Commentary

RCR's new success hinges on Miller

Updated: August 24, 2010, 7:02 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

WELCOME, N.C. -- Step into the corner office not far from where the Sprint Cup cars of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer are being prepared in the bowels of Richard Childress Racing.

The walls are gray and bare with the exception of one picture that was there before the current resident arrived. Other than a couple of racing magazines, a travel coffee mug and a laptop computer, the desk looks seldom used. Leaning against the wall is a Martin guitar on which the owner occasionally knocks out an old school rock 'n' roll AC/DC tune, but it is starting to collect dust.

This is where RCR's amazing turnaround began from a disastrous 2009 season in which the organization didn't win a race or place a car in the Chase.

The man behind the desk dressed in a simple red, short-sleeved shirt and blue jeans is largely responsible.

Meet Scott Miller.

You may remember him as Jeff Burton's longtime crew chief. Late last season, Miller moved into the role of director of competition and was charged with fixing all that ailed what once was the dominant organization in NASCAR. He was given so many duties, such as overseeing the crew chiefs and engineering, that team owner Richard Childress had to make sure the answer man always was in the house.

He was given the keys to the empire, in some ways.

[+] EnlargeKevin Harvick
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioKevin Harvick has already celebrated three victories in 2010, something that seemed impossible only a season ago.

This is not to suggest Miller single-handedly turned RCR cars from junkers to racers, but he did connect the dots that were missing. You can't start a conversation here about the turnaround without Miller first being mentioned.

That his office is bare should come as no surprise. Miller doesn't sit still long enough to decorate or for clutter to gather, going from room to room and building to building in this massive complex about an hour from the Charlotte racing Mecca to make sure everybody finally is on the same page.

"It's bare bones," Miller says with a laugh.

The office actually sort of found Miller. Formerly the conference room for crew chiefs, it's the first room he went to after taking the position. Next thing you know it was his.

"You get so busy working, it looks the same as the day I moved into it," Miller says.

Appearances can be deceiving. A lot has taken place here, as evidenced by what has happened on the track. Harvick has a 293-point lead in the points standings after Sunday's victory at Michigan, his third of the season. Burton is comfortably in the Chase in seventh place, and Bowyer is 12th, just inside the playoff cutoff.

The organization already has three more wins and four more top-5s with three drivers than it had a year ago with four. One could argue RCR has caught, or passed, Hendrick Motorsports.

It's been a team effort, but Miller is the one who pulled the team together. It started by expanding the engineering department and integrating it completely with the race teams. It continued with getting a handle on quality control, making sure no part went on a car that didn't pass all standards.

But the real key was getting all the crew chiefs on the same page, taking basically the same cars to the track with only the setups different. That allows the organization to more accurately and efficiently accumulate data, which translates into more speed.

"Before, we kind of got into a little bit of a deal where somebody wanted to build their car this way, somebody wanted to build their car that way," Miller says. "If everybody's car is built different, then the setups between the teams become irrelevant to one another. Getting everybody to work from the same platform has helped everybody."

It wasn't dysfunctional before, but it was headed in that direction. It's a credit to Childress' leadership -- and he's always on the go with sponsor meetings, hunting trips and business obligations -- he recognized that and was willing to step aside and focus more on the business side.

"With Scott, he's always here," Harvick says. "There's no decision that has to wait till tomorrow. … Really, it has made everybody more relaxed. The crew chiefs get what they want and the problems get headed off before they become disaster."

Miller is a lot like Childress. He prefers blue jeans over dress slacks and doesn't mind getting his hands dirty.

His strength is communication, being able to sort through all the ideas from strong-willed crew chiefs and engineers who believe their ideas are best, come up with the best plan and implement it.

"We were kind of going in our own direction," says Mike Dillon, the vice president of competition. "We still allow the development and smarts for the crew chiefs to be known, but it has to go through a central channel. Miller is technically strong enough to coordinate all that. He's just brought it all together."

Dillon tried to handle some of those duties the past few years, but his strength admittedly is the business side.

"Over the years we had been trying to get this under control," Dillon says. "We found out we didn't have anybody really sound enough that the crew chiefs believed in and trusted to look at and evaluate properly. It took longer than it should have, and we finally found the right guy."

So why is Miller the right guy? Simple: He doesn't have such a huge ego that he's not willing to listen. More importantly, everybody is willing to listen to him, knowing he understands what they're going through.

What Miller has brought to the table is more valuable than the extra horsepower found in the engines, the superior technology that has gone into the chassis.

"It's hard to measure when you don't understand what you're measuring," Burton says. "If you're trying to prepare a box of apples to a box of potatoes, you're not preparing the same thing. One of the most important parts of what we do is being able to gauge success."

Miller knows how to do that. He's a big reason Harvick signed a new deal that made Tuesday's announcement with new sponsor Budweiser possible. It's why all three drivers believe they can win the championship when a year ago they didn't believe they could win a race.

"We didn't have that driving force [last year]," Childress says. "I was trying to do it, but with everything I had going on I wasn't doing a good job with it. … It's always tough to step back when you're used to doing something.

"I've sort of backed off from last year. Scott's took it. That's all his focus is, working with the drivers and the crew chiefs and engineering, keeping that tied together."

Miller never would take credit for the turnaround. He's one of the most unassuming people you'll meet. In many ways he's like his office: no frills, just the stuff needed to do the job right.

"It's more than a one-man job," Miller says. "We're all pulling in the same direction, that's all."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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