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Hendrick, Roush-Yates cars catch up with DEI

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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It appears to me that Hendrick Motorsports has really hit on something in the last several weeks. Their cars seem to be faster than they were. I don't know if that's horsepower or aerodynamics. It's probably a combination of both and good setups. Both crew chiefs, Robbie Loomis and Chad Knaus, are really sharp on getting the cars set up well. It appears to me that they definitely have found something on their unrestricted engines. Normally things you learn on your unrestricted engines usually help your restricted engine program. Things that you learn on the aerodynamics of your downforce cars also affect your Daytona and Talladega cars. I know Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to be tough because handling is the biggest part of the Fourth of July race. You can have horsepower, but you've got to have handling as well. Dale Jr. and Michael's cars have really handled well at Daytona, and I think that's been part of the key to their success. They can hold their cars wide open all night long where a lot of guys push and have to get out of the throttle. When you have to get out of the throttle on a restricted engine, it just kills your speed.
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But what I've seen over the last few weeks, I think that the Roush-Yates package is going to be really good at Daytona too. I think the Ford boys have had a little time to work on their stuff, but I really anticipate that Gordon and Johnson will team up and they'll give Michael and Dale Jr. a run for their money. Michael and Dale Jr. have got to make a commitment like they once had. When he won the Fourth of July race two years ago, Michael said, "Dale Jr. and I made a commitment that we would work together — no matter what." They're going to have to work together if they're going to beat these guys. At Talladega, we saw the gap has narrowed. Some cars were a lot closer to Dale Jr. than we've seen in the past so I think we're going to see a great Fourth of July race this Saturday.

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