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Childress Throws Down the Gauntlet for 2011
Richard Childress took the microphone at the very beginning of Tuesday's media visit to his Richard Childress Racing shop and wasted little time in making a bold proclamation.
"This year is the year to knock Jimmie [Johnson] from the throne," Childress said. "We were close with Kevin [Harvick] last year, but this is the year to do it -- and it's going to be RCR, I feel certain. So I'm going to make that [prediction]."
If they felt it, none of them was admitting to it. As the preseason media tour swung by the RCR complex Tuesday afternoon, the overwhelming vibe was one of supreme confidence heading into the new season.
Coming off a 2010 season in which each of the RCR teams made the Chase and Harvick came close to capturing it -- eventually finishing third behind five-time champion Johnson and runner-up Denny Hamlin -- this is a race organization that clearly believes it is poised to not only climb to the top, but to stay there. Last year Harvick led the points standings through 20 of the 26-race schedule that made up the regular season, winning three races along the way.
"Obviously it was a great season compared to the season before [when his No. 29 team failed to make the Chase and finished 19th in the standings]," Harvick said. "And I think we learned a lot. I think as we moved into the Chase and realized how we were able to prepare and the mind-set that came with that to compete on a regular basis, that was important. Hopefully we can build upon that and make it even better."
Teammate Jeff Burton, who finished 12th in points last season, was more pointed when asked about the bold prediction made by his boss.
"I'm glad that Richard has the confidence to say we're going to win it. I'd be real nervous if he didn't," Burton said.
"And we believe we can. Other teams do, too. Especially this time of the year, every team beats their chests pretty hard. But the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of capable people at RCR that can get it done. There is something to be learned from coming close and not getting it done; there is something to be learned from every team. So it's good to have Richard stand here today and say we're going to get it done. Richard is committed to making the things happen here so we can get it done, and I'm proud of him for sitting here and saying it."
Childress later backed off his opening statement, but only a little. He said he simply wants to have his four drivers -- Paul Menard was added this year as the fourth to a group that already included 2010 Chasers Harvick, Burton and Clint Bowyer -- in position to take a turn on the throne when Johnson finally forfeits his crown.
"Nothing lasts forever in life. His time will run out -- and when it does, RCR wants to be there with one of these drivers to win that championship," Childress said.
"I just know how hard we worked this winter. We do every winter. But I know how prepared our company is with all four of our Cup teams, and I just feel this year is our shot to get it done."
Bowyer said the key for his No. 33 Chevrolet team and the rest of the RCR gang will be not to rest on last year's laurels.
"We had a good season, but that's in the past. You are only as good as your last race, your last performance," said Bowyer, who won two races and finished 10th in the standings despite a crippling penalty levied by NASCAR after the first of those wins in the Chase-opening race at New Hampshire. "We feel like we're ready for Daytona. We just got back from the tests there. We thought we made gains. We found things that were good; we found things that weren't good. It's important to get those things out of the way right now."
Childress admitted that he and his employees have a swagger about them as they gear up for the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 20. He did not apologize for it.
"All the guys we've got, my job is to give them everything it takes to win. And we do that week in and week out, and we've got some great people and some great race drivers. That's why I think we've got a great shot this year. Anything can happen. This sport can turn you upside down in a minute, as you know. But we feel we're more prepared and more confident this season than any season yet."
Childress said getting all three of his drivers in the Chase last year, and having Harvick come so close to winning a championship, made this brief offseason different from other recent ones when RCR perhaps felt it was still playing catch-up to Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing or Roush Fenway Racing. This time, they headed into the offseason believing they belonged amongst the elite in the sport, like, Childress said, when the legendary Dale Earnhardt once drove for his organization.
"Most seasons you can't wait for it to be over; we hated to see last season end. We had a lot of good things going," Childress said. "This winter we carried a lot of the good things we worked on last year over into this season. It's just a matter of using it as a building block. If we can keep that momentum going this year, we're going to have a good shot at that championship."
He laughed when he was asked if he perceived Johnson and his No. 48 team being more vulnerable this year than in recent seasons.
"We thought they were last year and they proved us all wrong," Childress said. "Everybody sets the bar for you, and Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson and all that crew have set it for us to go after. It's no different than when Dale [Earnhardt] and RCR were winning championships. We were the bar then, but sooner or later you're going to get knocked off. We want to be the ones to knock [Johnson] off.
"I get those gut feelings. I just have that gut feeling that this year is our year, and we're going to throw everything at it that we can. If we don't win it, it won't be because we don't give it everything we've got."