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Wednesday, March 6
Updated: March 7, 5:16 PM ET
Childress has hands full in 2002
By Jerry Bonkowski
If team owner Richard Childress can get through this season without any major confrontations between his three often-volatile drivers -- Jeff Green, Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon -- he should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Childress' three young charges have some of the hottest tempers this side of Tony Stewart. All three have had run-ins with each other in recent years, be it on the Cup or Busch circuits.
But Childress feels he has the patience of a monk and the faith that goes with it. He believes hot tempers can be cooled with the guidance he possesses. After all, if Childress could handle the late Dale Earnhardt and his noted tempestuousness for nearly 17 years, he can handle just about anyone.
Childress, the only owner to win championships in each of NASCAR's three major series, is in a unique position this season. While Harvick -- defending champion of Sunday's MBNA America 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and last year's Winston Cup Rookie of the Year and Busch champion -- has returned, he's been paired with two diametrically opposite teammates in Green and Gordon.
For Childress, 2002 is more about building relationships and strengthening the team with three drivers who could easily become championship challengers for years to come.
"Trying to have one team with three drivers is the concept we're working on," Childress said. "So far, the drivers have worked real well together, the crew chiefs will be in one office, we're building a new facility to house all three teams in one building, and we're excited about it. We're going to have our tough days and a lot of good days. Hopefully, we're going to have a lot more good days than we have those tough ones."
Childress tries to make light of the fiery personalities he's managing. But make no mistake, the savvy Childress wasn't born yesterday. He's like a father of three teenaged boys, letting them test their limits and independence. The more responsibility they can show him, the more restraint he'll have. But, if there's any "sibling rivalry," Childress is ready to step in with discipline to get things back on an even level.
Boys may be boys, but Childress will only let so much go so far.
"If we're winning races, and which we will be, I can handle the personalities," Childress said. "These guys are dedicated to winning, and when you have guys like Jeff Green and Harvick and Robby, when you've got guys so dedicated, they have to have a personality. You can't just take a nice guy and a guy that's happy-go-lucky and win races every day with him. You're going to have to be able to go out and have the guys that are winning have personalities."
With Earnhardt gone and Mike Skinner having been released near the end of last season, Harvick has become the team's flagship driver by default. While it's rare for a team to be built around a second-year driver, Childress has done just that. Now, he looks to Harvick to be a leader.
While Harvick established himself last season, and with Green being a relatively untested commodity in Winston Cup, the key to much of the team's success could be Gordon. After publicized battles with team owners such as A.J. Foyt, Felix Sabates and Larry McClure, Gordon has a reputation of being difficult to work with.
That's news to Childress. He's had nothing but exemplary behavior from Gordon since he joined the team.
"Robby's got a totally different approach this year," Childress said. "We've sat down and had several conversations and he's dedicated to do stock-car racing. He's still going to try to do some other forms of racing, but he's dedicated to doing it, we've got a lot of confidence in him, the team's got a lot of confidence in him and the other drivers feel comfortable working with him.
"I think Robby knows the mistakes he's made. For instance, at the end of the day at Rockingham, we were running seventh or something like that. We discussed what we could do there. Robby is a bright young man. He knows when he makes a mistake or when he should wait. He's at a different level in Winston Cup than he's ever been, and he's a bright enough young man that he's going to be able to adjust to where we're going to have him running this year."
While many thought Childress would need to become a stern, father-like figure to keep Harvick, Green and Gordon in line, that has not been the case. He's become more of an overseer to what has surprisingly become one big, happy family. How long that harmony will last is anyone's guess, but you better believe Childress will do everything in his power to prove the "family" that races together, wins together.
"I don't tell the drivers what to do," Childress said. "They know their job. They have to go out and do it and know what they've got to do when it comes to the end of the day when it comes to winning a race."
Jerry Bonkowski covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
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