Paul Menard and the Duracell/Menards Team Wrap Season with 16th-Place Finish at Homestead
Paul Menard and the Duracell/Menards team endured series of rain showers and a persistent tight-handling condition to finish in the 16th position in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With rain cancelling all track activity on Friday, NSCS teams had a packed Saturday with two practice sessions and time trials. A less-than-satisfactory qualifying lap put the No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevrolet in the 23rd spot when the green flag dropped for the 267-lap affair. A light shower slowed the field under the caution flag on lap 13. Menard reported that the No. 27 machine was tight on entry and in the centers of the corners. Crew chief Slugger Labbe called for four new Goodyear tires, fuel and air pressure adjustments on lap 15. Restarting in the 23rd position, the Eau Clair, Wis., native continued to search for a line around the 1.5-mile race track where the Chevrolet Impala handled best, but told the team that the handling was a little improved. On a visit to pit road on the lap-34 caution period, Labbe instructed the pit crew to change right-side tires only, moving Menard into the top 10 for the restart on lap 38. On the ensuing green-flag run, Menard reported that the car had very little grip early in the run, was loose on entry and tight on exit while maintaining a position in the top 20. Heavy rain began to fall on lap 107, requiring NASCAR to display the red flag and park the field on pit road while the jet dryers worked to return the track surface to safe racing conditions. One hour and 14 minutes later, engines were fired and the cars returned to the track under caution. Menard brought the Duracell/Menards Chevrolet to the attention of his pit crew where he received chassis and air pressure adjustments, four tires and fuel. The team also worked to repair fender and extensive rear quarter-panel damage received from contact with a competitor. For the remainder of the 2011 season finale, Menard continued to battle a slight tight-handling condition under the lights, but the continued efforts of Labbe and the team allowed him to compete in and around the top 15, taking the checkered flag in the 16th position. The Brickyard 400 winner earned a 17th-place result in the 2011 driver championship point standings, the best in his five-year NSCS career.
Start - 23 Finish - 16 Laps Led - 0 Points - 17
PAUL MENARD QUOTE: "This was a great first year at Richard Childress Racing and I want to thank this No. 27 Duracell/Menards team for all of their hard work. We are so much further ahead than we were a year ago, and I am looking forward to getting back at it with them in 2012. We were a little too tight all night at Homestead (Miami Speedway), but we gained another position in the points, which we were working to do."
Harvick, Budweiser Close Out 2011 Season on Strong Note
Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team closed out the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway with an eighth-place finish in Sunday's 400-lap event. Harvick started the race from the 21st position and raced his way up to 16th by the time the caution flag waved for the first time at lap 12 for rain. The Richard Childress Racing team elected to pit at lap 14 for right-side tires and fuel to gain track position and restarted in the eighth position at lap 21. When the caution flag waved again at lap 33, Harvick reported that the car needed rear grip exiting the corners. Crew chief Gil Martin called Harvick to pit road for right-side tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment at lap 35. The two-tire call once again gained Harvick track position and he restarted in the third position at lap 37. On the following run, Harvick told the team that the car was too loose. Martin called Harvick to pit lane for four tires and fuel under green-flag conditions at lap 76. The caution flag waved after pit stops had cycled through at lap 82 with Harvick running in the sixth position. Martin decided to have Harvick stay out and, as a result, he restarted fifth at lap 87. Harvick worked his way up to third before the caution flag waved again for rain at lap 107. He told the team the car was "too loose up off (the corner)," but was "starting to get better." As the rain continued, NASCAR brought the drivers down pit road and put out the red flag. Jet dryers worked for an hour and 14 minutes to dry the track before the race resumed. The No. 29 Budweiser team pitted at lap 113 for right-side tires and fuel and restarted in the lead. Harvick slipped back to the sixth position at lap 122 and informed the team that the car was still a tad too loose. The Bakersfield, Calif., native pitted again for right-side tires under caution at lap 135 and once again restarted in the lead. When the caution flag waved again at lap 154, Harvick told the team that the car was "sideways," so Martin brought him to pit road for four tires and fuel. Harvick restarted 17th at lap 160 and raced his way up to 11th at lap 192. The team pitted under green five laps later for four tires and fuel. Once green-flag stops cycled through, Harvick was posted in the seventh position. The caution flag waved again for rain at lap 212. The No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team pitted for the final time at lap 214, taking four tires and fuel. Harvick restarted 10th and was able to gain a couple positions in the final laps of the race to finish eighth.
Start - 21 Finish - 8 Laps Led - 12 Points - 3
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTE: "We struggled a bit with being too loose tonight, but came back and got a decent finish with the Budweiser Chevrolet to end the season. The guys did a good job all year. I'm looking forward to some downtime in the off season and then getting back after it again in Daytona in February."
Burton, Cat Racing Team Cap Off 2011 Season with Top-10 Effort at Homestead
In typical Jeff Burton fashion, the driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet overcame a disappointing qualifying effort of 31st position to score a top-10 finish in Sunday's 400 miler at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was the Cat Racing team's fourth top-10 run in the last five races of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, catapulting them from 24th to 20th in the point standings. The 267-lap showdown saw five caution periods in the first half of the race, including a 74-minute red flag for rain. During that time, the South Boston, Va., native tussled with a temperamental-handling black and yellow machine that received doses of relief in the form of four pit stops, advancing him to 15th in the 43-car field rundown by the halfway mark. Despite still needing further adjustments to aide in Burton's climb, crew chief Luke Lambert made the call to keep the Caterpillar Chevrolet on track during the next two caution periods at laps 141 and 154 in order to put the team within the much needed fuel window. That decision placed the 21-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner at the point on the lap-160 restart. He was able to hold his own inside the top seven positions on old tires, versus his competitor's fresh tires, before making a scheduled pit stop on lap 190 for four new tires, further adjustments and fuel. Although Burton returned to action 28th, he steadily moved up the leaderboard as other teams pitted, returning to the top 10 with 65 laps remaining. Another rain shower slowed the competition 23 laps later and pit strategy talk commenced between the veteran driver and Lambert. It was determined the No. 31 team would make their last pit stop of the day on the ensuing lap while some teams chose to stay out and make their final stop in the laps ahead. Burton restarted in the 16th position on lap 230 and was able to make his way around several competitors before sliding into 10th with eight circuits to go, holding onto the coveted spot when the checkered flag was displayed.
Start - 31 Finish - 10 Laps Led - 4 Points - 20
JEFF BURTON QUOTE: "Our team set a goal before the race of running the best we possibly could and to finish inside the top 20 in the point standings and we were able to accomplish both. It's disappointing to set those types of goals, but that's the unfortunate position we were in. The performance this year was not up to par but our string of top-10 finishes toward the end of the season is a promising feeling going into next season."
Bowyer Finishes off RCR Career with Sixth-Place Result at Homestead-Miami Speedway
Clint Bowyer, driving in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race for Richard Childress Racing, scored his 16th top-10 finish of the 2011 season by bringing home a hard-fought sixth-place effort at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After piloting the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Chevrolet to a 17th-place starting position during Saturday's time trials, the 32-year-old Bowyer started off the 267-lap event very happy with the handling on the race car before the first caution flag of the event waved at lap 12 for light rain at the Homestead, Fla.-based facility. After taking two right-side tires on the first pit stop of the day, the five-time Sprint Cup Series race winner reported his Chevrolet was too tight upon entry into the 20-degree banked corners of the 1.5-mile oval and that the decision to change only two tires wasn't a good idea at that stage of the race. Crew chief Shane Wilson called Bowyer to pit road again under caution on lap 34, which allowed the "Helping Hands" pit crew to change four tires and make minor air pressure and chassis adjustments. Upon completion of the pit stop, Bowyer settled into the top 10 for the next 75 laps until another consistent rain shower led to a one hour, 14 minute red-flag period. During the delay, the Emporia Kan., native was able to exit his Chevrolet Impala and meet with his RCR teammates and Wilson on pit road to discuss track conditions and potential adjustments. Once the track was dried by NASCAR officials, Bowyer brought the red and yellow machine to the attention of the "Helping Hands" pit crew who put on four fresh Goodyear tires, filled it with Sunoco E15 fuel and took a spring rubber out of the left rear. Those specific changes made the No. 33 Chevrolet handle much better immediately on short runs. However, during longer green-flag periods, the racer became very loose and Bowyer dropped back through the 43-car field before eventually clawing his way forward into the top 15 at lap 182. With just under 80 laps to go, Wilson directed the RCR driver to start conserving fuel so the team could play pit strategy, needing to make only one more pit stop for the remainder of the event while most competitors needed to make two. The strategy worked out perfectly as the caution flag was displayed one last time for rain on lap 214, just three laps after Bowyer made his final four-tire pit stop of the day. After running under yellow-flag conditions until lap 230 while NASCAR officials brought out jet dryers to dry the track, Bowyer restarted the event in the top 10 with 37 laps to go and continued to put together consistently-fast lap times before eventually coming to the checkered flag in sixth-place. The 16th top-10 finish of the season, along with one win (Talladega Superspeedway-October) and four top-five finishes, helped him secure 13th-place in the final 2011 NSCS driver championship point standings. In six fulltime seasons with the Welcome, N.C.-based organization, Bowyer amassed five wins, two poles, 31 top-five and 95 top-10 finishes.
Start - 17 Finish - 6 Laps Led - 0 Points - 13
CLINT BOWYER QUOTE: "I can't thank Richard (Childress, team owner) enough for giving me the opportunity to drive his race cars these last six years. This organization is like family to me and I will miss everyone very much."