RCR seeks wins, momentum carryover into 2015

1 Comment

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.”

Eli Tomac wins Tampa Supercross, takes red plate home

Leave a comment

With his third win of the season, Eli Tomac took the red plate from Ken Roczen at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Entering with a one-point deficit, Tomac left with a four-point advantage in the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross championship hunt.

Tomac has struggled with starts so far this season. Saturday, he was part of a four-rider separation on the opening lap. He slotted in behind Adam Cianciarulo and went to school on his teammate.

“Our starts were better,” Tomac told NBCSN after the race. “That was the key. We put ourselves in a position early so that we could go to battle and ride the way we’re supposed to ride.”

Tomac claimed his 30th career win as the riders behind swapped positions. Cianciarulo and Malcolm Stewart started out with top-five runs. Both had the podium in site before they faded and gave last year’s Big Three free reign at the front of the pack.

“Early on I was just following Adam,” Tomac said. “With these short lap times I knew we had a lot of laps under our belt tonight. So I kind of just settled tonight and then made the push just before halfway.

“And I thought I’ve go to go if I’m going to go. So I was able to switch up the sand there. That was really cool with the option. A good passing spot.”

Cooper Webb finished second. It is his fifth podium of the year, but he felt he could have challenged Tomac if he had gotten through traffic a little faster. Roosters from the sand section blinded him and forced a more cautious approach from on top of his KTM.

Roczen minimized his points loss with a third-place finish. It could have been much worse. At about the halfway point, Roczen fell. Luckily for him, Cianciarulo went down on the same lap and took much longer to right his bike, which allowed Roczen to hold onto a top-three spot. Roczen ended the race nearly 11 seconds behind Webb and 18 behind Tomac.

Last year’s Big Three all stood on the podium.

Speed has not been a problem for Cianciarulo. He has been fastest in qualification every week including Tampa, but he is still learning how to get to the finish without making mistakes.

Last week Cianciarulo lost the lead late at San Diego when Webb was able to study his line. This week Cianciarulo had the opportunity to study Tomac, but he refused to simply ride and gain experience.

Earlier this week, Cianciarulo told NBC Sports: “The adversity I’ve faced – the mistakes I’ve made – have all been basically caused because of not settling. Just trying to get the absolute most I can out of every race. I guess in a way you can look at that and say it was inexperience or a rookie being a rookie.”

Cianciarulo went from second at the midway point to ninth at the checkers.

Justin Barcia and Justin Hill rounded out the top five.

Stewart had one of his best runs of the season, but he faded in the closing laps. On the final trip around the track, he nipped Jason Anderson at the line.

Shane McElrath won the opening round of the 250 East division, just as he has done in his last two 250 West openers. Feld Entertainment Inc.

250 EAST: Shane McElrath won the opening rounds of his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Both of those came at Anaheim in the 250 West division. Switching coasts did not make any difference. McElrath drew first blood in the series with a 3-second advantage over last year’s 250 East champion, Chase Sexton.

“Nobody outside of my wife and I really know what went into this year and what a hit we took last year mentally,” McElrath told NBCSN. “It was a struggle. Everybody goes through their down times, and I really had a lot of growing to do last year.”

Sexton got off to a bad start on the first lap. All the news wasn’t bad. After getting mired in the pack at the start, he picked his way through the field and settled into second about halfway through the main event. Sexton made up 8 seconds as the clock ticked but simply ran out of time.

“I didn’t execute my start like I needed to,” Sexton said. “You can’t come from fifth and expect to catch them by the end of the race.”

In his first race back after a year and a half with a broken back, Jeremy Martin stood tall on the last rung of the podium

Garrett Marchbanks and Jordan Smith rounded out the top five.

450s

Heat 1: Eli Tomac is not known for his starts. It’s time to rethink that after Heat 1. Tomac bolted to a big lead on Lap 1. … Malcolm Stewart led the field to the first corner. He slid wide exiting the corner and slipped back several spots before charging back to second. … Cooper Webb backed up his win last week with a third-place finish. … Vince Friese finished ninth to grab the final transfer. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Ken Roczen stalked Adam Cianciarulo until the rookie buried his front wheel in the sand section. That stalled his momentum and allowed Roczen to take the lead. It set up a huge battle for the final battle for the top spot as the two crossed under the checkers nose to tail … Roczen won over Cianciarulo. … Zach Osborne took the final rung of the podium. … Back after a two-year hiatus, Broc Tickle finished fourth. It was like he had never been off the bike. … On Lap 1 Blake Baggett jumped into the back of Jared Lesher. They collected Joshua Cartwright, who got pinned under his bike and limped off the track. Baggett recovered to finfish eighth. … Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer position in ninth. | Heat 2 Results

LCQ: Chad Reed had to go through the LCQ, but he qualified for his 255th 450 Main where he would finish 19th. … Kyle Cunningham provided a lot of drama as time was running off the clock, but missed a corner and settled for second. Ryan Breece finished third. … Making his first Main of the season, Adam Enticknap swapped positions with Daniel Herrlien throughout the race and nipped him at the end.  | LCQ Results

250s

Heat 1: Shane Mcelrath grabbed the lead early and held it throughout the heat. He won by 14 seconds, but much of that was because of mistakes by the second- and third-place riders. … Garrett Marchbanks had a quick off early in the race. He recovered to finish second. … Jordon Smith struggled in the sand. He went down early in the sand section, but he held position for a while. A second mistake in the sand allowed his teammate Marchbanks to pass him. … The final transfer position was a barnburner as Nick Gaines held off a determined charge by Hunter Sayles on the final lap. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Chase Sexton told reporters before the race that he is determined to dominate. So far so good as he let the entire heat in route to the top spot on the podium. … Jeremy Martin settled into a comfortable spot four seconds back as the battle for third heated up. … Jo Shimoda held it for a while, but was eventually overrun by RJ Hampshire, who took the final rung of the podium … Shimoda faded to fifth. … The final transfer spot went to Cedric Soubeyras. … Joey Crown finished a respectable eighth and also transferred. | Heat 2 Results

LCQ: Jimmy Decotis made his move at the right time. With less than a minute on the clock, he caught and passed Curran Thurman. … Jimmy Decotis finished third. … The battle of the night was for the final transfer spot. Jalek Swoll made a dramatic pass in the final turn, but bogged down in the whoops and allowed Isaac Teasdale to catch him at the line in a photo finish. Teasdale took the final spot | LCQ Results

Click here for 450 Main Results | Season Points
Click here for 250 Main Results | Season Points

Next race: February 22, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter