Does RCR have a long-term future?

Every so often we see a once elite team in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series lose a step, fall behind their competition some of the time the team rights itself and continues on, but some of the time the once elite team simply fades away. Such as the teams of Robert Yates Racing or Petty Enterprises.

It would now seem that Richard Childress Racing is at something of a crossroads. Many are reporting that RCR is set to lose both Shell Pennzoil and Jack Daniels as primary sponsors leaving this four car team with funding only for two.

A lot of people will be quick to blame the economy and sure that may be a factor but these people fail to understand that NASCAR racing is a performance industry, and one must perform to keep sponsors and stay funded.

While it is true RCR has lost most, if not all, of its manufacturer support from GM, we are really talking about a team that so far in 2009 failed to perform. In fact really the performance of RCR has been somewhat lackluster for the past few seasons.

In 2008 RCR won three races, in 2007 they took all three cars to victory lane including Kevin Harvick’s win in the Daytona 500. In 2006 this team won 6 races. The main problem here seems to be this is a team headed in the wrong direction.

As it stands right now Clint Bowyer, by far the best running RCR car in 2009, is 94 points behind 12th place and a Chase berth. After getting caught up in a wreck on Sunday, Jeff Burton is 108 points behind 12th. The other two RCR cars of Harvick and #07 Casey Mears are 451 points and 302 points behind 12th respectively.

It is these two cars we need to focus on since they are the ones who seem most likely to lose their sponsor funding. It now appears likely that Harvick’s career at RCR has run its course. This is not the fault of any one thing, but happens so often in NASCAR when owner and driver need to separate and go down different paths. Ryan Newman came to this point with Penske Racing in 2008, made a change and looks likely to qualify for the Chase in 2009. Ironically enough if Harvick were to leave RCR in 2010 he would be an ideal candidate for the third Stewart-Haas car.

In the case of Mears I think enough time has past to prove that this guy just isn’t a Sprint Cup driver. He has had every opportunity and drove in some very good equipment and the only thing he has to show for that is one Cup win. It may be time for Mears to go to a different form of auto racing.

While there is a lot of bad news for RCR at the moment there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Given the economic crisis and the ever shrinking size of the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage, RCR could theoretically drop down to the two teams it has funding for in 2010 and team up with Earnhardt–Ganassi who seem poised to lose a driver and have a sponsor to spare. It seems that a four car effort out of a combined Earnhardt-Ganassi-Childress shop could be just the short term fix the team needs to survive in the short term.

This move is not so far-fetched when we consider that Childress and Earnhardt already are teamed up with a common engine shop. Add to that the fact that the Childress and the Earnhardt families are extremely close and we could see a strong connection between these two once elite NASCAR organizations.

While a lot of this is merely conjecture, NASCAR fans must realize that teams will do whatever is needed to survive the economic downturn, and sponsorship trouble.

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