BROOKLYN, Mich. – Richard Childress Racing got better when it got smaller, shrinking from four teams to three in the offseason. So it stands to reason that Childress might think twice before taking another shot at expanding his team.
Of course, the possibility of landing driver Paul Menard — and his lucrative family sponsorship — can be very convincing.
Childress announced this week that he'll field a fourth car for Menard next season, with the car number and crew chief to be determined. And Childress expects it to work much better than last year.
"We're going to do this team completely different than we did that one," Childress said.
It could be a risky move for Childress, given the fact that his team suddenly reclaimed its status as one of NASCAR's best after it went from four cars to three.
Going into Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway, Childress driver Kevin Harvick is leading the Sprint Cup series points standings and teammate Jeff Burton is third. Clint Bowyer is 13th, 10 points out of the final Chase-eligible spot.
It's a dramatic turnaround from 2009, when Childress fielded four cars and none made the Chase. When Childress eliminated the fourth car driven by Casey Mears, the best crew members from that team were absorbed into the other three teams.
"I have been a proponent for, ever since I have been at RCR, to expand to four teams," Burton said. "And even last year, when we had the fourth team and we weren't running well, It wasn't the fault of the fourth team. Now, I will tell you when we went from four to three, we got strong because we took the very best people and made three. So what that means is, when we do four, we have got to go get the very best people to create four. We can't take from the three that we have to make four, we have to expand to four."
If done correctly, Burton said an expansion could make the team even stronger.
"We didn't do four teams right. We did four teams wrong," Burton said. "This time (we have) a clear picture of what we did wrong and we've got to make sure we learned that and that is what Richard is committed to. I would not have supported a fourth team if we were doing it just to hire enough people to run the fourth team."
Childress said his team is better organized with stronger engine and engineering programs, putting it in better position to expand. RCR also appears to be in good shape off the track. Childress said he expects to announce a sponsorship deal for Harvick next week, eliminating one of the team's biggest concerns.
"I think that is the biggest thing, it's about people," Childress said. "I think we put together the people to make this thing really work and to have a fourth team be competitive as well."
Burton doesn't think Childress will skimp when it comes to resources.
"If you are going to have more funding and you are going to have more stuff, you have to build a team that is stronger," Burton said. "You have to build a company that is stronger. There has to be a benefit of having a fourth team. If you have a fourth team just to employ the people that work on the fourth team — and you don't expand engineering, you don't expand aerodynamics, you don't expand engine (research and development) — you don't expand all the things that are required to be fast in this sport today, then you have done yourself a disservice."
They'll certainly have more funding, courtesy the Menard family's Wisconsin-based home improvement company. Menard's father, John Menard Jr., has a net worth of $5.5 billion according to Forbes magazine.
But that's a mixed blessing for Menard, who will need better finishes to fend off the perception that he only has a ride because he has money.
"Earlier on, you heard a lot of that," Menard said. "It's all talk though. It's all what you make of it and I've looked past that and grew past that. People will always be talking about it and there is nothing that you can do about that. Bottom line is we're a racing family, we have a racing heritage, and I'm a race car driver and that's what we enjoy doing. It's kind of our hobby, it's part of our business, and it's worked in the past and will work in the future."
Childress said he hears the same thing about his grandson, Austin Dillon, who drives in the truck series.
"Paul does the job on the racetrack," Childress said. "It's something that he loves to do and a passion. It's not just because he's got the sponsor that comes along. He's got the drive to go out and want to win just like Austin. I get that question and Austin gets the same thing. The difference is both of these guys really want to go out and win."