like I'm part of a great organization that's in control of their own destiny. They build their own engine, build their own chassis, hang their own bodies. ... There's only three organizations out there, to my knowledge, that are still doing that. I'm the plug-and-play person. They're putting me in a seat; we're not starting a whole new organization. I'm the new guy, but it's still the same for me. We're doing the same things, for Luke [Lambert, crew chief] and I to be able to communicate and talk about what we need for the race car, and away from the race track, and learning what our strengths and weaknesses are pit stop-wise and things like that. It's just a different group of people. We're doing it to be stronger and win a championship. I have a lot of confidence in Luke that we'll be in the hunt to do that."
2014 goal: Advance deep into the Chase.
2014 SPRINT CUP TEAM PREVIEWS
A team-by-team look at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contenders (previews of the remaining teams will be unveiled almost daily leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 23):