Hard work in offseason pays off in speed for RCR Chevrolets

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 01: Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Dow SILASTIC Silicone Elastomers Chevrolet, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Friday’s opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was not yet over, and other drivers already were turning a jealous eye toward the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets of Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric.

Brad Keselowski had the No. 3 and No. 8 RCR Chevys as the fastest cars on the track, and the speed chart backed up that assessment. Dillon, the 2018 Daytona 500 winner, put up the fastest lap at 180.294 mph in preparation for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Hemric was second on the board at 180.078 mph.

And where other organizations, particularly those that field four cars, hooked up in drafting practice to try to elevate their collective speeds, the RCR Chevrolets didn’t need help to top the speed chart. Following a year in which Dillon’s victory in the season-opening race was the organization’s only win, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress was justifiably proud.

“Well, I’m very proud of RCR,” Dillon said. “(Chief technology officer) Eric Warren has put a ton of work and effort together working with (Vice President of Competition) Andy Petree, working with our guys in the aero department, to really put a big effort into this new package, to come out as the guys to beat.

“And I felt like we left the Vegas test (Jan. 31-Feb. 1) as the fastest car, and I wondered how we would come back, and I felt like we brought the exact same speed back. The guys definitely closed in on us. I felt like they learned some stuff from us at the test.”

Las Vegas wasn’t the only place where the Childress cars showed speed. Hemric, in particular, was fast at both Daytona and Atlanta, though his finishes of 34th and 20th didn’t do justice to the quality of his car.

At Las Vegas the Cup drivers will compete with the second variation of NASCAR’s new higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package, and there are still many unknowns.

“I think there’s still some variables on what is the best way to go about this racing,” Dillon said. “I think that’s the one thing everybody doesn’t know. I think in our minds, we’ve put a lot of work into simulation and wind tunnel and just trying to combine it all to figure out what direction you should go mechanically or aero-wise, to figure out how it’s going to race the best.

“So that’s the variable we don’t know. We saw at Atlanta some guys were really good for a little while and then they faded. We’re just trying to figure out the best way to race around each other, because we know we’re going to be closer together more often.”

Greg Engle