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McREYNOLDS: As contenders stumble, Kenseth can't be caught

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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had a good qualifying run at Darlington and looked really good. He had a very strong car, but that old wall just reached out and grabbed him. That's why they call Darlington "the track too tough to tame". The 17 team has a heck of a lead over second-place ., but their lead isn't due to the fact that their team is running much better than the folks who are chasing them. The chasers just have had so much bad luck. is having a really tough time, and other than the Brickyard, can't even buy a top-20 finish. Earnhardt Jr. has had his problems as well. So I think that the biggest reason that the points lead is so big is not so much what Kenseth's team is doing, but the teams chasing him are bobbling. That being said, in the words of Monday Night Football's "Dandy" Don Meridith, "Turn out the lights, the party is over." I just don't see any team catching up with Kenseth and that 17 team for the 2003 championship.

Fitting Labor Day finale

After 54 years, the Southern 500-Labor Day weekend tradition is over. Beginning in 2004, the second Darlington race of the in November on the date formerly held at Rockingham. Fontana, Calif. will host the Labor Day race in the future. Another really neat thing about this past weekend was no rain at all. We always fight rain at some point during the Labor Day weekend, but it was a treat to not have to deal with it this time. But it was very hot, and the new date for the second Darlington race should definitely be cooler. Of course the biggest story of the weekend is the race itself and who went to victory lane. It's rather fitting that one of the veterans, who has been racing for so many years, would win the last Labor Day Southern 500. The winner, of course, was who made his first Winston Cup start 23 years ago at Darlington. Of his 22 career wins, he won his first Southern 500 22 years ago in 1980 and now owns the final Labor Day Southern 500. How appropriate is that? Going into last weekend, if you had polled 100 race fans and even one had chosen Labonte to win, I would have been surprised. Of course he has a lot of fans, and he may have been a favorite but not a favorite to win. In last week's article, I never even mentioned him, but the 5 team was strong all weekend long -- qualifying third, fast in practice and then competitive all race long. With about 30 laps to go, crew chief Jim Long and the Kellogg's crew beat everyone off of four tires because they did not need fuel. Without question, the 5 crew is the turnaround team of this season and probably the past couple of seasons. This was a team that used provisionals quite often in the last couple of years, and now they are sitting 11th in points, only one point out of 10th. Nobody from that team jumped ship when they were not competitive. They all worked hard to turn it around. A lot of those guys could have gone to work for other race teams, but they hung in there, never gave up on each other and they made it work. I wouldn't count out the 5 team from winning again this season. Labonte sat on the Richmond pole in May and always runs well there. He also runs well at Martinsville and Talladega so he's got some good tracks coming up in the near future. You also have to tip your hat to Rick Hendrick. He owns five race teams, four Winston Cup teams and one Busch team. All five of his teams have been to victory lane this year. That's a very tough thing to accomplish. Hendrick's teams swept this past weekend, with 19-year old winning the Busch race on Saturday. It's ironic that at this "veteran's" race track, Labonte had run his first race at Darlington before Vickers was even born.

Quick hits from Darlington

  • Vets bookend young guns: It was neat to see finish fifth and run so well. When you look at the guys who finished second through fourth, they only had a total of three Southern 500 starts heading into Sunday. , and are the three young guns who finished two, three and four, respectively. That's quite impressive. McMurray was very strong and had it not been for that final caution, he may have been a contender for the win.
  • Harvick's happening: earned his third consecutive second-place finish and sixth top-five finish in the past seven races. They had a late start this year, and yet they are sitting third in points, 26 back of . Had the 29 team started on this awesome streak earlier in the season, it could look a lot different in the points battle. The turning point came when Richard Childress put Todd Berrier in the crew chief position. Berrier was Kevin's crew chief when he won his Busch championship two years ago. These two guys have an excellent rapport.
  • Biffle was best: had a very good run at Darlington and looked like he was going to be the man to beat on Sunday. The Winston Cup cars run very soft, and a freak thing happened. According to Doug Richert, his new crew chief, the car was running so soft that the flywheel -- a heavy metal rotating wheel that is part of the rac car's clutch system and is used to keep elements such as the crank shaft turning steadily -- was bottoming out on the racetrack. Finally, it broke. Biffle still nursed it home to a 10th-place finish. When you can finish 10th at Darlington, especially in your rookie season, it is a big accomplishment.
  • FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.

    "Larry McReynolds: The Big Picture" is on bookstore shelves now, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.

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