Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Childress Team Is Turning the Corner; with Burton, Harvick in Top 10 and Bowyer Not Far Behind, Team Is a Nextel Cup Force Again

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Childress Team Is Turning the Corner; with Burton, Harvick in Top 10 and Bowyer Not Far Behind, Team Is a Nextel Cup Force Again

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

LONG POND, Pa. - On the same weekend one of his cars finally found victory lane, car owner Richard Childress was in Africa hunting for elephants. He brought home 68-pound tusks as a trophy; Kevin Harvick brought home the winner's trophy from Phoenix.

The April 22 race was a benchmark for the organization that took Dale Earnhardt to six championships in NASCAR's top series. Teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer also had top-10 finishes, giving Childress his first top-10 sweep in nearly three years.

Instead of throwing a party, Childress called everyone together and offered a warning.

"I told everybody, 'Don't be fooled by one race,' " he said. "I look at the whole season. We know the areas we need to improve in. We're constantly working to improve in these areas. We can't let that distract us, but we still have to be prepared. This is a long-term business."

Childress has felt good about his race team before, only to find himself heading down another disappointing losing streak. Yet this time seems different. For the first time since Earnhardt's death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Richard Childress Racing looks like it's on the road to recovery.

"I think we're pretty good, and I feel we've made a lot of gains," he said. "I just think that we should have done some things two or three years ago - and I put a lot of the blame on myself for not making some of the changes I [eventually] made. I've made some changes with some people internally and done some things with people that have been there many, many years.

"... I heard a coach one time say that one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do was to pull out one of his top quarterbacks. And I felt the same way. Sometimes you have to make those changes. You've got to separate the personal side and the business side, and I was probably too slow to make some of those changes," he said.

Childress has used 13 different drivers since Earnhardt's death and he's made nearly as many changes with his crew chiefs. He's settled on the driving threesome of Harvick, Burton and Bowyer.

Harvick ended nearly a year of speculation last month by signing a new contract to remain at RCR because he, at long last, can see the improvement.

"I think our car has been good," Harvick said. "Everybody has put a lot of effort into making our race cars better and trying to make things continue to get better. We're still not where we need to be, but we're definitely competitive. So we're able to contend, it seems like one of us, pretty much every week."

Harvick was third last week at Dover, Del. Burton was fourth. More important, Burton is seventh in the standings, Harvick is eighth and Bowyer, a rookie, is 16th.

On the Busch Series side, Harvick has a commanding 297-point lead with three victories and 12 top-10 finishes in 14 races. …

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