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Richard Childress' Take: 'We don't get paid to ride in the back'


Richard Childress and Clint Bowyer: victory at Talladega, but a bit bittersweet (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   The curious finish to Sunday's Talladega 500 – and, really, it shouldn't have all that curious, since team owner Richard Childress finished 1-2 here a year ago – brought out a few interesting things:

   First, Childress' durability in this dog-eat-dog sport.
   The win was Childress' 100th as a Cup team owner….nearly 30 years after his first, with Ricky Rudd in 1983 at Riverside,  back when Childress was making the transition from journeyman driver to major league team owner. That shift, of course, was triggered by Junior Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, with Johnson – Childress' mentor for years – putting the two together, in what would eventually become a legendary pairing.
   It was somewhat ironic that Childress, the guy who started out selling hot dogs at the back gate at Bowman Gray Stadium, got No. 100 at the very track that gave him his first big break, back in late summer 1969. When Talladega first opened, the speeds were unlike anyone in this sport had ever seen, because the track was the first wide-open track anyone had ever seen. And the tires just couldn't take it, blowing out with maddening, frightening regularity.
   Drivers en masse up and left, saying the track and the tires were not safe.
   Big Bill France, having made a big, big gamble on opening this track here halfway between Birmingham and Atlanta, was not happy at the driver walk-out. And a lot of today's esoteric rules are based in NASCAR reaction to that walk-out by Richard Petty and the Professional Drivers Association.
   France, the day before the race, scrambled to round up a field of cars. And one of the men he called on was Childress, whose fateful decision to stay and race (he finished 23rd and earned $1,175) put him on the good side of the Frances, a nice career move.
   "When they boycotted.  I went ahead and ran the race," Childress said. "And I got money on Saturday, got money on Sunday, got deal money from Mr. Bill France Sr. -- more money than I'd ever seen in my life.  We went back and built the shop and started racing.
    "That was a big break for me.
    "Now, the 100th win….Only in America could a kid with a $20 racecar do what I've been able to do, me and my people working with me.
    "It started with an old $20 racecar and a dream."



Childress and Bowyer, a final victory together, at Talladega (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Second, Jeff Burton is still one of the classiest guys in this sport.
   Even in defeat, and he hasn't won on the tour since late 2008, Burton was classy Sunday. He didn't run and hide.
   "I don't know whether to be excited or upset…." Burton said slowly. "After the year we've had (a really down season), it's good to be in position to win a race. 
    "We both had some good luck along the way….and whenever you leave here not wrecked, you ought to be happy. 
    "At the same time I'm heartbroken we didn't win…."
    But Burton at least lost while battling for the win, not while riding around in the back, like so many title chasers did. That back of the pack thing may have worked out well for Brad Keselowski (who scrambled to finish fourth) and for Carl Edwards (11th), but not for the Rick Hendrick teams.
   "That strategy didn't work….but I've seen it work --  It worked here in the spring," Burton said of the rope-a-dope. "I've seen it work. 
    "I'm much happier when it doesn't work, because I prefer to run in the front. 
     "I'm not being critical of anybody;  I don't blame them, especially when it works."

   Third, the launch of the next phase of Clint Bowyer's career certainly looks promising. He's leaving Childress after six seasons; Childress discovered him and brought him up to the Cup series, but sponsorship issues what they are these days, they're splitting at the end of the season, in four weeks.
   Bowyer is moving to the Michael Waltrip Toyota camp; what happens his current team, headed by Shane Wilson, is unclear. Wilson figures the team will run at least next year's first five races, regardless of sponsorship, though the driver and shape of things are unclear.
   So Sunday evening's post-race celebration was somewhat odd, a bit like Jamie McMurray's end-of-contract victory Jack Roush here a few years ago when both knew that was their last win together.



Jeff Burton. Always classy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Bowyer, loyal teammate right up to the final mile, pushed Burton up front most of the day. That Rick Hendrick's guys – Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon – didn't get up front too and stick it out up there was surprising, since the Hendrick men may have had the fastest cars here. But the Hendrick strategy of hiding out near the back of the pack didn't quite pay off for them…though when Gordon and Trevor Bayne hooked up for the green-white-checkered finish, a Gordon win could have been in the cards. Bayne, however, bailed on Gordon, triggering a backlash among fans and raising the sticky ethical issue of Team Orders….
   On the GWC break, Burton and Bowyer ripped away from the pack. And two-car drafts being so fast, it quickly became a race between teammates.
   "Luck has a lot to do with these races, it always does," Bowyer reflected about that key restart: "Right at the split second I touched his (Burton's) bumper, one of the Red Bull cars hit me in the butt, and it just launched us out there. 
    "It got us away, and we were able to drive off into the sunset."
    Then it was Burton versus Bowyer.
  "Going down the back straightaway (the last lap), I wasn't even looking at him," Bowyer says afterward. "I already felt bad for him. I knew we had a 12-14 car lead, and I was looking in the mirror waiting for the smoke to fly, prepared to move ahead of him before the caution came out."
   That crash never occurred, though. And coming off four Bowyer made his move, and the two went through the trioval down to the first turn flagstand side by side and bumping.
   "He worked so well with me all day you hate it comes down to that," Bowyer said.  "But it is what it is, and you owe it to your team to win.
   "But, trust me -- I was prepared to push him to the win, no matter what the cost, if we had people breathing down our necks."
    So now these six-year teammates are splitting. "He's been a great teammate….learned a lot from him," Bowyer said.  "He's won a lot of races, 20-some;  I've only won five."
   For Wilson now the waiting begins, to see just what Childress will do with this team for 2012.
   "We're a team that we expect to win….we expected to be in the chase," Wilson said. "It's good to get the win; it's big for our team. We've been so close this year and let it slip away. So it was nice to seal the deal."

    Childress: "Once I saw the gap they had, Clint and Jeff, I knew there was going to be a move. 
    "All of us hate it for Jeff, but in this business you've got to do what you got to do for yourself and the team."
   And the 1-2 finish, despite Kevin Harvick's bad luck, which may well have cost him and Childress a shot at the championship, was vindication of Childress' team orders to run up front:
   Still, Harvick's championship bid may well be over, though Childress insists "We're not done. Don't stick a fork us yet.  We're definitely not done. 
   "We're going to race, take no prisoners, race as hard as we can.
    "It's unfortunate Kevin got in that crash.  But he was doing what we all talked about doing, running up front. 
     "It may have cost us the championship.  We may have been able to ride in the back and wait it out.  But that wasn't what Kevin wanted to do.  We had all of our sponsors here today.  That just isn't what we wanted to do.
    "These fans pay a lot of money…..
    "I hate it for Kevin, but he was doing what he was supposed to be doing.  All of our cars race to give these fans a show. We didn't sit in the back and ride till the last minute.  Our cars ran all day long. 
     "We don't get paid to ride in the back."


   Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress. Sunday's strategy may have won the race for Childress but lost the championship for Harvick (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Another excellent and

Another excellent and educational article about team direction and winning. I absolutely agree with the drivers at RCR, "drivers don't get paid to drive around at the back nor do the fans that pay big money to watch a race." There was minimal excitement at Dega, this is a track I've always enjoyed, until NASCAR decided in their wisdom that two-car, dossy-doe your partner at the barn dance tonight" was all about racing. Racing for what, I ask myself. Sponsors are paying big bucks to ensure their driver is going to RACE TO WIN, driving around at the back is for sissies...these guys are racers, not children on tricycles dodging obstacles on their local street. I DON'T appreciate my favourite driver hooked up at the back out for a Sunday drive, while fans are screaming for excitement. This isn't racing, it's boring, it's sissified, it's childish and expensive for sponsors and teams alike. If these guys who call themselves racers want to race around at the back at Dega, then may I suggest we do away with "qualifying" at every track and then it's every driver for himself.

Jack Roush's edict cost Bayne

Jack Roush's edict cost Bayne a top 5 finish and Hendrick's strategy cost the 48 and 88 decent finishes as well. RC's strategy might not have netted the 29 team the best possible results, but the company has the trophy, 100 Cup wins, and put a team about to disperse in victory circle.
Richard is a racer first and foremost, and I am an RCR fan because of that.

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