Is Richard Childress Racing Back?
The last NASCAR Cup Series race held at Auto Club Speedway was not one to forget. Mother Nature gave us a decent day to race on Sunday after pounding the Los Angeles area with rain and snow on Saturday. The weather caused the Xfinity race to be postponed to Sunday night and cancelled practice and qualifying for both series. When the race was over, Kyle Busch stood tall over all the rest of the competitors as the victor. That leaves us with the question, is Richard Childress Racing (RCR) back to the top?
From the very start of the race, Kyle Busch was the most aggressive driver in the field. Based on NASCAR’s algorithm to set the line-up, he started 21st. Being mid-pack didn’t last very long for him. He made his way through the field quickly getting all the way up into the top 10. Towards the end of Stage 1 though, he was sent back to the back of the field after getting caught speeding on pit road. With his rocket of a car, he made his way all the way back to 11th by the end of stage 1.
In stage 2, he looked very good on the short runs, almost getting by race leader Ross Chastain, but his long run just wasn’t working. In a caution filled stage 2, he finished 2nd. His team made some great adjustments on the long run, helping him keep up with Chastain, who at that time looked like the clear favorite to win. Busch finally makes the pass for the lead a few laps before they needed to come to pit road for the final time. Chastain made a dive at the pit road commit line to try and get by Busch, but it wasn’t enough. Busch got out first and held on to the lead all the way to the end.
This race win was very historic for him and for NASCAR. Busch did two things when he won. First, he broke the tie between himself and Kevin Harvick for 9th on the All-Time Winning list for the NASCAR Cup Series by getting his 61st win. The next person on the list for him is none other than The Intimadtor, Dale Earnhardt who sits at 76 wins. The most important thing he did on Sunday though, was he broke a record set by Richard Petty. This win made this his 19th consecutive season with at least one win. Richard Petty is The King of NASCAR and that is not an exaggeration if you look at his career. Any time you do something he didn’t do, is truly a special feat.
Let’s bring this full circle now. Is RCR back on top now?
Yes. Since the start of the season at The Clash, RCR has been one of if not the top team on track each week. They finished 2nd and 3rd at The Clash and to quote Kyle Busch himself, “if it had been 1998” they would have won the Daytona 500 last week when Busch was leading and the caution came out with 2 laps to go, forcing overtime. Busch has looked like the best driver in the best car so far this season.
Now this is a two-car team. Busch has been the leader and the obvious #1 driver at the team, but Austin Dillon hasn’t been looking bad either this year. He was faster than Busch at The Clash and was in 2nd at Dayton before the caution flag waved. On Sunday, he finished 9th in a very tight battle from 6th-11th.
Through the first couple of weeks, RCR seems to have that Trackhouse type of momentum from last season. A team that was expected to run in the teen places with some highlights of some top 10s, and maybe on a lucky day get a win. I know that RCR won 4 races last season but let’s be honest. Tyler Reddick won 3 of those 4 races and he is no longer there. Austin Dillon lucked into that win at Daytona and 2 of Reddick’s 3 wins were at road courses. If there wasn’t a new car last season, I would put more weight into those wins. RCR was not expected to be a front runner for a championship this year. Anybody that tells you they thought that is a liar.
I will give them credit for what they are doing this year though. They outperformed teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racings, and 23XI Racing. That is not an easy feat and I’m not just talking about their finishing positions. The RCR cars flat out looked better than 95% of the field on Sunday and have been that way since the season started. They have great momentum right now and are stretching their lead as the top team right now.
RCR is heading to the championship this season if they can keep up this momentum. We saw last year with drivers that looked strong in the first few weeks that flamed out towards the middle of the season. I don’t believe this is the case though. Whenever you can have both of your cars compete at that level, not just one, you’ve got a good program.
I’m not sure if they’ll get both cars into the final four, but they will have both drivers in the playoffs. The last time Kyle Busch won at Fontana he went on to win the championship. Only time will tell if RCR can keep up the momentum, but RCR is back, and the rest of the field better watch out.