It’s not news to NASCAR fans that Richard Childress Racing hasn’t been very successful in the two series in which they operate teams – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY – for a few years. In fact, their last Cup Series win came at Phoenix International Raceway with the Number 29 team of Kevin Harvick. While they haven’t made any changes to their Cup driving lineup, they have made some radical changes to their XFINITY lineup, adding two new full time teams. Although the drivers of two of the teams will change throughout the season, they will field five full time XFINITY teams, with three of them competing for the Championship.
Cup Series Drivers Stay the Same, Crew Chief Mix-up
While Ryan Newman has been able to get into The Chase based upon his points performance, Childress hasn’t gotten a win out of any of his drivers in more than three years. We’re still going to see Austin Dillon driving the Number 3, Paul Menard driving the Number 27 and Newman in the 31. However, Dillon will have Slugger Labbe as his crew chief, Matt Borland will be Menard’s and Luke Lambert will be Newman’s. Dillon and Menard will also experience some shake-ups in their pit crews next year.
Ty Dillon Moves to Germaine Racing in the Cup
Ty Dillon has done pretty well the last two years in the XFINITY season. However, RCR has no desire to run the league mandated maximum of four full time Cup teams, so they either had to wait for Menard or Newman to retire, or find another home for the youngest Dillon. This is what they did, moving him over to the Number 13 team at Germaine racing (Casey Mears’ old ride) for the 2017 Cup season.
XFINITY Lineup Changes
The Childress Racing XFINITY lineup is where the major changes will be seen. As mentioned above, Ty Dillon will no longer be driving full time in the Number 3 car. Austin and Menard will get most of the seat time in this car, with other drivers to be announced later. Justin Alexander will come back for his sophomore season as the crew chief for this team.
Ty will drive part time in the Number 3. Other drivers for this team will be announced later, most likely before the season starts. The team will get a new crew chief, rookie Matt Swiderski, who will be moving over from the team’s engineering department. Swiderski sat atop the pit box for the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway, where he helped lead the team to a second place finish.
Brandon Jones will move over to the Number 33 team with his crew chief Nick Harrison, a veteran crew chief. Brendon Gaughan will keep driving the Number 62 and keep his crew chief of 12 seasons Shane Wilson. Both of these drivers will compete for the XFINITY Championship throughout the year.
The new kid on the block for RCR will be the Number 21 car. This will be driven by XFINITY rookie Daniel Hemric, who is moving up from the Brad K Racing Number 19 in the Camping World Truck Series. He will partner with two time NASCAR Championship crew chief Danny Stockman to compete for the driver title. As a rookie, he will also be competing for Rookie of the Year.
Why the Big Changes?
As mentioned above, RCR hasn’t won a Cup race since Kevin Harvick won at PIR back in the Advocare 500 in November. RCR has shaken up the pit box and will shake up the pit crews a bit in order to change that in 2017.
The XFINITY driver changes have come about for a few reasons. Most obvious is that Childress’ youngest grandson Ty will be taking over the Number 13 from Casey Mears. The other big reason is driver age. Brandon Gaughan will probably be ready to retire from full time driving duties in the next few years, and they need to have another “franchise driver” for the XFINITY series when that happens. This could be Jones or it could be rookie Hemric. Only time will tell.
Mr. Childress also has to look to the future in the Cup Series. Neither Newman nor Menard have that many competitive seasons left in them. In fact, if you ask around in the fan groups, both “Rocket Ryan” and Menard are well past their prime, with many saying the only reason Menard is still there is that he brings the money from Menard’s with him, and that money may leave with him.
Finally, there is also the owners’ points championship at stake here. While RCR placed all four teams in the top fifteen last year, their highest ranking was a sixth with the number 2 team. Adding another team, and having Cup regulars do most of the driving (taking into account the new rules regarding Cup drivers playing in the XFINITY field this coming year) gives them that much more of a chance to do better overall in the owners’ standings.