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Charting the Chase: Challenging Chevy at halfway
Ford focusBefore Saturday night, Chevrolet had dominated races at the Daytona International Speedway recently, winning 11 of 13 and seven in a row since Greg Biffle's Pepsi 400 victory in 2003. You've got to give a huge call to Roush Fenway Racing. All five cars finished in the top 12, and four finished in the top eight. After going below the out-of-bounds line and serving the drive-thru penalty, Jamie McMurray and the No. 26 team kept their focus. Crew chief Larry Carter cheered on and coaxed his driver, saying, "Hey, we've got a good racecar. We can make it back." His Roush teammate, Carl Edwards, bounced back after a prime example of losing a race on pit road at Loudon, N.H. We always talk about not beating yourself, and Clint Bowyer had an ignition box failure in the middle of the pack. But he flipped it back, got to the front and led late in the race, finishing 7th.
Dodge: Bright spot for EvernhamGive a call to Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis. The No. 9 Evernham Motorsports car had a pretty good crash on lap 3, but they kept fighting back. Who would believe that this would only be Kahne's second top-10 finish of the season?
As Ray Evernham looks at his three teams right now, his biggest concerns more than making the Chase for the Nextel Cup are getting back to running competitively, trying to get Scott Riggs and the No. 10 team in the top 35 in owner points and making sure Kahne and Elliott Sadler don't fall out. That organization is certainly in disarray right now. The three teams only have four total top 10 finishes total with three coming at Daytona. As the end of August and the beginning of September approach, teams will make more changes. Is changing one person on one team at Evernham Motorsports going to fix their problems? Absolutely not. Josh Browne's resignation as the No. 19 team director with Scott McDougall taking over won't turn around that whole place. Something else is missing. If one team was struggling and the other two teams were running well, you could put more stock in moving around one or two people to help the entire organization. For example, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart are running well at Joe Gibbs Racing while J.J. Yeley seems to struggle. But all three of Evernham's teams are struggling, and nobody understands that better than Ray Evernham.
Chevy: Gordon, Johnson in driver's seatDigging deep for a win a week ago at Loudon and following it up with his series-best 12th top-five finish of the season at Daytona, Jeff Gordon has never lost sight of trying to win races. The more wins that he can stack up, the greater cushion that he can build with bonus points for each win before the Chase. Even with the 100-point penalties that the No. 24 and the No. 48 teams received after Infineon, they are still the two top-seeded teams with four wins, as long as they stay in the top 12 in points. No one else has more than one win. Unless somebody goes on a tear in the last eight races, Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will be tied atop the point standings heading to the first Chase race. Last year, the last thing I thought NASCAR needed to do was change the Chase format, but 10 bonus points per win makes a ton of sense because it provides a little bit more of an incentive to get wins. Plus, the system still rewards consistency. Before his win last week and his wreck at Daytona, he had completed all but two laps of competition to sit 2nd in the standings. A lot of people are still raising an eyebrow about Chevrolet winning 15 of these 18 races. Chevy's dominance has nothing to do with the manufacturer having better car, better engines or a better handling chassis. At the end of the day, Chevy just has the better teams and the better people doing a better job of working together. It's not a knock on Dodge, Ford or Toyota. Chevy just has a potent lineup when you look at Hendrick, Childress, Gibbs and DEI.
Full credit for first halfIt's very hard to believe that we're halfway through 2007. It seems like yesterday that the haulers were rolling into Daytona for February's Speedweeks. Every week, I read your e-mails about NASCAR, and I question the sanctioning body, too. But look at the facts. In the first 18 races of 2007 at different types of racetracks with the current car and the Car of Tomorrow, there have been nine different pole winners and 12 different race winners. Some series may not have 12 different winners over the course of four or five seasons so the sport has to be doing something right.
|Speed Mail Larry McReynolds|
Dale Jr.'s decisionYou've got to applaud Dale Earnhardt Jr. for making changes to his Busch team. Last year, he worked with Mark McFarland, and this year, he worked with Shane Huffman. Dale Jr. is trying to give up-and-coming drivers a chance. But, so far, it hasn't worked out like he wishes it would. You hate it for McFarland and Huffman, but business is business. You've got to do what you need to do to get your team where it needs to be.
We rememberAs we celebrated the Fourth of July, we certainly remembered those who have given their lives and fought for us along with those who are fighting for our independence and freedom right now. While this holiday is about barbecues, picnics, fireworks and sparklers, please take a moment to remember what this day and week are really about.
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.