TALLADEGA, Ala. - Richard Childress headed for the mountains of Montana midway through the race at Texas Motor Speedway. His cars were junk, and the team owner couldn’t stomach sticking around for the finish.
Childress recognized a month into the season that his organization wasn’t running up to par, but he didn’t know how to fix it.
The solution came to him during a quiet moment alone on a mountain: He’d swap the entire crews of drivers Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears.
The decision goes into effect next week, and Childress insisted he won’t change his mind — even if one of the drivers wins Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.
“This sport isn’t no different than football or baseball,” Childress said Friday. “When things aren’t working, tough decisions sometimes have to come from the coach or the owner. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to make (it) work. If you sit there and let things stay still too long, it will hurt your whole organization.”
The change was made just two months into the season, but with Harvick and Mears slipping out of contention for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Childress said the current points structure and emphasis on making the 12-driver field made it impossible for him to wait any longer to make a change.
Harvick, a three-time Chase qualifier, has dropped six spots over the past two weeks to 16th in the standings. Mears, in his first year with Richard Childress Racing, is 22nd.
“It will probably take two or three races to get this thing really working, and you can’t afford to lose 50, 75, 100 points each race,” Childress said. “So that’s the biggest reason we’re doing it when we’re doing it.”
Clint Bowyer, driving for RCR’s expansion fourth team this season, is currently sixth in the standings. Jeff Burton is 11th.
Childress did not make any changes to those two teams.
Beginning Monday, Todd Berrier and his entire crew will leave Harvick’s team after six seasons and eight victories.
But the duo is stuck in a 79-race winless streak dating to the 2007 Daytona 500.
“We’re in a performance business and we’ve got to perform,” Berrier said. “A lot of times, the obvious things to do for me are different than Richard. He elected to make changes for everybody and all the parties involved. He’s looking after the livelihood of a lot of different people. We have sponsors and it’s a performance business so you have to do what you have to do.”
Gil Martin and his group will leave Mears for a reunion with Harvick: Martin was previously Harvick’s crew chief in 2002, leading him to a win that season at Chicago, but was replaced by Berrier the next season.
Harvick has so far been silent on the swap, but the fiery driver can’t be happy with his season to date. He opened the season with a victory in the exhibition Budweiser Shootout, and was second in the Daytona 500, but has been on a steady slide since. In the seven races since the season-opener, he has just one top-10 and four finishes of 27th or worse.
Childress said both drivers were fine with his decision, and Mears said he did not object — even though Berrier becomes his seventh crew chief in seven Sprint Cup seasons. He’d been hoping for continuity and the time to develop a relationship with a crew chief when he signed with RCR, but will now look to establish chemistry with Berrier.
“I can’t fault anybody for making a change,” Mears said. “If you look at where we are in the points right now, and where (Harvick) is at in the points right now, the team really felt like they needed to do something to shake it up a little bit.”