Richard Childress (Racing) Is Back: Part One
(It's more than a year old, but I feel that the way this company has ran this season and what they've had to go through in years past, that it's still appropriate. Enjoy)
After Feb. 18, 2001 Richard Childress wonder if his team would ever win again. He had just lost the man whom he had won six championships with, a man who helped him make his organization, Richard Childress Racing, famous, but more importantly he had lost his best friend.
While mourning the loss of Dale Earnhardt, Childress had a decision to make: Did he want to continue to field Earnhardt's car, and who would be the driver. Childress called on Kevin Harvick, who was driving the no. 2 AC-Delco Chevrolet full time in the Nationwide Series.
He put Harvick in Earnhardt's car and team, changed the number and paint scheme, and sent him racing, hoping for the best.
Three weeks later, when Harvick pulled an upset victory over Jeff Gordon in Atlanta, no one thought that emotional victory would start a journey for Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing that would eventually lead them back to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway.
And no one thought it would be six years to the day when Richard Childress and the NASCAR community had lost Dale Earnhardt.
Even though Childress fielded other cars, everyone's eyes were on Harvick. After all, he had some pretty big shoes to fill. All the fans that had pulled for Dale Earnhardt needed a hero. Would Harvick step up? Would the Earnhardt legacy live on? It didn't take long to get the answers.
On Mar. 11, 2001 Kevin Harvick beat Jeff Gordon by 0.006 seconds in the Cracker Barrel 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. As Harvick saluted Earnhardt on his way to victory lane, fans cheered, held up three fingers, some even tried to climb the fence, and everyone wept. Commentator Mike Joy may have said it best, "What could be more fitting, what could be more special?"
When Harvick was chosen to fill Earnhardt's seat, he was also competing full time in the Nationwide Series for Childress. By the time the circuit rolled into the Chicagoland Speedway, Harvick was in the thick of the fight for the championship, but that did nothing to slow him down, he earned his second career win in the Cup Series and solidified his spot in Rookie of the Year battle.
Kevin Harvick had arrived and he was for real. At the end of the year, along with two wins, he won Rookie of the Year and his first Nationwide Series Championship.
The 44th Annual Daytona 500 may have had the new face of Jimmie Johnson on the pole, but it was Harvick, also competing in his first 500, that would lead the first three laps. But what started as a promising day would end with 61 laps remaining as Harvick was caught in the Big One.
Anyone who wondered if Kevin Harvick would be as bold and rough as Earnhardt had been, got their answer at Bristol. During the Nationwide race on Mar. 23, Greg Biffle turned Harvick into the wall. Harvick waited until after the race was over and Biffle had parked on pit road to confront him. He would jump over Biffle's car and grab his firesuit while expressing his displeasure with Biffle.
NASCAR was not happy, and slapped Harvick with probation. On Apr. 14, at the Martinsville Speedway, Harvick would be benched by NASCAR after an incident in the Craftsmen Truck Series on Saturday. Kenny Wallace would sub for Harvick on Sunday afternoon.
Since his win in the Tropicana 400 a year earlier, Harvick was winless and barely above 30th in points. But heading into Chicagoland, Richard Childress swapped the No. 29 crew with teammate Robby Gordon's No. 31 team.
Starting 39th, it was all but promised to be an exciting race, and with 70 laps to go, he made a daring move on the apron of the racetrack. As Harvick did his apron stunt, two cars spun behind him, bringing out the caution.
After the restart, he drove through the field to the lead, and 24 laps later, he was back in victory lane for the first time in 35 races. It was his only win of the year. After his amazing freshmen performance, Harvick had fallen victim to the sophomore slump.
At the start of the 2003 season, Harvick and RCR looked to head to the top among the championship contenders. Instead, they headed to the top of the tabloid news for all the wrong reasons.
At Richmond, in May, Harvick spun teammate Jeff Green in turn one. Green marched to Harvick's pit to "chat" with crew chief Todd Barrier. When giving a TV interview, Green said, "...Was all good, we got back to the bottom of the racetrack and 29 run over me. And I don't know. I'm sure he's gonna have a different story but I know what happen. He spun me out so, supposed to be teammates but it seems like there's only one car at RCR."
On Monday, following his remark, Jeff Green was released from Richard Childress Racing after almost two seasons. On Tuesday, Steve Park was released from Dale Earnhardt Inc. and by Wednesday, each had taken over the other's former ride.
During the summer, the Richard Childress Organization went on a hot streak. Both Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick took turns leading the Dodge/SaveMart 350 at Infineon. However, it was Gordon who would take advantage at the end and pick up the victory, with Harvick settling for third.
Harvick's day would come five weeks later on one of the biggest stage's of them all: the Brickyard 400.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a 2.5-mile square oval with nine degree banking and 3,330 feet of straightaways. Well known for the Indianapolis 500, to win at this track would mean putting your name on the list of all-time greats who have kissed the bricks. Names like Gordon, Earnhardt, Jarrett, Labonte and Stewart.
From the open wheel ranks, Foyt, Unser, Andretti, Rutherford, Mears, and Fittipaldi. Now Harvick looked to etch his name in history, eight years and one day after Dale Earnhardt won the second Annual Brickyard 400 on Aug. 5, 1995.
He started the weekend by winning the pole and would become the only driver to win from the pole. Harvick took the lead on a restart after Jamie McMurray got caught behind lapped traffic. From there, he ran away from the field and into victory lane. "Anything we can do that Dale Earnhardt did is an accomplishment," Harvick said.
One week later, Richard Childress was back in victory lane at Watkins Glen, after Robby completed his road course sweep for the 2003 season.
There's a reason why fans love the short tracks of NASCAR, and it's more than just to see sparks fly. Richmond is no exception. Remember earlier how Harvick spun teammate in turn one? Well this time around it was Harvick who was on the wrong side of a front bumper.
Harvick was hit by Ricky Rudd in turn one, and after the race, Harvick drove down pit road and parked next to Rudd's car. As Harvick stood on the car and exchanged words with Rudd, some of his crewmembers jumped on Rudd's car, then Harvick threw his Hans device at Rudd, which he threw back.
By the time the dust settled Harvick was fined and several crewmembers suspended.
In 2004 and 2005, under the new Chase for the Championship, Harvick and his RCR team could not get the job done. During the first half of the season, he was in the top 10 in points, but when it mattered most, they could not stay there. In 2004, he failed to win a race and finished 14th in points.
In 2005, he won both the Nationwide and Cup race at Bristol in early April. However, after that, he slowly slid out of the top 10 and would again finish 14th in points.
Then, Richard Childress decided he had had enough.
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