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Speed Reading: Hang on JGR fans, history proves all slumps end

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Ryan McGee

 
   
 
Bad times never last, but good people, like Gibbs, do
Note to fans of Joe Gibbs Racing — though your drivers are plummeting through the Nextel Cup point standings like a cinder block through ether, do not panic. Yes, I realize that just three seasons ago you were celebrating your second Cup title in three years. Yes, I realize that Bobby Labonte can't remember the last time he won a race (it was 43 races ago), and I realize that Tony Stewart set himself on fire last week and also realize that Jason Leffler has distinguished himself only as winning the "first driver to likely be fired" award.


But history says there is no need to panic. Every team, no matter how powerful and no matter how bulletproof they once were, hits a slump. No athlete is immune to looking mortal, not Babe Ruth, not Walter Payton, not even Tiger Woods (who is just one half-roll of a Nike golf ball away from still answering questions about his inability to win another major).

The good news is that all slumps end. They ended for Babe, Sweetness and Tiger, and they will also one day end for Coach Gibbs and his band of blown engines.

Don't believe me? Just take a look into our Nextel Cup way-back machine.

Richard Petty — 1978

From 1949, NASCAR's first year in business, to 1977, Petty Enterprises won at least one race per season. In all but two of those years, they won two or more races, thanks to efforts of first Lee then and son Richard. Then, in 1978, the unthinkable happened. The King didn't win a single race. Not only that, he didn't even win a pole and finished outside of the top five in points for the first time since 1965, a year in which he hadn't run the full schedule to go drag racing.

The Comeback: The King won five races in 1979, outlasting upstart Darrell Waltrip to win his record 7th Cup title.

Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace — 1992

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, Rusty and Dale weren't just part of the show, they were the show. They battled for wins and for championships, seemingly running door-to-door every lap. But in 1992, the two black cars went simultaneously into the tank. Each driver won only one race and one pole and both finished outside of the top 10 in points, forced to watch Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott and Davey Allison conduct the greatest title chase in NASCAR history without them. "Earnhardt and I went to the banquet and sat way the hell in the back of the room and watched those guys get their checks. It was the worst night of our careers."

The Comeback: Earnhardt and Wallace dominated the 1993 season, Rusty winning 10 races to Dale's six. The points battle came down to the final race of the season at Atlanta, with Wallace winning the race but coming up 80 points shy of the title.

Roush Racing — 2001

Jack Roush fielded four cars in '01 — Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin. Coming into that season, Roush was riding a streak of four years of winning races with two different cars — Martin and Burton. The duo had also both finished inside the top 10 in points all four years with at least one in the top five. But in 2001, Burton had to scramble to finish 10th in points, winning two races. Martin was held winless for only the second time since 1988 and finished outside of the top 10 in points for the first time since that same year.

The Comeback: In 2002, Roush had three cars finish in the top five in points and won 10 races. Since then, he has won back-to-back titles with Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.

Hendrick Motorsports - 1992

Rick Hendrick employed two drivers in '92, Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader. One year earlier, Rudd had finished runner-up in the Cup title chase to Dale Earnhardt and Schrader had won two races to finish ninth in the standings. But 1992 was slow from the start, with Schrader going winless and Rudd managing to win just once en route to a 7th-place finish in the standings.

The Comeback: 1993 looked an awful lot like '92, with Rudd winning one race and Schrader none, but both managed to finish in the top 10 in points, Schrader 9th and Rudd 10th. But the real news was made by the two veterans' new baby-faced teammate — some kid named Jeff Gordon that Hendrick had lured away from Bill Davis Racing. That was 71 wins and four championships ago.

So, get those chins up and let's see a little life out there, Gibbs Racing fans. Sure, you may spend your current Sundays watching the race through your fingers, just waiting on your driver's motor to blow up like a cheap grenade.

But you need look no further back than just a few seasons ago for a source of hope. The teams that are kicking your butt now were the ones getting kicked just a few calendars ago... which means your well-deserved upswing can't be too far down the track.


Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images and Senior Producer of NASCAR Nation on SPEED Channel. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.

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Busch Beat
Greg Biffle, who grabbed the attention of Jack Roush with his performances in the off-season NASCAR Winter Heat races in Tucson, Ariz. during the late 1990's, has a chance to make Phoenix International Raceway history this weekend. Biffle won a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at PIR in 2001 and a NASCAR Busch Series race on the one-mile "roval" that same year. No driver has ever won in all three series at the track, which has hosted Nextel Cup races since 1988. Jeff Burton owns one Busch Series win (2000) and two Cup victories ('00 & '01).

Truck Stop
Four times there have been back-to-back NCTS winners at Phoenix, accounting for eight of the 14 events run at the track. Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague swept two events each in 1995 and 1996. PIR went to one race per season in 1999, when Ron Hornaday successfully defended his win from the previous fall. Kevin Harvick made it two straight in 2002-03. David Starr won't get a chance to defend his '04 win until the series returns to Arizona for a Cup-Busch-Truck tripleheader on November 11.

Why We Call Richard Petty "The King" Fact of the Week
While visiting Arizona for a race weekend several years ago, I took a trip to Tombstone, home of Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral. Directly across the street from the county courthouse where the OK Corral trial between the Earps and the Clanton Gang took place, I noticed a sticker slapped onto the back of a stop sign. In the unmistakable hues of red and Petty Blue, it read "Richard Petty for President".

Who's Hot & Who's Not
  • Greg Biffle: All the guy does is win races — 16 times in the Craftsman Truck Series, 16 times in the Busch Series and now five times in Nextel Cup. He also owns a championship in the other two series. Could a Cup title be next? P.S. He owns one win each in NBS and NCTS at Phoenix.

  • Joe Gibbs Racing: Coach's cars posted an average finish of 33rd at Texas, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart suffering blown engines. Stewart fell from 5th to 11th in points, Jason Leffler dropped one spot to 34th and Labonte is the lowest-rated driver to start every race, stuck in 37th.

  • Who's Hot, Who's Not
  • NASCAR Nation,
    April 25-28
  • The Big Story looks at how drivers use videogames to try and gain an advantage on the racetrack.
  • Home Base features Bobby Labonte who spends a day on the links raising money for a good cause.
  • On Thursday, Ralph Sheheen visits the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a day on the track with some of rock 'n roll's greatest, including some of the members of Aerosmith, AC/DC, Skid Row and Jackal.

  • Read more about NASCAR Nation
  • Speed Mail of the Week
    From Tim T. from Plano, Texas: "On behalf of everyone here in Texas, may I take this moment to remind you, Mr. McGee, that if you don't like coming to our beloved Texas Motor Speedway then nobody is making you come out here. Instead of wasting a press credential on your grumpy butt, the track should give it to me or one my fellow Texans who would actually put it to good use."
    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jack Sprague

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