NASCAR

Charting the Chase: Baby Gordon; Kurt comeback

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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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After four championships and 15 years in the sport with plenty of racing in the future, Jeff Gordon didn't want to miss the birth of his first child, and he didn't. I applaud him for taking that stand. Granted, it was a little easier for him to take that stand with a 242-point lead and four wins with 11 races to go. Would it have been tougher on someone like Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray or Ryan Newman to miss a race? Absolutely, because one race could be the difference between making and missing the Chase. Fortunately, missing one race wouldn't have been the end of the world for Gordon. It would have been a very hard call to make. With my first daughter, Brooke, doctors induced labor on a Tuesday between a Wilkesboro and a Martinsville race so I could be there with my wife Linda. For my second child, Brandon, they induced labor on the Tuesday between the all-star race and the Coca-Cola 600. In September of 1997, I flew back from Richmond, missing two practices for Kendall's birth. My wife and I decided that we were going to let our last child come into the world when she was ready. Shortly after we made that decision, she was born, and I made it back to Richmond for the race that night.

Kurt can catch up

Kurt Busch and new crew chief Pat Tryson have some history together. While they may not have worked on the same team at the same time at Roush Racing, they were both part of that organization so they know each other. Filling in for Roy McCauley, who was with his ailing wife, Troy Raker had done a phenomenal job with the No. 2 car. Obviously, there are things that need work. For example, there was a loose lug nut on the last green-flag stop at Michigan. Whether it was a mechanical or pit-crew failure — no matter who is the crew chief — they've got to fix those issues if they want to get to victory lane and back into the Chase. They lost 100 points at Dover, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. has proved that a team can overcome a 100-point deficit and get into the Chase because he's worked his way back into 12th. With 11 races to go — including wild-card races on both road courses, a plate race at Daytona and the Bristol night race — Busch must be solid. If you're 5th or 6th in the standings on back, you'd better have your i's dotted and your t's crossed every single week if you want to make the Chase.

Ford's winning weekend

After sweeping the Truck race and the Cup race at Michigan and winning the Busch race at Kentucky, Ford can run't through the streets yet, proclaiming that they can beat Chevrolet every week. There's still an awful lot of work to do in Nextel Cup. At Michigan, Carl Edwards ran well on his way to a win. Greg Biffle actually ran pretty well until he had a problem. It would have been a typical Matt Kenseth day if he hadn't gotten caught up in the wreck during the third caution. Jamie McMurray ran well, and Bill Elliott had a good run for the Wood Brothers. Michigan has always been a Ford track, but it doesn't matter where the Craftsman Truck Series has run lately, the Fords have all of the sudden come to life. In the Busch Series, Edwards' Ford is blowing the rest of the field out of the water. He looked like he was absolutely going to annihilate them the other night until Steve Wallace made contact with him on a restart. Not to take anything away from Edwards, but when I watched the last 20 laps of the Kentucky Busch race, that's what the Busch Series should be about. With 20 laps to go, only one guy in the top 10 had ever won a Busch race. Stephen Leicht, Brad Coleman and Scott Wimmer — who has won a Busch race but is a Busch regular for the most part — dueling for the win is what it should be. I can live with them running cars for Nextel Cup teams like Robert Yates Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing because they were Busch regulars — not Buschwhackers — battling for the win. I was tickled to death for Leicht. I had a chance to sit down and talk to him at Dover, riding from Artie Kempner's golf tournament back down to the racetrack, and he's really a neat kid. He's definitely shown some spark this year since he finally got a full-time ride with Yates and hasn't had to share with someone.

Chad and Jimmie's gamble

Rick from Lansdale, Pa.: I have read several comments about what was Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus was thinking on the fuel run at Michigan. Was it really a gamble that there would be a yellow based upon the current Chase format? It seems that Knaus could gamble because, with four wins, the No. 48 team is tied for first right now after Richmond. Am I missing something?

Speed Mail Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds: The top four teams in the points — the No. 24, the No. 11, the No. 48 and the No. 17 — are in a position to roll the dice because they are pretty comfortably in the Chase. Teams sitting 20th to 30th in the standings can gamble because it's going to be a stretch for them to get into the Chase. On SPEED's NASCAR Performance (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET), I plan to ask Knaus why he pitted so early — at lap 149 — when a lot of people ran much further and got well within the window of making it to the end. He pit with 51 to go rather than waiting until 42, 43 or 44 to go, when many more teams actually pitted.

Haas teams on top-35 bubble

David from Greensboro, N.C.: What has happened to No. 70 team of Johnny Sauter and crew chief Bootie Barker. It looked as if they were really making big strides in the weeks before the Coca Cola 600. Now, the last few weeks they've fallen off the map. Larry McReynolds: It's actually happened to the entire Haas-CNC team. In the Car of Tomorrow races at Bristol and Phoenix and then the current car race at Lowe's, that operation looked like it was on the brink of getting to victory lane. Talking with Bootie each week on NASCAR Performance, he's absolutely pulling out his hair by the roots and really can't figure it out because it's bad news when both teams are struggling. You can't look anywhere to find an answer. Both of them have to get in gear because they are sitting there in the danger zone of falling out of the top 35 in owner points (Jeff Green is 107 points out of 35th and Johnny Sauther is in 35th). Unfortunately, road-course racing isn't their strong suit either. When we get back to Loudon, N.H. next week for a Car of Tomorrow race at a flatter, one-mile racetrack like Phoenix where they ran well, they can get their act together. Then, we certainly know that the Haas stuff with the Hendrick engines runs well at Daytona. Regardless of what goes on this week, they've got two good weeks coming up.


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.

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

Tagged: Scott Wimmer, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Steve Wallace, Stephen Leicht, Bill Elliott, Brad Coleman, Greg Biffle, Johnny Sauter, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray

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