NASCAR

Johnson looks like a champ halfway through Race to the Chase

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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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At the halfway point of the Race to the Chase for the Nextel Cup, the guys that are in the top 10 are trying to do two things: stay there and learn about each track. When they return to those tracks in the second half — especially the ones that are going to be in the Chase — they'll be better.

  • Hendrick Motorsports: With three teams in the top 10, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are leading the way, followed by Kyle Busch. Then it's Brian who? I'm wondering what's really going on with Vickers and the No. 25 team. When Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have a good racecar, I'm pretty much convinced they're going to win. When they've got a really sorry racecar, they're still going to be in contention to win. NASCAR suspended Knaus, but the team was still strong. At Dover, they had a spin and a near miss in qualifying, and they didn't have the car that they were looking for. But they rallied, never lost their composure and turned it into a really good point day. At one point, they were getting ready to lose their lead, but they turned the tables. In the end, they minimized the damage. That's championship form midway through the season.
  • Roush Racing: With two cars in the top 10 now — Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin — the Roushketeers keep on keeping on so you've got to believe that they're going to be a threat for the title. Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray are within 590 points of the lead, and if last year is any indication, they aren't out of it because Kenseth was 617 points out after 13 races in 2005.
  • Richard Childress Racing: Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick are in the top 10, and Clint Bowyer is 612 points out of the lead. At Dover, all three cars had excellent chances to run for the win. At one point in the race, they were running 3rd, 6th and 9th. They finished up strong, and it looks good for RCR to put a driver in the Chase for the first time.
  • Evernham Motorsports: Kasey Kahne is this team's top-10 representative right now, and he had a good, strong finish at Dover. Ray Evernham's guys are starting to show a little glimmer of what we've been expecting out of this three-car team. Michigan is going to be another good track for this group.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing: All things considered, Dover was a good weekend for Stewart, who is part of the walking wounded because he had to pay to play in the Busch Series. The accident in the Carquest Auto Parts 300 at Lowe's Motor Speedway contributed to the final results on Sunday. There was enough damage done and enough bruising that it was a little easier for him to get hurt once he hit the wall during the Coca-Cola 600. The only way he'll heal is by staying out of the racecar as much as possible and not putting himself in jeopardy again before he can get better. Denny Hamlin is in 11th place, 519 points out of the lead while J.J. Yeley is 818 points out in 27th.
  • Speed Mail Jeff
  • Dale Earnhardt Inc.: Old Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't flashy, but he's steady. We didn't talk a lot about him at Dover because he didn't do a whole lot to warrant attention. He was never a top-five contender, but the No. 8 car hung around the top 10. When it came time, they got there, and they stayed there. After Ricky Rudd's miscue, he was able to jump ahead of the No. 20 car. Sitting fourth in points, his team is doing what it's got to do to get back into the Chase for the Championship after a one-year absence. Martin Truex Jr. is 757 points behind the leader in 23rd.
  • Out of the top 10: Where's Robert Yates Racing? Where's Penske Racing? Ryan Newman sat on the pole, but neither of those cars has had the kind of run that they've been looking for this year.

  • FOX race analyst Jeff Hammond led Darrell Waltrip to two of DW's three Winston Cup championships as his crew chief. They also teamed to win the 1989 Daytona 500.

    For autographed copies of Jeff Hammond's new book "Real Men Work in the Pits" plus magnets, hats and more, check out www.dwstore.com.

    For photos and appearances, visit Jeff's web site www.jeffhammond.com.

    Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Rudd, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne

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