Some of you older fans may remember the original prime time soap opera called Peyton Place. It was a show filled with people hopping from bed to bed and all sorts of deception and intrigue. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the same thing happening over at KHI and RCR, and it keeps getting more and more interesting as every day goes by. For the purposes of this article we’ll try and deal with what we know and not what the rumors are.
There are always things going on in the garage area that change the dynamics of teams but it seems like there have been quite a few of them swirling around the RCR / KHI group. The Clint Bowyer saga has been hanging over the RCR organization all season, but the spotlight didn’t shine on the team until Carl Edwards, the big free agent heading into 2012, inked his deal. However, once he put his name on the dotted line, the spotlight switched to the Emporia, Kansas driver and seemed to cause the situation to go downhill. Bowyer and Childress appeared quite positive early in the year that they were going to get a deal done, but once they became the focal point, the pressure seemed to make things contentious.
In the last few weeks it has appeared, from the outside looking in, as though the parties have come to an impasse. Childress has been unable to secure sponsorship for Bowyer and the result is the deal can’t be sealed. While Childress maintains he’s still trying to put a sponsor on the No. 33 for next season, at this point it looks like Bowyer, packaged with 5 Hour Energy, is heading to Michael Waltrip Racing. Once again, another driver will not finish his career with the organization where he started.
While those negotiations were heading downhill, it was announced that Childress was releasing their pit crew coach after a difficult time by the No. 29 pit crew at Michigan in August. Matt Clark has been with the organization since 2008 and had put together and coached the pit crews for all Cup, Nationwide, Truck and ARCA teams that were racing in some form under the RCR umbrella. While pit crew difficulties happen for every team from time to time, they were amplified by the volatility of Kevin Harvick behind the wheel. While most organizations would have worked through the problems during the season and let the coach go at the end of the season, RCR made the decision in the middle of the year. They replaced Clark with Eric Wilson, who was the jackman for Harvick’s crew and worked last year at Richard Petty Motorsports as both a jackman and pit crew coach.
The next act in the RCR / KHI play was the subtle statements by Kevin Harvick at Bristol that the landscape of KHI would be very different in 2012. That opened up the speculation about what that actually meant to the organization for next season. Within a couple of weeks the announcement came out that KHI was basically shutting down. The Nationwide operation would be moved back to RCR, which had just moved the effort to KHI the year before, and the Truck operation would either shut down or be sold to someone else. One of the most successful teams in the Truck series, who had won five races in a row and two championships since joining the series, was going to completely bail out of the sport. There are all sorts of questions swirling about the real reasons behind the move, but what we know for sure is 140 people are looking for work at this point in time in the Kernesville, NC area, although there will hopefully be some opportunities at RCR.
Now that the Chase has arrived and Bowyer is most likely leaving the operation, his tire changers, carriers and jackman are once again being moved over to Harvick’s team for the Chase. The same thing happened last year, only it was six races into the Chase. Harvick is the big dog at RCR, there is no question about that, and his constant displeasure with his pit crew’s performance most certainly gets him the pick of the crop at RCR especially when he’s the only driver in the Chase for the organization. Bowyer’s status as a lame duck definitely didn’t help in his efforts to keep his guys going over his wall.
The latest chapter in the story came about Tuesday when the Competition Director at RCR parted ways with the company. Scott Miller had been in the role at RCR since 2003, having previously worked for the organization from 1997 through 2001. Similar to the pit crew coach maneuver, it is odd for a team, especially one with a driver who is leading the point standings. Chemistry is a key in racing, not only between driver and crew chief, but also from top to bottom of an organization. Any disruption in the flow of people and work for a championship contending team can throw the effort off balance, which can torpedo the whole effort.
Running for a championship is a dicey proposition that can take a wrong turn at any point, and any unnecessary waves can rock the boat enough to take it off course and prevent it from achieving its goal. The folks at RCR and KHI have thrown more than their fair share of rocks into the pond causing some major ripples that are going to be hard to overcome by Harvick over the next nine races. He is in the top spot in the points right now but the behind the scenes disruptions might make it very difficult to stay there.
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