This story appears in the Feb. 21, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING
5 WINS / 65 TOP 10s / 8 DNFs*
1. Kevin Harvick In his 11th year with RCR, might the man they call Happy actually have something to smile about?
2. Clint Bowyer Admittedly lost focus over the summer but bounced back for two Chase wins.
3. Jeff Burton The entire garage would love The Mayor to win a Cup, but time is running out.
4. Paul Menard With his fourth team in as many years, but he's signed with RCR through 2013.
Where They're Going: UP
There's no doubt the resources and data produced by a four-car team often outstrip those of a three-car operation.Otherwise, Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway wouldn't have been atop the totem pole as long as they have. But RCR's 2009 stab at expansion backfired; none of the four cars qualified for the Chase. Now, after a one-year contraction, Richard Childress has chosen to again conduct a quartet. He says the hard lessons learned in '09 -- not starting production early enough -- have made him ready for this season's return to four. "We had the resources to do it two years ago," Childress says, "but we didn't manage them correctly. Not in the beginning, anyway. But if you look at our number at the end of that season, we made pretty quick progress. We've had a year now to break it down and construct the right approach for this go-round."
Playing the role of Casey Mears will be Menard, who wisely bailed on Richard Petty Motorsports just as that ship began to sink last summer. In the past, any team owner who signed the home-improvement store heir was criticized as a money grabber, interested more in the corporate logo on the hood than in the name over the driver's window. But Menard did Childress a different kind of favor, piloting his second-tier RPM ride to six top 10s, quadrupling his career total to eight. "People can say what they want about Paul," scoffs Burton. "But Richard didn't stuff that museum full of trophies by not being able to identify driving talent."
6 WINS / 59 TOP 10s / 11 DNFs