RCR seeks wins, momentum carryover into 2015

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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.”

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?