Charting the Chase: At the quarter pole

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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.

Whether you're Hendrick Motorsports, which has won the last four races, or you're BAM Racing and Morgan-McClure Motorsports, everyone's relieved to have an off-weekend to regroup, even though we've only put six races in the book.

It's nearly one-fourth of the way — six of 26 races — to determining which teams will make the Chase for the Nextel Cup. A race with the current car at Texas Motor Speedway won't hurt anyone's feelings. It'll be close to a month since the last race with the old, familiar car after two races and a Richmond test with the Car of Tomorrow.

Top teams stay there

The first two COT races haven't provided the best assessment of what we've got with the new car. That won't come until the teams run faster tracks like Phoenix and Darlington. But NASCAR and the teams have learned that there's a problem that's got to be addressed with foam in the right door. The minute the red and black flags waved on Martinsville's Happy Hour, you should have seen the line of trucks and trailers outside the racetrack, picking up the backup cars from all of these different teams. I'm talking about Hendrick, Childress and Roush, not just the small teams. We're talking the major teams that were getting prepared for the Richmond test. Whether it's the current car or the Car of Tomorrow, the cream continues to rise to the top. The Hendrick teams certainly look like they have done the best job of figuring out the Car of Tomorrow. Joe Gibbs Racing has done a good job, and Jamie McMurray has been a very pleasant surprise out of the Roush Fenway stable.

Rookie rivalry

Rookies David Ragan and Juan Pablo Montoya have also been pleasant surprises this season, especially staying on the lead lap and running all 500 laps at Martinsville. They will battle for the rookie of the year all season long. Will one of them win a race? I don't know. All eyes will be watching Montoya on the road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but it's going to be an interesting battle to watch these two guys all year.

Penske progress

Penske Racing South still isn't where it should be. They were better at Martinsville. Quietly, Ryan Newman was very competitive. Kurt Busch ran much better than he did at Bristol, but the No. 2 camp still has an awful lot of work to do.

Uneven Evernham

Evernham Motorsports isn't consistent right now. All three cars were really good at Bristol, but they had terrible luck. At Martinsville, Scott Riggs salvaged an 8th-place finish, but you didn't even know those three race cars were there. The biggest question is how they'll run at Texas, considering how strong Ray's mile-and-a half program has been. However, everybody anticipated Kasey Kahne would be the car to beat at Atlanta, and he wasn't even in contention. That team has a lot of work to do. They have had some bad luck, but sometimes you put yourself in a position that creates your bad luck.

Toyota's tough time

Toyota is encountering a few engine issues. Remember, it's not the same engine package that they have raced in the Craftsman Truck Series for the last four seasons. It's totally different than the Busch engine, too, because NASCAR mandated a separate engine. Toyota's program is much stronger than its race teams. For instance, if Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing or Richard Childress Racing were running Toyotas right now, they would probably be pretty darn competitive.

Speed Mail Larry McReynolds

But Toyota wanted to build new teams, and my biggest concern is Michael Waltrip Racing. In the manufacturer's eyes, MWR probably was going to carry the Camry banner. I don't even see them getting there because they're so far off right now. As Darrell Waltrip and I have discussed, we're not sure why Michael tried to start three race teams, build Michael Waltrip Racing World and still run a Busch team. That's Michael's business, but he tried to bite off a lot. You reap what you sow, and they're in a deep hole that's going to be hard to get out of. I'm not too concerned about Bill Davis Racing or Red Bull Racing. Red Bull has the potential to be Toyota's top team. It's going to take some time because they are building a team from scratch.

Remembering a racer

Team Red Bull lost a member when Jimmy Sprinkle was shot and killed outside his home. He was one of the first employees we hired for the Craftsman Truck team at Bang Racing as we got ready for the 2004 season. He was one of those true, down-to-earth racers who didn't worry about what time we came in or went home. He just wanted to make sure every "i" was dotted and every "t" was crossed so we could go to the racetrack and be competitive. He was definitely an old-school racer. Another great characteristic was you never saw him down. Even when the organization experienced some problems, he was still upbeat and positive, and he was just happy to be there. A great person in a lot of ways has been taken from us.

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

"How to Become a Winning Crew Chief" is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from

Tagged: Juan Pablo Montoya, David Ragan, Michael Waltrip, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Scott Riggs, Kasey Kahne

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