Pivotal offseason for Richard Childress Racing

Jared C. Tilton

Dealing with Kevin Harvick’s impending departure and coming off a disappointing season, it is a pivotal offseason for Richard Childress Racing.

The organization under the microscope in SB Nation's NASCAR offseason analysis series is Richard Childress Racing. The three-car team is coming off a season where it underperformed and is also dealing with a lame duck driver in Kevin Harvick, who has already announced that he will be leaving RCR at the end of 2013.

2012 In The Rearview

Following a season where three of its drivers were victorious and one them was in contention for the title, it is understandable why expectations were high for Richard Childress Racing entering 2012. But those expectations never materialized, as RCR struggled through a season where it lacked speed and chemistry, all of which led the team to dropping from six wins the year before to just a lone victory last year.

All told, Kevin Harvick was the only driver to make an appearance in Victory Lane as well as qualify for Chase. Meanwhile, his two teammates, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton, combined to finish in the top five on just three occasions and finished the year 16th and 19th in points, respectively.

2013 Driver Lineup

Paul Menard (No. 27 Menards Chevrolet); Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet); Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)

Key Changes

RCR has never been shy about mixing and matching crew chiefs, and that again is the case this season.

First, after being dismissed and then brought back late in the year, Gil Martin will be directing Kevin Harvick and the 29 team. Additionally, Luke Lambert has been promoted from RCR's No 2 Nationwide Series team to revitalize the sagging fortunes of Jeff Burton. And as he has been since 2010, Slugger Labbe is back as crew chief for Paul Menard.

Biggest Offseason Question

With Harvick already announcing his departure and with Burton becoming a free agent at the end of the year, there is a cloud of uncertainty hovering over RCR this offseason.

Ideally, Richard Childress' grandson, Austin Dillon, will be ready to fill one of the vacancies with younger brother Ty not too far behind. But even then, that still leaves RCR lacking a veteran driver who can be both a leader off the track and a winner on it.

With Harvick already having one foot out the door and Burton perhaps following him, it's going to be a challenge for RCR to build for the future without knowing who to build around.

How the team handles this ambiguity will be interesting and will go a long way to dictating how the 2013 season plays out.

Outlook

Although the immediate future may be an unknown for RCR and features more questions than answers, the long-term future is bright thanks to what's coming up through the pipeline.

But that bright future doesn't change the fact that from all appearances 2013 looks to be a transition year for the team. Not only as the organization tries to play catch-up after a disappointing season, but also as it sorts out NASCAR's new "Gen 6" car. And on top of all this, there is the aforementioned uncertainty about the driver and sponsorship lineup for the following season, which calls into question which direction RCR is headed in.

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