2009 Ride: No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2009 Primary Sponsor: Shell/Pennzoil
2009 Owner: Richard Childress
2009 Crew Chief: Todd Berrier (Feb. – Apr.), Gil Martin (Apr. – Nov.)
Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 5 top fives, 9 top 10s, 0 poles, 19th in points
Best Finish: 2nd, twice (Daytona 500, Atlanta – fall)
Average Finish: 19.9
High Point: Well, do you want to point to finishing second in the Daytona 500, or winning a non-points paying race the week before at the same racetrack? Such was Kevin Harvick’s 2009 campaign. After the Bud Shootout is not a good time to start a decline that lasts pretty much ’till near the end of the season.
So we’ll go with finishing second in the rain-shortened Daytona 500, since that counted for some notoriety and was in fact Harvick’s best finish (along with a second at Atlanta in the Labor Day race) in a points-paying race this season.
The only other moderately high point in a season where Harvick had his worst points standings finish since 2002 came in the final race, a third-place finish at Homestead. By this point, Harvick and Childress had shown a little bit of improvement, so maybe a third-place finish combined with the end of an extremely disappointing season could constitute a high point for the driver of the No. 29.
Low Point: Pretty much the rest of the season. Harvick had 10 finishes of 30th or worse in the first 27 races of 2009, and they weren’t all because of blown engines or wrecks. The No. 29 simply ran that poorly that often, causing Richard Childress to try and shake things up by switching longtime crew chief Todd Berrier with Gil Martin, who at the time was achieving little better with Casey Mears.
Probably the worst point for all concerned was the peak of the rumors that Harvick wanted out of his contract with RCR, which Richard Childress dismissed. But when asked, Harvick never stoutly denied the rumors, and with his running his own Camping World Truck Series teams to a championship with Ron Hornaday, perhaps Harvick has his own ideas about what makes a successful race team. Things have fallen this far for the 2007 Daytona 500 winner. Teammate Jeff Burton was quoted as saying that Harvick will probably be gone from RCR at the end of his contract in 2010.
Summary: Harvick finished fourth in the 2008 campaign, but you would never have known it from the No. 29’s performance in 2009. Almost right off the bat the team struggled, starting with the crash at California resulting in a 38th-place finish. The crew chief switch before the first Richmond race did little to help the No. 29, which didn’t even dent the top 10 in a race until 10 races later with a sixth at Indianapolis.
Clearly, the second half of Harvick’s season was stronger than the first, with seven of his nine top 10s happening from Indianapolis forward. Perhaps having Gil Martin on the pit box did improve things some, or RCR finally got a handle on things somewhat. It’s probably both, and the team really started to gel like at the very least a Chase contender, scoring four top 10s in the last seven races.
Team Ranking: Like Roush Fenway, RCR seemed affected by the testing ban and struggled all year to get their cars to handle well. Harvick especially suffered from RCR’s inability to overcome their difficulties, finishing 19th in the standings, several positions behind teammates Burton and Clint Bowyer and only barely ahead of new teammate Mears.
Outlook for 2010: After not even coming close to making the Chase for the first time since 2005, Harvick did manage a few good finishes, with a fifth at Texas, a third at Homestead and a 10th at California, showing improvement on the intermediate tracks where RCR needs to improve the most. Should RCR be able to maintain the momentum, Harvick may be back as a possible Chase contender and possibly even score a win or two.
NASCAR’s testing ban caused quite a few teams to struggle, most notably Roush Fenway and Richard Childress. The testing ban remains in place, but unlike Roush, Childress seems to be finding its way of late, with not only Harvick but also Burton and Bowyer contending for wins late in the season. If they can stay on the right track, Harvick could run well enough to make the Chase. But RCR, like everyone else, has a long way to go to catch up with the Hendrick crew.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: A-
2007 Grade: B
2008 Grade: A-
2009 Grade: D+