Team owner Richard Childress watches practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., on Oct. 11. (AP Photo)
Back in 1995, a young gun named Jeff Gordon won the Cup championship, ending Dale Earnhardt’s bid to win his third straight. Gordon’s title was the first of four in a row for team owner Rick Hendrick, and it signaled a changing of the guard in NASCAR.
At the time, nobody had any way of knowing just how dominant Hendrick Motorsports would ultimately become. Starting with Gordon’s title, Hendrick went on to win 10 of the next 18 Cup championships. On the flip side, nobody back in 1995 had any way of knowing that Richard Childress’s days as a championship-winning car owner were over.
To this day, it seems like some people still haven’t gotten the memo. When people talk of the elite car owners in the sport, Childress’s name is still on the list even though this will be the 19th straight season his team has failed to win a Cup championship.
In the span since Earnhardt’s final title in 1994, Joe Gibbs has won three championships and Jack Roush has won two. Roger Penske and Robert Yates have won titles, as has the team co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas.
For those having a hard time accepting the state of affairs at Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick spelled it out after mixing it up with Childress’s grandson Ty Dillon in a Camping World Truck Series race in Martinsville on Saturday. The focus at RCR seems to be centered on grooming Ty and his brother Austin for the Sprint Cup Series.
Sure, those were the words of a frustrated driver, a guy who has watched for years as his race team has fallen woefully behind the competition on the speed charts and made frantic efforts to catch back up only to be left behind when the next wave of innovation swept through the Charlotte area. For years, Harvick has been surrounded by teammates who are either past their prime (Jeff Burton), not ready for prime time (Paul Menard) or smart enough to go elsewhere (Clint Bowyer).
Harvick has finally cut ties with Childress, and his frustration started seeping out in that post-race interview on Saturday. The apology on Sunday morning came only after Harvick realized that he still had to drive four races for RCR and wanted to finish up 2013 behind the wheel of decent race cars.
But after Homestead, he’ll be on to greener pastures while Childress continues to push greener drivers toward seats in his Cup fleet. And that’s Childress’s prerogative. It’s his race team, and he can do with it as he wishes.
But at some point, people who follow the sport need to quit putting Childress on such a high pedestal. Aside from climbing out of the No. 3 and handing the keys to Earnhardt, Childress’s credentials as a team owner aren’t all that impressive. I can’t think of another race team that has done as little with as much as RCR has over the past two decades.
Gordon won the Cup race in Martinsville on Sunday nearly 18 years after wrapping up the first of four Cup titles. As he celebrated the 88th win of his illustrious career, it was hard to ignore the gray in Gordon’s hair. He’s certainly not a kid anymore.
Ty and Austin Dillon are kids, and maybe they’re on the cusp of turning the racing world upside down the way Gordon did almost 20 years ago. Childress had better hope so. The future of his race team is riding on it.
Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. On Twitter, he is @KTNSportsOngie. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear him Monday mornings at 9:05 on “Good Morning Tri-Cities” with Tom Taylor on 870 AM and 100.7 FM.