second Atlanta race last year saw some of the same story lines that will headline this year's race; most notably, who will claim the final spots in the chase. However, one popular storyline that has also carried over from last year’s Atlanta race is the one regarding Richard Childress Racing’s 2010 resurgence.
By now, the story of the 2009 RCR season has been well told. In a nutshell, their 2009 season was pretty lousy. That is, until the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway rolled around.
Prior to the waving of the green flag, RCR and crew had announced that they were bringing brand new, never-been-on-the-track cars for Atlanta’s Labor Day weekend race.
Things were looking up for the new cars and the four drivers of the famed racing team. After the final practice session, all four drivers were top-30 in speeds. Clint Bowyer was fourth fastest, Casey Mears was 17th fastest, Jeff Burton was 21st fastest, and Kevin Harvick would match his car number, 29th fastest.
As qualifying rolled around, the crews for the cars made adjustments, but couldn’t keep the top 30 pace they had had in final practice. Kevin Harvick turned around his final practice time and was the fastest qualifier of the RCR stable, qualifying 18th. Mears had the worst qualifying effort of the four cars, ending up 33rd fastest.
By the time of the race, the RCR quad was ready to turn their season around. Before the race, all four RCR cars had a combined eight top-five finishes, with Clint Bowyer earning half of those.
While it seemed that Bowyer had been the shining light of RCR and the best in points of the four in 2009, it was Kevin Harvick who was able to turn around his season, something both he and his team needed. They were the furthest back in season points of the four RCR teams, and before the race they sat 24th in points.
As the race went on it became clear that during the long runs, Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 Shell/ Pennzoil Chevrolet was one of the cars to beat. For the rest of the RCR crew, the night would not match Harvick's. Mears would finish 25th, Bowyer finished 29th, and Burton had a frustrating night, finishing 34th.
Kevin Harvick would lead 66 laps, and if not for a late race caution, he very well could have won the event.
After the race Harvick said, “Tonight feels like a win. We’ll just take the momentum and hopefully keep it going.”
Momentum would continue to follow Harvick, and even though he and none of the RCR drivers made the chase, Harvick finished the season 19th in points with five to- fives and nine top-10s.
Before the Atlanta race, Harvick had only two top-fives, and three top-tens. For the rest of the RCR racers, they carried momentum into the final 11 races of 2009 as well. Clint Bowyer missed the chase, but finished the season with four top-fives and 16 top-10s (six more top 10s than he had before Atlanta).
Jeff Burton finished the season with five top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes (three more top-fives and four more top-10 finishes than he had before Atlanta). Casey Mears would finish the season with just four top-tens, which is still one more than he had before Atlanta.
As the 2009 season ended and the 2010 season started, RCR has continued its momentum that they found last year at Atlanta. Kevin Harvick is now leading the points with three wins, 11 top-fives, and 16 top-10s.
Jeff Burton is sitting seventh in points and in prime spot to make the chase, Burton is still win-less, but he has racked up four top-fives and 12 top-10 finishes. Clint Bowyer currently sits on the bubble spot, 12th in points, but he has had a strong season as well with four top fives and 12 top-tens this season.
So as the RCR cars look to continue their strong 2010 season going into Atlanta, they can also look back to a year ago and see how far they have come since they turned around the season during Labor Day weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Stats for this article provided from NASCAR.com, Ask.com/NASCAR, and blog.al.com/blogoftomorrow/2009/09/kasey_kahne_wins_pep_boys_auto.html