Richard Childress took shelter from the sweltering Arizona sun under an umbrella and watched the long dry spell end.
A six-time champion owner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, a winner of 106 races and a newly minted member of the sport’s hall of fame, the 71-year-old might have been forgiven doubts of when he would flirt with either of the first two experiences again.
Childress’s last Cup win had come, coincidentally, at Phoenix Raceway 112 races ago. That was in the penultimate event of the 2013 season and preceded an emotional final victor’s press conference with Kevin Harvick, who was leaving the team after 15 seasons, ending a tenure that included replacing the late Dale Earnhardt.
Ryan Newman on Sunday paved the path to victory lane at Phoenix again for Childress, benefiting from a successful gambit by crew chief Luke Lambert to eschew a final pit stop for track position.
“I’ve lost count; that’s how long it’s been,” said Newman, who has 18 career wins in 552 career races.
In holding off serial second-place finisher Kyle Larson for the win, Newman ended his own inglorious stretch, becoming victorious for the first time since the 2013 Brickyard 400 — 127 races ago. That win came two weeks after then team owner Tony Stewart told him that he would not be retained by Stewart-Haas Racing the next season. He would be replaced by Harvick, who in his first season with SHR won his first Cup title in 2014.
Newman, meanwhile, moved to RCR and despite going winless in 2014 finished second in series points. That was the highest finish for an RCR driver since Earnhardt’s runner-up finish in 2000.
The post-Harvick era hasn’t been gilded for RCR at the Cup level. An 0-for-everything winless streak since his departure proves that.
Reinstating the No. 3 Earnhardt made iconic made for a heartening story, especially with Childress’ grandson and former Truck and Xfinity series champion Austin Dillon as its new patron. Newman, Dillon and Paul Menard have all qualified for the playoffs, but none have finished higher than 11th, except for Newman’s runner-up bid in 2014. The three-car contingent has been middling in points so far this season.
Harvick, of course, had an opportunity to ruin the tale Sunday. A winner of six of the previous nine races at the one-mile Phoenix oval, he was lurking in third place in the final laps but could not muster more than a sixth-place finish on the overtime restart.
A surprise victory on a strategy play won’t reverse RCR’s fortune or necessarily signal a breakthrough into a new fertile period.
But on a hot day in the desert, for Childress and Newman, it must have felt good to finally see the sun again.
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