Michigan International Speedway
RCR teammates finished fourth (Paul Menard), eighth (Clint Bowyer), 14th, (Kevin Harvick) and 24th (Jeff Burton).
RCR teammates are second (Harvick), 10th (Bowyer), 16th (Menard) and 25th (Burton) in the Sprint Cup Series point standings following Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway.
Menard and Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Team Record Season-Best Finish at Michigan
Paul Menard and the No. 27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards team brought home their best result of the 2011 season with a fourth-place finish at Michigan International Speedway in Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. For the third consecutive weekend, Menard started the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing entry inside the top 10 when he recorded the ninth-fastest lap in Saturday afternoon's time trials session. On Sunday afternoon, the first caution flag of the day was displayed on lap eight with Menard having already advanced to the eighth position. Crew chief Slugger Labbe made the call to change only right-side tires when Menard brought the neon yellow and black Chevrolet to pit road for service, leaping to sixth for the restart on lap 11. He moved up to the third spot on lap 20, where he remained until the next caution period on lap 26. He hit pit road pit stop for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment. Menard restarted sixth and, over the next 30 laps, struggled with a much-altered machine, sliding back to the 12th position. He reported the car had tightened up and lost significant grip around the two-mile speedway.
As teams began to cycle through green-flag pit stops, Labbe called his driver to pit road on lap 61 and instructed the No. 27 crew to change the four tires, with a small air pressure adjustment to the right rear, add fuel, go back on the track bar change from the previous stop and put one round of wedge into the machine. A caution on lap 84 provided the team an additional opportunity to work on the car's handling. In addition to four tires and fuel, Labbe called for an additional round of wedge to be put in the left rear. The stellar performance of the pit crew moved Menard into the top 10 for the restart. He hovered in or just barely outside of the 10th spot for the next 35 laps. As green-flag pit stops began once again, the Chevrolet Impala's excellent gas mileage allowed for Menard to stay out and lead laps, gaining a valuable championship point. Another solid performance on pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment put Menard into a very favorable position should fuel mileage play its part in the outcome of the 200-lap event. Unfortunately, a caution on lap 158 changed everyone's strategies. It was back to pit road for four tires, fuel and a slight air pressure change for the No. 27 racer. Neither gaining nor losing positions during the pit stop, Menard lined up in the sixth position for the restart. Labbe informed him that the car was full of fuel and could complete the race without another stop, but to please conserve where he could, just to be safe.
The restart on lap 163 proved dicey as cars went three wide around the race track. Menard grabbed the fifth spot on lap 164 and fourth on the following lap. He rode there for 15 laps and was overtaken on lap 185, returning him to fifth once again. It was widely known up and down pit road that some teams in the top five could not complete the race without additional fuel. With only 10 laps remaining, the caution flag was displayed for the final time and, again, pit strategy came into play. The Labbe-led crew quickly changed only the right-side tires on the No. 27 machine, gaining Menard one position on pit road and returning him to the race track to restart fourth. When the green flag dropped for the final five-lap dash, Menard elbowed his way through the crowded restart and hung onto the fourth position until the checkered flag was displayed, capturing his highest finish thus far in his inaugural season with RCR.
PAUL MENARD: "We've had a rough month, no doubt about that. The Menards team needed a good run. We've had a fast car for the most part, just been struggling to put together a full race. We weren't really sure what we had in practice. The car drove well. It seemed like we lacked a little bit of speed. We qualified in the top 10 and that's (track position) so important at these intermediate tracks. Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) made a good call to take two tires at the end. The guys gave me some good pit stops and the last stop we kind of went back and forth about whether to take two (tires) or four. A lot of people took two, just as we did. Clean air is so important. I was still a little bit too tight at the end but we definitely needed a good run and we got one today with the Pittsburg Paints/Menards Chevrolet. It was just a really solid weekend and that's what we needed."
Harvick, No. 29 BudweiserTeam Gain Spots in Point Standings with 14th-Place Finish in Michigan
Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team rallied from late-race contact with the outside retaining wall to finish 14th in Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Raceway. Harvick started from the 22nd position and radioed to the team a few laps after the green flag waved that the car's handling was too tight. Crew chief Gil Martin had the No. 29 Budweiser crew making chassis and air pressure adjustments to help improve the car's handling starting with the team's first trip to pit road at lap nine. Harvick cracked the top 10 on lap 31 after a great stop by the crew on their second trip to pit road and a strong restart by the driver on lap 30. The No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet remained inside the top 10 for the next 136 laps as the team continued to make adjustments as the track changed with the weather as it went from sunny and warm to cloudy and cool. A few laps after the lap-163 restart, Harvick radioed to the team that the car was loose and "just sideways." The following lap, he got into the wall and damaged the right side of his No. 29 ride. Harvick fell back to the 21st position over the course of the next 10 laps. The caution flag waved with 10 laps to go with Harvick running in 17th position. Martin called him to pit road for fresh tires, fuel and to repair the car's right-side damage. He restarted from the 18th position when the green flag waved at lap 195. In the closing laps, Harvick worked his way to as high as 12th before taking the checkered flag in 14th position.
KEVIN HARVICK: "We just got really loose at the end. I should have just backed her down a little bit and wound up getting the car into the fence. But, the team did a good job of fixing it and we did what we could with it at the end and were able to come home OK."
Late-Race Transmission Woes Lead to Top-25 Finish for Burton, Cat Racing Team in Michigan
Transmission issues with less than 50 laps to go in Sunday's running of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway led to a 24th-place finishing result for Jeff Burton and the No. 31 Caterpillar team. For the second-consecutive week, the South Boston, Va., native rolled off the starting grid 33rd and, despite being mired in traffic, jockeyed for position that placed him inside the top 20 prior to the halfway mark of the 200-lap contest. As the competition wore on, changing track conditions produced a loose-handling Caterpillar Chevrolet that Burton tussled with during the middle to latter stages of the race. He raced between the 16th and 21st positions before reporting problems with the transmission at the lap-158 caution period. After a quick four-tire pit stop, Burton returned to action 15th but, because the shifter was stuck in fourth gear, quickly dropped to 24th before reaching full speed. The 21-time Sprint Cup Series race winner was able to regain five spots and was producing good lap times before the final caution of the day was displayed with 10 laps to go. Crew chief Todd Berrier chose to bring Burton to pit road for fresh right-side tires and to diagnose the transmission issue but it was a problem that couldn't be addressed on pit road. Burton returned to action in 19th on lap 195. However, the final five circuits wasn't enough time for him to reclaim the five positions he lost as a result of the faulty transmission and crossed the finish line 24th.
JEFF BURTON: "Today was another tough break for the Cat Racing team. The No. 31 Chevrolet was really good in the early goings of the race but the track loosened up about halfway and we tried different adjustments to help tighten up the car. Unfortunately, we had transmission issues toward the end of the race that resulted in a lot of lost spots but we haven't had an problem in a while and that's a true testament to what is being built in the shop. We'll address the situation on Monday and then turn our focus to Sonoma."
A Hard-Fought Top-10 Finish for Bowyer, No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Team at Michigan
Clint Bowyer started Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway from deep in the field after earning a 27th-place starting berth during qualifying on Saturday. Although the Emporia, Kan., native spent most of the race struggling to place the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet into the top 20 due to handling issues, smart driving and pit strategy allowed the Richard Childress Racing team to bring home a top-10 finish. From the start of the race, Bowyer noted that his yellow and red Chevrolet was loose on initial runs. He pitted under caution on laps eight and 26, and was running 23rd when he made his first green-flag pit stop of the day on lap 60 for four Goodyear tires, two cans of fuel and a wedge adjustment to try and tighten up the car. However, the changes did not allow Bowyer to gain position on the race track, as he began to lose grip, prompting crew chief Shane Wilson to bring the Chevrolet back down pit road during a lap-84 caution for four tires, fuel and additional chassis adjustments. Soon after, Bowyer developed a tight-handling condition, a problem that plagued him for the remainder of the race. As Bowyer struggled with his chassis, Wilson began to formulate a pit strategy that allowed the team to advance their position in the field. As teams began to make a second round of green-flag pit stops, Wilson advised Bowyer to remain on the race track until most other teams cycled through their pit stops. Bowyer advanced to fifth in the field before pitting under green on lap 122 for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment. Pitting two additional times under lap-157 and lap-191 caution periods, Bowyer continued to struggle with a tight-handling No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, but was able to cross the checkers in eighth.
CLINT BOWYER: "What a tough day. It just feels like our chassis package is a bit off from the body package on this car. Shane Wilson (crew chief) made some good calls on pit road to put us in position to get a top-10 finish. To finish eighth after the way the car handled throughout the race is an accomplishment."