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CUP: RCR Gang Fishing For Title

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With a championship on the line for his driver Kevin Harvick, crew chief Gil Martin and the rest of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing gang are out to sea at the moment. Literally.

Martin is taking his crew deep-sea fishing today, ostensibly to chill out before heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the weekend. That’s where Harvick will try to pass both Jimmie Johnson, who is 31 points ahead of him, and leader Denny Hamlin, who is 46 up on Harvick with only Sunday’s Ford 400 remaining on the 2010 Sprint Cup schedule.

If Harvick can somehow come from behind, RCR will win its first Sprint Cup championship since the late, great Dale Earnhardt in 1994. Martin said his squad is all set.

“We had this car prepared, ready to load in the truck, and I thought it would be a good idea for the guys to go down, just relax, clear their mind from all this for a day or so and go into Homestead because we know that we can finish no worse than third,” Martin said. "So we're going to run flat-out all day long with nothing to lose, and other guys are somewhat — (they) will have to play a little bit of defense. We're not intending on playing any defense at all. We're going to throw the long ball all day long and see where it ends up.”

What Martin is doing has a precedent within RCR.

Twenty years ago, with one race left on the schedule, Earnhardt led Mark Martin by six points heading into the season-ending race, which at the time was at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

In those days, there was a week off between the penultimate race at Phoenix International Raceway and the finale at Atlanta. During that off-week there was testing at the track — Martin and the team then-known as Roush Racing was to test Tuesday through Thursday, with Earnhardt and RCR testing Wednesday and Thursday.

Martin had the full factory support of Ford for the test, taking three Roush Racing Thunderbirds and driving one of Bud Moore’s cars as well as a couple from Robert Yates. In addition, the Wood Brothers were there, along with Ford Motor Co. engineers. After testing six cars on the track, Roush narrowed his selection to two cars, which were then taken to the Lockheed wind tunnel in Marietta, Ga., for further testing.

Meanwhile, the RCR squad pulled what may have been the ultimate psyche job, departing a day early after being satisfied that Earnhardt’s menacing black No. 3 was fast enough to win the title.

“We went there and put on left-side tires and hauled ass about a half a second faster than everybody else,” team owner Richard Childress told NASCAR.com in a 2009 interview. “And then we packed up and went hunting while they stayed there for four days to test. I think we had them tore up (that) we went so fast.”

The strategy worked. Morgan Shepherd won the Atlanta race in a Bud Moore Ford, while Earnhardt finished third and Martin, who wound up driving one of Davey Allison’s Robert Yates Racing Ford Thunderbirds, wound up sixth. Earnhardt’s final margin was 26 points over Martin.

Jack Roush said he learned a lot from that lesson, though it wouldn’t be until 2003, 13 long years later, that he would claim his first Sprint Cup owner’s title.

“Based on my experience with Mark, other things that have happened to us in our championship runs that have been unsuccessful, if you make a lunge for life, if you take a chance on something you think would be better, it very seldom works out,” Roush said. “You should stay with the people that got you there, and continue to do the things procedure-wise and process-wise that you had most success with.

“It's real easy,” Roush continued. “It's the same advice we give the pit crews before the race and sometimes during the race: Just don't try to do something that's Herculean and unreal because it's going to be unreal and you're not going to be able to do it, (and) have a bad stop. Same thing applies to the management of the team, I think.”

Whether RCR can use the get-away-from-it-all strategy to win another championship remains to be seen. But Gil Martin said he and his team are ready to go for it.

“If we win the championship, everybody will have a lot to talk about,” he said.

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.