2012 Ride: No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2012 Primary Sponsors: Budweiser, Jimmy John’s, Rheem
2012 Owner: Richard Childress
2012 Crew Chief: Shane Wilson (February – August), Gil Martin (August – November)
Stats: 36 Starts, 1 Win, 5 Top 5s, 14 Top 10s, 2 DNFs, 8th in Points.
Best Finish: 1st – Phoenix (Fall).
Average Finish: 12.1.
Average Start: 14.6.
Laps Led: 256 (13th-best in Cup).
2012 Team Ranking: 1 of 3. Harvick’s ranking in this department isn’t saying much; overall, Richard Childress Racing was one of the year’s biggest disappointments. Only Harvick made the Chase, while teammates Paul Menard and Jeff Burton went winless. Combined, the trio posted just eight top-5 finishes, the worst for an RCR fleet of Cup cars since the 2005 season.
High Point: Phoenix. On the same weekend rumors swirled Harvick would be leaving RCR, for greener pastures at Stewart-Haas Racing a little over a year from now the driver broke through the drama and shattered a year-long slump. Running solidly inside the top 5, all day long in the desert it looked like Harvick was still no match for a dominant Kyle Busch. But a late caution flag bunched the field, putting Harvick on par with his rival and he used a quality restart to take control. One more caution would come, setting up a green-white-checkered finish but Harvick easily outmaneuvered Busch and Denny Hamlin to enter Victory Lane. It was the only win of 2012 for a driver used to collecting numerous trophies as of late.
Low Point: Martinsville. Once a short track specialist, Harvick has lost his edge on the bullrings in recent years and nowhere is that more evident than the half-mile paperclip in rural Virginia. The Spring got off to a solid start — Harvick qualified on the front row, then led the first 21 laps — but the No. 29 couldn’t hold on up front, a common theme during a season the team took a clear step back. They finished 19th, two laps off the pace while posting one of the first signs all was not well over in the RCR camp.
Later that Fall, out of title contention Harvick didn’t even get to finish the race. Blowing an engine, he wound up 32nd and was never a factor, concluding a short track sob story in which he posted just one top-10 finish in six races at Martinsville, Bristol, and Richmond.
Summary: Expectations were high for Harvick in 2012; after all, he’d finished third in the standings two straight seasons. Four top-11 finishes to start, including a runner-up performance at Phoenix led many to believe RCR’s No. 29 team would end the summer a championship favorite.
Instead, they were simply lucky to make the Chase. After a reasonable first half of the season, one that included another second-place run at Dover Harvick began to fall a step behind the other top contenders. During an eleven-race stretch, from Pocono in June through Bristol in August he failed to lead a lap, posting no finish better than eighth and was all but invisible on the racetrack. That mediocrity, putting him in jeopardy of missing the postseason forced owner Richard Childress to make some moves, reinstalling Gil Martin as crew chief after Shane Wilson had replaced him to start the 2012 season.
Wilson’s hiring, along with several other crew changes were done at the demands of Harvick, during a closed door meeting in November, 2011 so it was interesting to see the outspoken driver have to admit his mistake. To Childress’ credit, the move paid off almost immediately; Harvick led 101 laps at Atlanta, Labor Day Weekend and finished fifth in a race that assured him a spot in the postseason. But no team that makes that type of major change midseason is going to have it together when it counts; while a foundation for 2013 was laid, Harvick posting a win and three top-10 finishes to close out the Chase he ended the postseason a distant eighth in points.
Off-Track News: Harvick made waves at Phoenix when ESPN’s Marty Smith reported he was on the way out at RCR. Sources confirmed, by early December in Las Vegas Harvick has indeed signed a deal with Stewart-Haas Racing that begins in 2014. Sponsors Jimmy John’s, Rheem, and Budweiser are expected to be part of the deal, one that could boost the rapidly expanding SHR program to a four-car operation. Childress, supposedly “blindsided” by the news has since claimed there is funding in place for the No. 29 car in 2014, giving the team notice they’ll stay in place as Austin Dillon is expected to move to the Cup Series.
Harvick also’s dealing with a different type of “change:” diaper duty. Son Keelan was born in July, making he and wife DeLana first-time parents. Social media magnates, the happy couple has already established a Twitter account for the youngster who has quickly established his own fan following.
2013 Outlook: For Harvick, a “lame duck” situation at Childress will be difficult at best, disastrous at worst. A driver known for lack of patience will need to be pleased, early and often with his equipment to keep from checking out — with that in mind, you wonder how much RCR will even bother to focus on the No. 29 team’s success. With the Dillon boys, Childress grandsons Ty and Austin coming up through the ranks blood may run thicker than pending departure in this case.
Need an example of how these “lame ducks” go? We just had one, in 2011 when Kasey Kahne ran for a year at Red Bull Racing while Mark Martin finished out his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports. Neither one made the Chase, struggling to find consistency and between them, they came up with just one victory. I think Harvick, with how far RCR fell behind engineering-wise throughout 2012 will be hard-pressed to simply finish inside the top 15 in points, let alone make the Chase. Two things could change that: this 2013 car, with its new body styles levels the playing field and crew chief Gil Martin has had plenty of success with Harvick in the past. But if the going gets tough early… don’t expect any type of major recovery.
2011 Frontstretch.com Grade: A.
2012 Grade: C+.
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