COMMENTARY | Richard Childress Racing may be seeing some of the biggest team changes in NASCAR in 2014. The departure of both Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton left the door open for Ryan Newman to join the team, and Austin Dillon makes his rookie run in the series, bringing back the iconic No. 3 that long belonged to Dale Earnhardt and no other. With the elevation of both Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan to the Nationwide Series, RCR also shut the doors on its Camping World Truck Series operation. Will veterans Newman and Paul Menard, who remains with the Cup Series side of RCR, be upstaged by a rookie, and will veterans Gaughan and Brian Scott, also returning to RCR on the Nationwide Series side, have the same problems in Cup's "feeder" series?
Sprint Cup Series - The lone carry-over from 2013 is Menard, who came to RCR from Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011 and showed immediate promise by winning the Brickyard 400 at Indy, a track his family has long been associated with as a motorsports sponsor. Alas, that so far is the only win for Menard and crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe. Newman, coming to RCR after spending the last five seasons at Stewart-Haas Racing, won last year's Brickyard 400, the 17th win of his career after winning his 50th pole at his hometown track. While Menard brings the family money to RCR, Newman brings the ability to win.
Seeing the No. 3 on the track again is, well, difficult and weird. Many people, myself included, never thought it would return, much less with a rookie - even if he is the grandson of the team owner. It would probably be a little easier if the team had changed the script of the number on the car. That said, Austin Dillon is a talented driver - two "feeder" series Rookie of the Year awards and two "feeder" series titles in four seasons prove that. He is, however, coming off of what was not his strongest season, even if he did win the Nationwide Series title: no wins and 22 top 10s in 33 races, as opposed to two wins and 27 top 10s in 33 races in 2012, when he finished third. He topped off the season with 11 Cup Series starts (best finishes of 11th and 14th at both Michigan races), and a win in the inaugural "Mudsummer Classic" at Eldora Speedway for the Truck Series. And he's no shoe-in for the ROTY award either - he'll have to contend with Kyle Larson as well as drivers like Parker Kligerman and Justin Allgaier.
Nationwide Series - Ty Dillon takes over his brother's ride in the Nationwide Series, while Gaughan moves the No. 62 and sponsorship from South Point up to the series. Dillon has made 12 Nationwide Series starts over the last two seasons, earning a career-best finish of third at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012 - just his second race in the series. Last season, he scored just one top 10 finish in nine races.
Gaughan's time behind the wheel in NASCAR - be it with Penske, Germain Racing, his family-owned team or RCR, among others - has been tumultuous. His most productive seasons were 2002 and 2003 in the Truck Series, combining for eight wins and 27 top 10 finishes in 47 races. In two previous full-time Nationwide Series seasons (2009 and 2010), Gaughan has just 17 top 10 finishes in 70 races.
Like Gaughan and Menard, Brian Scott brings family money with him in the form of Shore Lodge, sponsor of the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro. A NASCAR competitor since age 19, Scott has two wins in the Truck Series, but has yet to win in four full-time seasons on the Nationwide Series circuit.
Rookie outlook - All eyes will be on Austin Dillon and the No. 3 this year in Cup - he can handle the pressure. Whether he wins the Rookie of the Year award, however, is honestly up in the air. This year's class is one of the strongest in recent memory, with Larson, Kligerman, Allgaier and Ryan Truex just of few of the drivers who will be on his bumper - or in front of him - all season.
On the Nationwide front, Ty Dillon will have to deal with Chase Elliott, who will be driving the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, in the rookie category. They already have a history, namely the last lap at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last September.
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.
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- Austin Dillon
- Brendan Gaughan
- Ty Dillon
- Ryan Newman
- Paul Menard