2021 Team Preview: Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports

Graphic by Joe Passero

RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING

The once great Richard Childress Racing which put together six championships with Dale Earnhardt hasn’t been the most competitive in the past few years, collecting just a handful of wins over the past few years, but with none coming after Austin Dillon’s win in the 2018 Daytona 500. In 2020, the Childress cars became much more competitive compared to where they had been in the past few years.

Austin Dillon returned for his seventh season while Tyler Reddick, who won the 2018 and 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series championships, moved up to Cup in 2020. Reddick had a number of strong performances while Austin Dillon slowly got better throughout the first part of the season. It culminated in a 1-2 finish for the two drivers at the first Texas race with Dillon winning. Reddick was unable to make the playoffs, but Dillion showed great promise in the round of 16, nearly winning the first two playoff races before mechanical issues in the round of 12 eliminated Dillon from championship contention.

2021 has the potential to be a year where Richard Childress Racing reintroduces itself as a team that is competitive for wins. They have two drivers who have displayed talent, the teams just now need to execute to get into victory lane multiple times in 2020.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

Austin Dillon celebrates after winning the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Photo credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

2020: 35 starts, 1 win, 4 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 0 poles, 135 laps led, 11th in points

Career: 264 starts, 3 wins, 15 top-fives, 49 top-10s, 6 poles

Austin Dillon had a career year in 2020 by scoring his third career win, tying his personal best for top-five finishes in a season and posting the second most top-10 finishes he ever has in a single season, all while missing a race due to a positive COVID-19 test and being more competitive than ever before.

Dillon had two particularly memorable runs outside of his win at Texas, coming in back-to-back races at Darlington and Richmond, where he had cars capable of winning. He fell off just a little after Richmond, and a mechanical issue at Las Vegas ended up being the final nail in the coffin where Dillon’s 2020 championship hopes now rest.

Dillon made a comment prior to the playoffs that they had found something new and that they were going to show up (and on boy they did). He’ll ride into 2021 on a little wave of momentum and new engines that Hendrick Motorsports, the leading Chevrolet team in the NASCAR Cup Series, and Richard Childress racing are collaborating on for maximum performance.

The writer’s prediction: Austin Dillon will return to victory lane in 2021 and make it into the playoffs. He’ll also have his best season to date.

Tyler Reddick, No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

CRANDALL: The many faces of Tyler Reddick | RACER
Photo credit: Whitton/LAT

2020: 36 starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 0 zero poles, 30 laps led, 19th in points

Career: 38 starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 0 poles

Tyler Reddick will enter his second season in the NASCAR Cup Series coming off of an average rookie season. He missed the playoffs unlike his fellow 2020 rookie Cole Custer, but oftentimes he was more competitive than Custer. He had a number of good runs, including a runner-up finish at Texas to his teammate. Unfortunately, many of these good runs were foiled, like in the first Phoenix race where he was running well inside the top 10 before an accident ended his day early.

Reddick’s aggression needs to be refined just a bit. He can’t make moves like the one that triggered a wreck late in the Daytona night race last year if he wants to win. After his aggression is refined, I fully expect Reddick to become more consistent and competitive, much like Austin Dillon. He could also use a tad bit better luck too.

The writer’s prediction: Reddick, similar to last year, will be in playoff contention, and there’s a better chance of him making it in 2021 than there was last year. He may not win a race, but he and the no. 8 team will be more competitive.

RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS

July 2014 marks the last time that Richard Petty Motorsports put a car in victory lane, and a lot has changed since then, including the driver who pilots Petty’s famous 43. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. took over the no. 43 car in 2018, but after he announced he wouldn’t return to Petty Motorsports for 2021, the hunt for a new driver was on. Eventually, Erik Jones, who had been with Joe Gibbs Racing from 2018 through the 2020 season, signed with Petty after finding out that Christopher Bell was taking his place at Gibbs. 

2021 will be an interesting year for Richard Petty Motorsports. Erik Jones’ experience with a larger team provides an opportunity for Petty Motorsports to improve even further, however, the team will have to work well together and find their footing before they can start to become more competitive, just as any team would.

Erik Jones, No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

Erik Jones
Photo credit: John Raoux/AP

2020: 36 starts, 0 wins, 9 top-fives, 13 top-10s, 0 poles, 65 laps led, 17th in points

Career: 147 starts, 2 wins, 33 top-fives, 62 top-10s, 2 poles

Erik Jones hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that was once around him. After making the championship four in the Xfinity Series back in 2016 and moving up to Cup in 2017, his successes have been few and far between. In 2017, Jones raced for Furniture Row Racing and was teammates with Martin Truex, Jr. Jones missed the playoffs while his teammate won the championship. In 2018, he moved to Joe Gibbs Racing and won his first race at the Daytona night race. He was eliminated from the playoffs early and finished the year 15th in points. In 2019, Jones was on the playoff bubble and was able to clinch a playoff berth by winning at Darlington just two races before the playoffs began. He was again eliminated, this time ranking 16th. In 2020, he missed the playoffs.

Joe Gibbs Racing has equipment we know is capable of winning. Joey Logano drove the no. 20 cars and only won twice in four years before going to Penske. Matt Kenseth took over the 20 and won plenty of races. Daniel Suarez drove the no. 19 car for Gibbs in 2017 and 2018 and missed the playoffs both years. Truex took over for him and has found plenty of success with the no. 19 ever since.

The moral of the story is this: Erik Jones has a career that is heading one of two ways: The Logano route, in which he finds success with his new team after struggling at Joe Gibbs Racing, or the Suarez route, in which he may be with lower-tier teams unless he can prove himself. 2021 is going to be the season that indicates which route Jones is heading.

The writer’s prediction: Erik Jones will have a few good runs, probably at Daytona and Talladega, but given the equipment Jones is in, he likely will not see victory lane or make the playoffs in 2021. 

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