Richard Childress Racing went winless as a whole in 2014, but still assembled one of the more solid, steady seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field.
The team came up 50 yards short of the title when Ryan Newman came second to Kevin Harvick at Homestead-Miami Speedway, in both the Ford 400 season finale and the Championship Four showdown for the 2014 Sprint Cup title.
Although as Childress put it Thursday at the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, “I’d like to say we were one caution flag short instead of 50 yards. But that was history.”
History now for Childress is adding to its legacy of race wins and championships, and mainly, getting all three of its full-time drivers on the board in 2015.
Newman and Paul Menard are each seeking their first win since a Brickyard 400 triumph (2013 for Newman, 2011 for Menard) while Austin Dillon seeks his first win at the Cup level.
“We came close,” Childress said. “You look at what Luke (Lambert, crew chief) and Ryan what they did in their first year, what Austin did as a rookie… he and Paul were both there with a couple races left to make the Chase. But this year, we all know we gotta win races to get in the Chase.”
On the subject of wins, Childress joked he already has one this year, having beat Dillon in a ride up the new “Daytona Rising” project at Daytona International Speedway.
“I won the first race at Daytona this year, right Austin?” Childress quipped.
Dillon, for his part, enters his second full-time season in Sprint Cup with perhaps higher expectations, but lower media scrutiny.
With Dillon’s arrival, the famed No. 3 returned to a Cup grid for the first time since 2001. Dillon of course won the pole at the Daytona 500 and finished ninth. He added one top-five and three more top-10 finishes the rest of the way en route to a 20th place finish in points.
If there was one very good takeaway from Dillon’s first season, it was his ability to bring the car home. He didn’t register a single DNF in 36 races and that aids his confidence coming into 2015.
“At the Speedway (Daytona), you need a bit of luck, but you have to put yourself in position to the end,” Dillon said. “I’m excited about the speedway races. Adjust (the plan) when you get there and be ready for anything.
“The rest of year, really excited. I’m back with Gil (Martin, crew chief). We made some changes within the team. Looking forward to the opportunity. Finishing a lot of races was big for our team. You’ll see us up front more.”
Menard, ever the quiet one, was low-key during the press conference itself but looks to build off of what was his best statistical season. The Wisconsin native posted career-highs in top-five (five) and top-10 (13) finishes, although he fell from 17th to 21st in points.
Childress also announced a couple housekeeping items.
Grainger, which Childress noted his team has raced against for many years, has joined in a multiyear partnership. Grainger will be a primary sponsor for selected races on Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet starting with Pocono in June, and as an associate for all others of which it isn’t the primary.
Additionally, Childress confirmed two of his three full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers, Ty Dillon and Brian Scott, will race selected Sprint Cup races this year. A formal announcement is expected next week; both are also expected to be part of a five-car lineup at the Daytona 500.
The team has made some other staff changes over the winter and is working diligently on its ECR engine program. Richie Gilmore has been confirmed as ECR’s new president, Childress announced.
But Childress, as ever, kept the focus on the racing as the team looks for a breakout 2015 where wins, and not just consistent top-fives, top-10s, and near-winless title runs grabbed the headlines.
“This year going in, you’ll see some of the hardest best racing we’ve ever seen in NASCAR.” Childress said. “Now you know how important it is to be in the 16. To make the Final Four was unbelievable. Ryan and Luke gave us a great chance to win the championship.”