NASCAR

Race to the Chase: Martin steady, not spectacular

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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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Mark Martin is as steady as the day is long. When I watch him run, I see consistency, but lately, I don't see the competitive streak that we're used to seeing out of him. When the checkered flag drops, it seems like he's in the top 10 or the top 15, but he hasn't challenged for the lead in a lot of races so far this year. He's not the threat to drive to Victory Lane like he's been in the past. A lot of people have asked, "What about Mark? You guys haven't been hyping him a whole lot." He's there, and he could be one of those teams that shows a new personality with a different approach in the Chase. But the team hasn't been spectacular. When you look at the number of laps he's led compared to his Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle, it's day and night (872 to 260). The same goes for bonus points (95 to 45). Biffle just hasn't had any luck.

First through fourth

If I'm Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth and especially Jimmie Johnson, I'm looking at the magic number to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Drivers with a 571-point lead over 11th place after Michigan are guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. A lot of people are counting points and figure out when they can be locked into the Chase.

Ninth through 11th

Kasey Kahne needs a win this weekend. He needs to do what Harvick did last week to climb out of the quicksand and back onto solid ground. That's the way I'm looking at ninth through 11th in points now. After starting second, Kahne fell through the field at Watkins Glen. Then he got a little bit of a reprieve and finished 22nd. Like Kahne's teammate Jeremy Mayfield last August at Michigan, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. need to have a storybook race that ends in Victory Lane.

Speed Mail Jeff

Balance of power

The engine specialists will be sweating bullets from now until Richmond. Last week, Robby Gordon felt like he could have had a little more engine at The Glen, but engine guys would rather let the driver fuss about finishing fourth than blow up while leading with five laps to go. As a crew chief, I'm going to err on the side of fourth place. If an engine builder feels like he can take away 10 horsepower to make sure the son of a gun runs all day long while not giving up a whole lot of horsepower, they're going to try to do it. Most of these specialists have a pretty good feel about what they can do to an engine to make it live all day, and more than ever before, they know when they're stepping on thin ice. I can just about assure you that very few of these guys in the top 10 are going to go out on that thin ice right now.


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 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., Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick

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