Charting the Chase: Tony turnaround

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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.


There were a lot of twists and turns in the Race to the Chase during the Pepsi 400. Tony Stewart continues his dominance at Daytona and Talladega. You may question my use of the word "dominance" because Stewart has only won two plate point events, but the only active drivers to lead more laps at plate races are Jeff Gordon, Sterling Marlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. While everyone else is building new cars and chassis, he's done it with the same old chassis since 2003. Sure, they keep fine-tuning the body, and it has 2006 sheet metal. But if any team currently in the top 10 needed a night like Stewart had, it was the No. 20 team because other than a good finish at Pocono, their last five races had been pretty dismal. It wasn't too many races ago that we were talking about how many points Stewart was behind Jimmie Johnson. Before Daytona, we were talking about by how many points Stewart was still in the top 10. Daytona took a toll on half of the drivers in the top. Kasey Kahne did not run well, finishing 25th. Greg Biffle got caught up in a wreck on the backstretch and finished 31st. Our point leader, Johnson, finished 32nd. While Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon finished 33rd and 40th respectively. We always talk about restrictor plate events being wildcard races, and that was the case for these five drivers.

In 12th place, Gordon is 467 points out of first, but I still don't believe the 400-point window is going to come into play. If Johnson doesn't maintain his lead, Matt Kenseth is sitting eight points behind him and will take over the top spot. Those top two guys don't bobble often. Of course, Johnson's performance was still strong; he just had some bad luck the other night. After four consecutive top-10 finishes, Kurt Busch is the cat that the drivers in the top 10 better keep an eye on. In late May, he made a statement that he would make the Chase, and he took his inspiration from his former Roush Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth, who climbed out of a deep hole last year. Obviously, the team is backing up his claim. It wasn't surprising to see Kyle Busch run well the other night. When you look around, the whole Hendrick brigade was awfully strong, but the No. 5 team needs more consistency. It looks like seven drivers from eighth to 14th — Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards — are fighting for three spots with nine races to go until the Chase.

No Big One

It was fairly surprising that we didn't have the "Big One" at Daytona. Up until the Jimmie Johnson-Bobby Labonte wreck, which was actually quite late in the race, we only had about three cautions. One was for Jeff Burton's single-car spin, one was a debris caution and then the other one was for a beach ball. While Johnson, Labonte, Gordon, Biffle, Martin and others were caught up in wrecks on the backstretch, it was a fairly clean Pepsi 400.
Speed Mail Larry McReynolds
Handling was at a premium, as it always is on a slick track in July. With a small fuel cell creating the need for more pit stops, it definitely broke up the packs. But we continue to see races won and lost as well as cars improve their finishes based on strategy. At Michigan, teams raced the weather. Kasey Kahne and team director Kenny Francis decided to go with two tires around halfway, knowing that the rain was coming. They won the battle off of pit road and won the race. Crew chief Jimmy Elledge and Reed Sorenson rolled the dice there, too, and got the driver's first top-five finish. At Sonoma, Philippe Lopez made the strategy call of the year with Terry Labonte by staying out and almost winning the race. And then crew chiefs Frank Stoddard and Donnie Wingo left Boris Said and Casey Mears on the track late at Daytona. Said got a top five, and Mears got a top 10. If you watch NASCAR closely, it's a team sport with the crew chief being the head coach. It's a big deal for No. 60 owner Mark Simo, Stoddard and Said to have top-10 finishes in their first two races. Certainly, they're getting a tremendous amount of support from Roush Racing, but it's a pretty phenomenal start. Everyone expected them to do well at Sonoma because of Said's expertise on road courses, but they didn't expect him to sit on the pole and finish third at Daytona.

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: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Reed Sorenson, Sterling Marlin, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart

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