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Richard Childress' 2012 NASCAR plans are slowly taking shape, but it all hinges on sponsorship...and maybe how well Austin does in KC

  Richard Childress (R) and grandson Austin Dillon (L) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   JOLIET, Ill.
   Richard Childress, whose fourth Sprint Cup team is still a question mark, says he expects to have his 2012 driver lineup set within the next month, probably by Charlotte (Oct. 15th ) or Talladega (Oct. 23).
   Clint Bowyer, Childress' 'fourth' driver, is expected to leave at the end of the season, because full Cup sponsorship simply hasn't come together yet.
   So Childress' job right now if finding enough sponsorship to keep that fourth team at the Cup level.

That means pairing a driver and a sponsor – or rather pairing two drivers with several sponsors, given the economic climate right now where companies simply don't want to pay the $20 million price tag for full-time Cup sponsorship.
   One big key to the future of that 'fourth' team: Austin Dillon, Childress' grandson.
   Dillon, 21, just won Friday's Truck race here, and he is now set to make his Sprint Cup debut in three weeks at Kansas Speedway. Dillon is certainly on the NASAR fast track, though he's just 21. And his brother Ty is also in the mix here too.
   Childress says he may have to cut back to three, or three-and-a-half, Sprint Cup teams next season, depending on how his current sponsorship search goes.
   Or Childress says he might again run four Cup teams full-time next season, just one team having two drivers, grandson Austin plus another to-be-named. (That sounds like a great opportunity for Mark Martin.)
   But Childress says he won't be waiting until December to make decisions: "We'll make all our decisions in the next four, five or six weeks."
   Childress has only one team, Kevin Harvick's, in the NASCAR playoffs.
   Bowyer confirms he and team owner Michael Waltrip have been talking about teaming with a third Cup car at that Toyota operation.
   So what's really the story behind the looming Bowyer-Childress split. Childress, after all, was the guy who gave Bowyer his big break in 2004, with a Busch(Nationwide) ride; Bowyer got a full-time Cup ride with Childress in 2006.
    Bowyer has scored four Cup wins with Childress, most recently last fall at Talladega. This season Bowyer was trying to make the playoff cut for the chase but a crash with Juan Pablo Montoya at Atlanta two weeks ago doomed him.
   Over the past month Bowyer, with a 17-race Cup sponsorship, apparently Five-Hour Energy, has been shopping around. Bowyer first tried to make a deal with Childress, but the numbers it takes to field a competitive Cup team just weren't there.
   Bowyer talked with Ford's Richard Petty about a deal, but that never went far.
   "Honestly we're still trying today (Bowyer and Childress, to put a 2012 Cup deal together)," Childress says. "But we both agree that if the opportunity comes for him, he needs to take it. He can't sit around and wait for us.
   "But we're still trying this week to do something. The situation (for Bowyer and Childress) is perfect; we want him, he wants to stay, he lives there, the race shop is there. Everything is perfect for us to stay together….except the dollars aren't there. It's a different environment.
    "Right now we're looking for a sponsorship for a fourth team. And we're talking with several drivers; you can look at the list of drivers without rides.
   "If I have to spend my own money, I'll put Austin in it. But we don't want to rush him or push him; he needs another good, solid year of Nationwide racing."
     Filling Bowyer's seat: Dillon for a few Cup races, sandwiched around a full Nationwide tour deal, Childress says, if the sponsorship packages all come together. And Childress says he may well hire another driver to run that Dillon Cup car at the Cup races Dillon doesn't run.
    Childress concedes he's still got a lot of balls up in the air, trying to mix and match sponsors.
    Much of his thinking at the moment is centered on Austin Dillon, and managing his up-and-coming career.
   "We're going to have Austin run that Cup race in Kansas, for Mike Curb," Childress says.
    "I'm not pushing him; we've got a plan, we set the plan when they (Austin and brother Ty) were 13 years old.  We've moved them along pretty slowly. So far they're both on track."
   Testing for the 1-1/2-mile Kansas track? "Austin tested here the other night, in the Truck race, and did pretty well – won it," Childress said.
   "And we'll be running Ty in the Truck race at Kentucky. Austin ran at Kentucky when we did that fuel injection test (in July). And he's done some testing out at Pikes Peak.
   "There's nothing firm until you get sponsorship, but we're working on that. And our plan is to put him (Austin) in Nationwide next year.
   "A lot will depend on the sponsor."
   Childress said it was possible that the 33 Cup team, headed by crew chief Shane Wilson, currently with Bowyer at the wheel, could become a Nationwide team next season: "That's a good possibility.
   "We'll see how that Cup race goes at Kansas City. It's hard to make these Cup races, you know.
   "We've got several companies interested (in Cup sponsorship for that fourth team), and we've got a list of drivers. 
    "But none of the sponsors wants the full deal; it's tough to put these things together, but that's just the environment we're in, so we'll just have to do our best. We all know the economic environment.
    "As soon as Clint makes his decision – and I'm sure that decision is already made, it's just a matter of when they want to announce it….."
    What other drivers might Childress have on his list? He wouldn't say, but the general list is pretty obvious.
    Among Cup drivers looking: Brian Vickers and Martin.
   "I don't want to push him (Austin) along (too fast)," Childress said. "Our plan is for him to run a couple of years of Nationwide, and then if he's ready for Cup we'll move him to Cup.
   "But anything is possible."
    With Harvick's team the only one in the playoffs, Childress says he's in the process of reshaping the other teams for 2012.  "We haven't changed pit crews," Childress said, referring to the Harvick and Bowyer teams. "We've just moved a few people around, changed some players around who will be in certain spots next year."
   Childress declined to be more specific.
   Last season Childress did shuffle pit crews for the chase.




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