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Richard Childress, like Dale Jr., hasn't had much to smile about this season, but Childress says he's seeing "daylight"

  Richard Childress (L) has seen a lot in his 40 years in NASCAR, and he can commiserate with Dale Earnhardt Jr. about a rough 2009 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Rick Hendrick's amazing success as Chevy team owner this season, with Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, and with satellite team drivers Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski, is amazing, even stunning.
    And Martin's career comeback has been one of the year's biggest stories, as is his bid for that elusive NASCAR championship.
   However all that success is having its downside for the sport of NASCAR racing – Hendrick's success may be leading to the decline of some rival teams, which may even be forced out of the sport for lack of sponsorship.
   Yes, this is a performance-based business, and Hendrick's men are performing like nobody's business. Martin has five wins, Johnson five wins, Stewart four wins, and Gordon and Keselowski one win each – that's 16 wins in the season's first 30 races.
   The only operation even close is Joe Gibbs', with seven wins (four by Kyle Busch, two by Denny Hamlin, and one by Joey Logano).
   Roger Penske has only one win, by Kurt Busch. Brian Vickers has one win for Team Red Bull. David Reutimann has one win for Michael Waltrip. Kasey Kahne has two wins for Richard Petty and George Gillett.
   And team owner Richard Childress is still winless with his four teams.
   The fate of Richard Petty's entire 60-man engine department is up in the air, pending the switch from Dodge to Ford, and many of those men have been frantically applying for jobs with other teams. But there are already a large number of unemployed NASCAR engine builders roaming the garage looking for work: "I've been out of a job for nine months now," says one. "But there are only four engine building operations you can go to work for…."
   Blame it on Detroit economics of scale, or just the tough economics facing the Detroit car makers, or NASCAR's inability to control the increased centralization (and expensive sophistication) of the stock engine building part of this giant puzzle…..

   Car owner Richard Childress (R) isn't quite sure what will happen with the Casey Mears team, unless a new sponsor comes along (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Childress says Casey Mears future at his operation is still up in the air, because of sponsorship issues. Jack Daniels is dropping out of NASCAR at the end of the season; Childress says he has only enough sponsorship currently for that team to run a few races next year.
   And Childress says he doesn't want to turn that team into a start-and-park.
   But crew chief Todd Berrier says he has suggested just that to Childress, in the absence of major sponsorship, "so we can keep 25 families from losing their jobs."
   That's sponsorship loss isn't the only problem Childress has had to face this season. Kevin Harvick made overtures in July about wanting to leave for another team at the end of season, even though he still had another year on his contract with Childress. However Childress is holding him to the deal for 2010, though Harvick indicates that he'll leave at the end of that season, which means he'll be a lame duck driver through 2010, while Childress looks for another driver to fill that seat.
   Yes, it has been a trying year for Childress. "All I've got to say is we're making a lot of changes…we'll probably be announcing more changes next week," Childress said.
   Childress has already promoted engineer/crew chief Scott Miller to competition director, but Miller is still running Jeff Burton's team, so a new crew chief for Burton is next on the agenda.
   "We're using these last races to get prepared for 2010," Childress says. "We know we have to be better.
   "We've seen some improvements -- we've been upfront with the different cars the last few weeks.
   "But this (new) car is very touchy…and right now Hendrick is right up on top of it. They've got it figured out, for the most part.
   "But we're working hard; we're doing a lot of capital investments, on some new stuff. We're making changes in personnel. We're going to be making more changes in the next weeks to come.
    "We're seeing improvement if you look back to Atlanta (Labor Day weekend). And then we hit a bad race here a couple of weeks ago.
     "It's such a fine line with this car --- and when you get off, sometimes it's hard to get back on."

    Rick Hendrick (R) has had a fantastic season...but for his NASCAR rivals it's been too much of a good thing, and they're suffering the consquences (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Childress had little to say about Harvick: "Kevin is going to be with us next year, and Shell is going to be with us. We'll just see how everything plays out.
    "But whatever happens, happens, and we'll just move forward.
    "No one is happy when you aren't running well. I'm not happy; no one is. We just try to control it as well as we can.
     "Kevin's a driver who really wants to run well and win. I don't blame him for being upset when we don't."
    But the Mears-Berrier team is the one on the hot seat right now.
    "We are meeting with companies, we have had several meetings," Childress says of those negotiations.
    "Economic times are tough for sponsorship.  We do have a lot of -- not a lot, but we do have a lot of interest in it (Mears-Berrier). We are running it. We can't turn it into start and park. I don't want to do that; I won't do that.
   "We've got some sponsorship for a few races next year. But to be competitive, that isn't the way to do it.
    "We are weighing our options, to see what we are going to do."
    Would Mears still be the driver? He hasn't had much success lately; his only tour win was here in the 2007 600. Mears has been a top-15 runner, overall, since August; his season's best with Childress was a sixth at Michigan in mid-August.
     But then it's hard to judge any of the Childress drivers, as weak overall as the organization has been, when compared against the Hendrick juggernaut.
   "Casey has really shown a lot of improvement these last several races," Childress said encouragingly. "He's run upfront, top-10.
   "I would have liked to have seen him in our cars a year ago, when we had our cars really going.


   It's been almost three years since Kevin Harvick's last NASCAR tour win, and he's not taking this losing streak very easily (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


"We don't know what happened yet," Childress says of his team's struggles this season. "All of a sudden, we fell off of the wagon.
    "But we will get back on it though, I promise you."
     However, the fate of the Mears-Berrier team seems iffy: "I can't comment exactly because I don't know," Childress said. "We are working on some stuff. Right now we are looking at right before Homestead (the Nov. 22 tour finale), and we'll make those decisions then."
     Childress has been through ups-and-downs before, if not on this scale.
   "It was maybe '95 or '96, and we didn't have a very good year, and Dale (Earnhardt) was telling me 'It has just got to be me,'" Childress recalled. "I kept telling him 'Dale, it's not you. We don't have you the equipment you need.'
    "And we worked through it.
    "This is our 40th anniversary (as a company in NASCAR). We're having a big fan appreciation day this coming Thursday (Oct. 22).
     "But throughout those 40 years we've had several valleys.
     "And then we've had great peaks -- winning championships, and winning 11 or 12 races a year.
     "I look back to 1988… Now 1985 was horrible, and Dale and I sat right outside my house in Winston and I told him 'Dale, you're a better driver than this. You need to go somewhere else and drive,' because we'd blown 12 engines.
    "But he said 'We started this together, and we're going to finish it together.'
     "And the next year, '86, we came back and won the championship, and in '87 we won another championship…
     "I can't tell you the rest of the story about '88, but we had a real bad year.
     "However we came back and won championships in '90 and '91.
    "Now 1992 was a tough year, really a tough year.
     "Then we came back and won a couple more.
    "That's your peaks-and-valleys.
    "And you have it in life as well.
     "We can see the crest up there. We've just got to be ready for it."
    So Childress can certainly commiserate with Dale Earnhardt's son, Junior, who is having a very down year too. Friday Dale Jr., in an emotional run, said the season had gone so badly for him "I'm at the end of my rope."
    Childress says he understands Junior's frustrations: "You've heard the song Hank Williams Jr. sings 'It's tough living in the shadow of a very famous man…..
    "That's what Junior is doing. And everybody's got their expectations so high.
    "And when you don't fulfill those expectations, people think you're not there.
    But Junior can still drive a race car. He can compete. He can win.
    "And he will win a championship some day.
     "It's just a matter of going through a few of these peaks-and-valleys.
    "I've spoke to him a couple of times, trying to give him the encouragement to keep digging…because we've been there."

  Veteran Todd Berrier started the season as Kevin Harvick's crew chief, and now he's Casey Mears' crew chief...and trying to keep the team up and running (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

What happened in '88?

My recollection isn't that good anymore. What happened in 1988? What's "the rest of the story" that Childress won't address?

good question. i've been

good question. i've been trying to remember....i think the head games got a little too serious that fall....i'll try to check it out for you.


They went from an 11 win 1987 season to a 3 win season in their first year with Goodwrench. Nascar cracked down big time on Dale's rough driving that year. They were an afterthought in the chmpionship that year (despite finishing 3rd) behind Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace.

Ah, now it's starting to come

Ah, now it's starting to come back to me. 1988, the year Earnhardt first painted his car black.....

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