Childress confident better days are ahead
Says Childress, the problems of the past are not the problems of this season. He believes the cars are better and the drivers and crews are on the same page, and would rather place blame on misfortune and small errors for which the team has paid dearly.
"We're still working on some ends, but we're also waiting for some of the things which are in place already to [fall in place]," he said.
The three Childress cars are ranked 14th (Kevin Harvick), 21st (Jeff Burton) and 32nd (Dave Blaney). Although Harvick still has a shot to sneak into the top 10 within the next three events, which would thereby qualify him for the championship playoffs, most of the drivers ahead of him have had much more consistent seasons. This leaves Childress with the prospect of having no contenders for the title for the second year in a row.
"It's certainly been very hard at times," Childress admitted, "but if you look at these guys you can see that everybody's still there trying to turn things around so we can start getting those top-10s and top-fives and [victories]."
Between Burton and Blaney, however, RCR has only three top-10 finishes -- only one of which is a top-five.
For Blaney, things started out somewhat promising with a 14th-place run in the Daytona 500. He was ranked as high as 16th through five events. But a steady diet of sub-20 finishes, including a current string of three finishes of 30th or worse, has got Blaney and the No. 07 Chevy team sitting at 32nd.
|“||The results aren't showing it right now, but that's how the sport is and sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down. Right now, we're down. But we'll get back up ”|
|— Richard Childress|
For Burton, the story isn't much different. There was promise early on when Burton finished third at Phoenix and 10th the next weekend at Talladega, Ala. More recently, however, the No. 31 team finished last at Watkins Glen, N.Y. and 26th at Michigan -- more on par with its 21st-place points position. Burton blames himself for some of the more recent shortcomings, particularly his driver error that led to the 43rd-place result at the Glen.
"I'm just sorry for the guys at Cingular and for everybody on this team," he said afterward. "They gave me a car today that we could get our business done with. We were fast. And I messed up. We were very loose. And I overstepped the boundaries. As long as I've been doing it, I shouldn't do things like that."
These late-season struggles spread to the flagship No. 29 team. Harvick has gone from the top 10 in points to 14th. Harvick and Co. were as high as sixth through five events and still hanging onto 10th through 10 racess. But a run of misfortune beginning with NASCAR's first trip to Michigan, where the team finished 25th, followed by results of 37th and 24th, dropped Harvick out of the top 10.
Noticeably glum yet not defeated, Harvick looked forward to turning the corner.
"We have just missed it over the last few weeks," he said then. "It hasn't been one thing. It's been several. And while it has been frustrating, we still believe we are one of the best cars out there. We have just lost some momentum."
With all of its teams on a downswing, Childress made changes at the top following the Pepsi 400 at Daytona -- promoting engine shop manager, Spenny Clendenen, to general manager, and naming Rick Mann chief engine builder. Since the move, though, it's been a bit more of the same. Harvick has teetered back-and-forth from 13th and 14th in the standings and Burton and Blaney still search for top-10 finishes.
Still, Childress believes the changes will pay off down the road.
"I think the reorganization we've made is a positive new start to our entire engine department," he said. "We've had tremendous growth at RCR over the past couple of years and the workload we've asked our management group to be responsible for was keeping us from achieving the success I know we're capable of. These moves put RCR in a much better position to reach the goals we've set for ourselves."
With just three races remaining before the playoff field is set, though, it's going to be tough for the organization to meet its most important goal: winning its first championship since Dale Earnhardt delivered in 1994.
"I have no doubt that we can be that kind of organization and that we are a championship organization," Childress said. "The results aren't showing it right now, but that's how the sport is and sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down. Right now, we're down. But we'll get back up."
Harvick and Co.'s performance in the next three races will tell just how fast.
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.