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From Rain To Reign: Retracing RCR's Road Back

by Cathy Elliott
Friday, September 17, 2010

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Cathy Elliott
After many months of speculating, the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has finally arrived, and it is time to choose which horse to back.

This is a no-brainer for fans of the 12 drivers in the Chase field, but those who find their favorites on the outside looking in have some serious grey-matter work to do. Do you pick another guy from "your" driver's team to root for over the next 10 weeks? Do you settle on one of the frontrunners in hopes of winning the office pool, bragging rights, or both? Do you go with a guy piloting the product of a certain auto manufacturer?

This is indeed a quandary, but the answer may be “none of the above.” In fact, fans of every driver, whether they are in the Chase or not, may have our eyes, and especially our hearts, focused on no specific driver at all.

Instead, we may be watching the owner standings.

A phrase that has been used frequently this season is "the turnaround of Richard Childress Racing." It is certainly safe to say that with three drivers in the Chase headed into Richmond -- Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer -- RCR represents the class of the field. The team is currently batting 100 percent. You can't do much better than that.

Although admittedly these three have had solid seasons, the one driver name that will forever and always be linked with Richard Childress is that of Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Earnhardt and Childress had a bond that extended far beyond the boundaries of business; they were friends.

When Childress retired from racing to focus on ownership full-time, he chose Earnhardt as his replacement behind the wheel of the No. 3. Together, they won six Cup Series championships, in 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, and 1994. There can be little argument that they are the most well-known owner/driver duo in NASCAR history.

Their partnership, of course, came to a tragic and untimely end with Earnhardt's death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Less than a week later, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., Childress stood at the front of a tent situated just outside the grandstands and introduced Kevin Harvick as the new driver of Earnhardt's legendary black Chevrolet, now renumbered as the 29.

Two weeks later, Harvick drove the car -- a white one, now -- to Victory Lane in Atlanta. We all remember that.

But there is a difference between the things we remember and the things we will never forget.

Indelibly stamped on the minds of those who were in Rockingham that day is the image of Childress standing in a stark, white tent, its sides flapping in the February wind as a cold rain fell outside, a tremor in his voice as he pledged that the black No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevy would race no more.

Ever the professional, he was composed and dignified, but the overriding impression of the day was one of immense sadness, so different from the smiling man who, just a few years earlier, stood on a stage in New York City and hoisted a sixth championship trophy with his driver and friend.

Surrounded on all sides by a crush of people from every media outlet and NASCAR-associated entity imaginable, he seemed very alone.

These are the things we will never forget.

Richard Childress Racing has soldiered on. Some years have been better than others; RCR finished fourth in the owner standings in 2006 and 2008, but failed to place even one of its drivers in the Chase last year.

Is my driver of choice in this year's Chase field? Yes, and I would be delighted to watch him lead those 12 roaring stock cars in a victory lap down the Las Vegas Strip during Champion's Week, and to occupy the place of honor at the head table during NASCAR's annual awards banquet. I know the same is true for all of you, and your personal favorites.

We would definitely remember that.

Is my favorite driver part of the RCR team? No. But Kevin Harvick is, and many pundits feel he will give reigning four-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson a real run for his money in this year's Chase.

So there's a really good chance that come December, we might see Richard Childress accept yet another owner's title, and be able to celebrate a new champion right along with him while simultaneously honoring the memory of one who has gone before.

That would be truly unforgettable.

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