NASCAR: Richard Childress Racing Fantasy Preview

2006 Team Performance
You are the 2006 Detroit Tigers. You've come off seasons in which you lost 91, 90, 119, 106 and 96 games. But right out of the gate, it's clear you're an entirely different animal this year. You win. Excitement mounts. Expectations mount. Suddenly you find yourself in the Big Dance, and you figure: Why not just go ahead and win it all? And when your hopes and dreams come crashing down around you, you're necessarily devastated. That pretty well sums up RCR's 2006. The 2000s had been a long, cold, lonely decade for Childress leading into last season; no RCR team had ever made the Chase for the Championship, and other than Kevin Harvick's fifth-place finish in '03, no Childress driver had ever even sniffed a points title this decade. Then, suddenly, in '06 all three Childress drivers -- Harvick, Jeff Burton and rookie Clint Bowyer -- put everything together beautifully. Bowyer threatened the top 10 for much of the year, and both Harvick and Burton easily made the Chase, and set out to win their first championships. Burton actually held the lead from after his win in Dover all the way through to Charlotte, meaning there were just five events left. Unfortunately, Burton never managed to get inside the top 10 again in '06, and Harvick couldn't recover from terrible rides at Dover and Atlanta. So, like the Tigers, Childress racers spent this offseason proud of the incredible depths from which they returned, but frustrated about the way it all ended.

2007 Team Outlook
It depends. What do you think the Tigers will do this year? Obviously, they won't sneak up on anyone, not after drilling the Yankees and annihilating the A's to get to the World Series. Nor will anyone be surprised if the RCR boys perform great yet again. But it does seem natural that breakout teams like this take a step back in Year Two. Harvick transformed himself from knucklehead to Mr. Peabody in one year; he was awesome at flat tracks, but also won his first road-course event and performed well on the cookie-cutters. Burton partied like it was 1999 all year, breaking a dry spell longer than Pepe Le Pew's. And Bowyer was just a Denny Hamlin away from Rookie of the Year honors, and came on very strong late. Regression to the mean is possible. But I don't think Harvick gives back his hard-won maturity, and it's hard to imagine Bowyer taking a major step back. Perhaps Burton really did find something in downforce packages he'd been missing all those years, and maybe he stays on top, too. It seems likely someone's going to fall a bit here, but generally speaking, you'd have a hard time arguing RCR doesn't continue its upswing.

07 - Clint Bowyer
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 3rd
Poles, Top-fives, top-10s, DNFs: 0, 4, 11, 4