One organization on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that appeared to be gaining momentum at the end of the 2018 season was that of Richard Childress Racing. The Welcome, NC based organization ended the campaign by scoring as many top-15 finishes over the final third of the schedule as they had over the first two-thirds of the year.
Drivers Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman proved to be consistently better during the closing races of the most recent season than they had been through the first twenty-two events that began the NASCAR grind.
Of course, it has to be remembered that Dillon did score a huge win in the season-opening Daytona 500. However, it must also be pointed out that the restrictor plate tracks of the Daytona International Speedway and the Talladega Super Speedway hardly serve as an indicator of success for the other 32 events on the series schedule. So while Dillon did win the sport’s most prestigious event, the races that followed were in no way impacted by that victory.
From the Daytona 500 up to the MENCS race held on the road course at Watkins Glen International, which consists of a span of 22 races, Dillon scored ten top-15 finishes. Conversely, in eight fewer opportunities over what basically amounts to the final third of the season the grandson of team owner Richard Childress registered a total nine top-15 results. That’s just one shy of what the No. 3 team earned in the first two-thirds of the year.
Perhaps even more importantly, Dillon posted five top-15s in the final five events held on the tracks that measure 1.5 or 2 miles in length. This fact is important due to the number of the races held on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tour at venues of that length. To run consistently well at those places increases the likelihood that a team will be in the running for a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs over the course of final ten races.
Dillon’s win in the ‘Great American Race’ locked him into the playoffs. However, a crash on the cookie-cutter turned road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway proved too devastating to be overcome and the young pilot was unable to qualify for the ‘Round of 12’. However, the No. 3 team did close out the season on a strong enough note for Dillon to end up in the 13th position of the standings.
Newman will not return to the RCR fold in 2019 as he will move on to Roush Fenway Racing. Daniel Hemric has been moved up from the RCR NASCAR Xfinity Series program and will step into the No. 8 machine(formerly No. 31) for that organization.
But while he was still with RCR, Newman also contributed to the late season resurgence. In his first 22 races of 2018, the veteran racer achieved nine top-15 finishes. The final 14 events resulted in ten top-15s for the Indiana native. And like his teammate, he was solid on the tracks of 1.5 to 2 miles in length as he finished 15th or better in four of the final five races on those tracks.
While Richard Childress Racing was not necessarily running at the very front of the pack, the company’s performance noticeably improved over the final third of the campaign. The trick for the team about to celebrate its 50th anniversary as a NASCAR operation will be to carry that momentum into the upcoming season as they begin the year with one returning driver and one new driver taking their places behind the wheels of their respective Chevrolet machines.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR
or on Facebook –> InsideCircleTrack/Facebook