RCR in Motor City ... In 119 starts at MIS, RCR has earned three wins - two of them with Dale Earnhardt (June 1987 and June 1990) and the most recent victory with Kevin Harvick (August 2010). Additionally, RCR boasts 16 top-five and 39 top-10 finishes with nine different drivers including Childress, a former driver in NASCAR's top division, who recorded top 10s at Michigan in June 1978 and August 1979.
The Collective RCR ... Over the season's first 14 races, RCR's four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries have notched three wins, 10 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. The No. 31 team kicked off the 2011 season with a non-points win in the second Duel 150 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway. The No. 29 team visited Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in March and backed that up with a win the following weekend at Martinsville Speedway. In May, Harvick and the No. 29 team visited Winner's Circle at Charlotte Motor Speedway, claiming the checkers in one of NASCAR's marquee events - the Coca-Cola 600. RCR-prepared Chevrolets have also completed 17,445 out of 18,192 total laps (95.9 percent) with drivers Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Harvick and Paul Menard, who have led a combined 443 laps. At least one RCR driver has led laps in each of the season's first 14 events with the lone exceptions being Kansas and Pocono.
Get to the Points ... Following the Cup Series race at Pocono, Harvick remained fourth in the point standings but closed the gap on the leader, advancing to 11 points outside the top spot. Bowyer gained one spot, to eighth, and is 48 points in arrears to cracking the top five. Menard also moved up one spot, to 19th, in the standings, 56 points outside the top 10 while Burton slipped to 25th in the points rundown, sitting 33 markers in arrears to the top 20.
This Week's Pittsburg Paints/Menards Chevrolet at Michigan International Speedway ... Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 326 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala was a brand new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season and was last seen in competition on track at Bristol Motor Speedway where Menard brought home a fifth-place result after starting from the fourth position. This car also saw paces this year during the non-points Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway where Menard started third and finished 11th.
By the Numbers in the Irish Hills ... In nine career NSCS starts at the two-mile oval, Menard has finished each of his contested races and completed 97.5 percent of his laps (1,761 of 1,806), leading for five circuits. He has an average starting position of 31st and an average finishing position of 25.1, with his best finish of 11th coming in the June 2008 event. His recorded his best start during his last visit to the Brooklyn, Mich.-based facility when he took the green flag in the 10th position (August 2010). He also owns one top-five and four top-10 finishes in five NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at MIS.
How do you feel about your position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings and your Chase chances at this point in the season? "We're not where we want to be in points. Over the last four or five weeks we've fallen a lot in the point standings. Most of the races we've had fast cars, but just haven't been able to put together a solid race. That's what we're hoping to do in this summer stretch, put together full races. I know we have fast cars."
Statistically, you run well at the larger tracks. How do you feel about your car going to Michigan (International Speedway)? "I really enjoy racing at Michigan. We had a really fast car there last year in practice, but the pace fell off during the race. You kind of have to guess where your gaps are as far as front-end settings are concerned. We missed that last year. This year we just have to try and put it all together."
Will you be able to use what you learned in last year's race when you return to MIS with RCR? "A lot of things have changed on the cars, but we have really strong motors and I think that is an upgrade from last year. It definitely gives you confidence going in with the ECR engines, plus, RCR has a history of running well there."
MIS has often been called a "driver's track." Why do you think it has that reputation? "You can move all over the place at MIS. You can run from the top to bottom of the racetrack. You're not dependent on certain lines. Instead, you can move around and see where your car works the best."
This Week's Budweiser Chevrolet at Michigan International Speedway ... Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 299 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. The team utilized this race car twice in 2010 and twice this year. Last season, Harvick recorded finishes of second at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2/28) and 19th at Michigan International Speedway (6/13) in this car. So far this year he's driven chassis No. 299 to a win at Auto Club Speedway (3/28) and a 10th-place finish at Dover International Speedway (5/15).
What is the team focusing on as the Chase approaches? "Well, we've already been down the experiment road and have cleaned up some things that needed to be cleaned up as far as packages at different race tracks. As far as winning races, that's really what it's all about for us right now. We're trying to put ourselves in position to capitalize on that and, hopefully, capitalize on a few more before the Chase starts."
What is the hardest aspect of running 400 miles at Michigan? "It all depends on how your day is going. If you're having a good day, it's not really hard to tell your guys what you need and everyone is in a good mood. If you're having a bad day, you can get behind at Michigan really fast. Usually, when you're hooked up at Michigan, the leaders have clean air and move through traffic pretty well, but if you're in the middle of the pack, you find yourself getting behind and going a lap down pretty quick. You're going to end up with a green-flag pit stop and a whole bunch of green-flag laps. You just have to be going the time the green flag drops and keep yourself in position."
What will it take to be successful at Michigan? "It all depends on how your car is working and how it's handling. We were fortunate to win the last race that we ran there. The tires wear out a lot. You have a lot of options as a driver to move from the bottom to the top of the race track. I think that's why everyone likes going there. It's a fun race track to race on. You have to have good fuel mileage. You have to have a good handling car. You have to have the whole package."
Are you surprised the No. 29 team has won three races already this season? "We've won some races that we shouldn't have won. We've lost some races we should have won. I think last year, we should have won more races. We were able to capitalize on some races that we should have been able to capitalize on last year. The performance has been good for the last couple of years. The capability of the team has been there for a couple of years, and we've just been able to get off on a good start and make it happen. So it doesn't surprise me."
This Week's Caterpillar Chevrolet at Michigan International Speedway ... Jeff Burton will race chassis No. 288 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. A former No. 29 racer, teammate Kevin Harvick raced this chassis eight times in 2010, earning three top-five and six top-10 finishes. The top-five runs included second-place finishes at Auto Club Speedway (2/21) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (7/25) and Harvick's win at Michigan International Speedway (8/15). Most recently, this RCR entry competed at Pocono Raceway last weekend where Harvick scored a fifth-place finish.
How do you feel about your position right now at the halfway point in the season? How do you assess your chances of making the Chase? "We don't feel good about it. There's no question about that. However, we're not out of it, with the addition of the wild card that was added this year to points. Our whole world changes if we win a race. We probably aren't going to find our way into the top 10 in points between now and then, but that doesn't mean we can't find our way into the Chase."
When you think of Michigan, can you pinpoint something that has made it be an on-again, off-again track for you? "It seems, for whatever reason, that I struggle there. When the car turns well enough it is usually too loose. There have been a few races where I thought we had it going on and could have won the race but things just didn't work out. Overall, it's been a track that we've struggled at more than run well at. As of late, I feel like we haven't run well there. We've just really struggled at Michigan and it has, certainly, been one of our weakest race tracks."
Has Kevin Harvick winning there given you and everyone else a little big more hope going back to Michigan? "It sounds ugly, but I don't remember Kevin (Harvick) winning there. It was so long ago. The thing that we need to do is continue to get better. When we're better at Charlotte, we'll be better at Michigan. When we're better at Michigan, we'll be better at Vegas. It's just a continuation of an improvement of our stuff. I feel optimistic going there. I like the race track. It's fun to race on. I feel like we could have good finishes there."
Clint Bowyer has called Michigan a two-mile dirt track. Do you think the same? "You really slide around a lot and that's what I like about that track. You spend a lot of the time with the back of the car rolled around a lot. It's a really fun race track."
Michigan races sometimes come down to fuel mileage. With the long back stretch and front stretch at Michigan, how do you save fuel? "Well, the only way to save fuel is to save fuel. You can't go fast and save fuel. There are varying degrees of saving fuel. Let's say that you have to save fuel for four laps over 38 laps. To help that, you have to get out of the throttle a lot. If you have to save for a half of lap, then you have to get out of the throttle a little bit earlier and getting back in the throttle a little bit later but, if you have a lot to save, you just have to go partial throttle. You have to do a lot to keep fuel from going to the carburetor."
This Week's Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet at Michigan International Speedway ... Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 350 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Chevrolet Impala, built new for 2011, has now seen action twice this season - the first being a runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway in April and the most recent coming two weeks ago in the Coca-Cola 600 when Bowyer brought home a 15th-place effort.
How do you feel about your point's position right now this season? "Well, we're certainly in this thing, but it's kind of by the skin of our teeth. We just have to keep digging. We've had really some solid spurts and not-so-solid spurts. We just have to try and find an even ground and be solid week in and week out. We have to find that consistency. That's what it takes to be in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and, ultimately, that's what it takes to win a championship once you're in the Chase."
How do you feel about going back to Michigan? "I like racing at Michigan. I like how it's really wide. It opens up and you can run a lot of different lines on the race track. It has been a hit-or-miss track for us. We either run really well there or we don't run well at all. Again, we just have to find consistency on a track like that. That's what it all boils down to."
Does Kevin Harvick's win there last year help out with the mindsets of the guys on the team? "I think he won on fuel mileage. There are just so many things that happen there that you have to capitalize on. You have to be in position and, more times than not, it comes down to stretching that fuel as far as you can."
You've described Michigan as a two-mile dirt track. Describe that sliding-in and sliding-out feeling. "You do slide into the corners a lot more there than any other track that size. You dive off into the corner after five or six laps on your tires and that thing literally backs down in turn three. It's the same for everyone. The person that can slide through it (the corners) the best with the most grip is going to prevail."
People call Michigan a "driver's track." Why is that? "I think it's a driver's track because you really have to get up on the wheel. Things happen, but you have to drive hard. You can make up the difference on that track. I'll tell you, a lot of the bigger intermediate tracks that we go to, you can't do that. At those tracks, you're locked down on the bottom and only as good as the car you're sitting in. There is usually only one line around those other tracks so if your car doesn't run well around that one line, you're in trouble. Michigan isn't that way at all. The driver has to be able to reach out, look around, find grip and if you're not finding grip in the line you're in, go find yourself some in another one. That's where you can make up the most at a track like Michigan."