Yes, Jeff Burton finished 10th and Kevin Harvick came home 11th, so things certainly could have been worse, but nothing short of a win would have satisfied the RCR stable, which has shockingly been shut out of victory lane in 2012.
Sunday seemed to be the best opportunity for the three-car team to break through in the win column, as RCR has always taken pride in its restrictor plate program, going back to the days when the late Dale Earnhardt was dominating at Talladega and Daytona.
But not even a return to a track RCR has often dominated over the past three decades could end the organization’s inexplicably bad season on the Cup series.
Burton and Harvick, as well as teammate Paul Menard, consistently ran in the top 10 all day, with Burton leading twice for three laps and Harvick leading four times for 12 circuits.
All three cars were major players in the race’s final stages – especially Harvick who looked primed to end RCR’s winless streak – but all that promise vanished when the Big One occurred in turn 3 of the race’s final lap. All three RCR cars received heavy damage in the crash.
Harvick was the first innocent bystander to be collected when Tony Stewart triggered the last-lap melee by tapping Michael Waltrip, who shot up the track into the side of Harvick’s Budweiser Chevrolet. To add insult to injury, Harvick had another problem on the final lap.
“We ran out of fuel on the backstretch,” Harvick said. “We were out. We were going to throw these cars away anyhow. I’ve seen a lot crazy things happen here; this was one.”
And, in further keeping with how the season has gone for RCR, when Stewart’s airborne Chevy came in for a landing, it was on Menard’s hood. Burton also emerged from the pile-up with significant damage to his No. 31 car.
The rough day dropped Harvick to 10th in Chase for the Cup standings, 49 points out of first place. Menard stands 16th, while Burton is 19th. The team has managed a total of six top 5s and 24 top 10s this season. By comparison, every chase driver has as many or more top fives than the three RCR cars combined.
The lone bright spot for RCR on Sunday was provided by Furniture Row Racing, which gets its cars and engines from RCR. Furniture Row driver Regan Smith posted a fifth-place finish, his best of the season in his final ride with the team.