There is no question that Kyle Busch and the No. 18 car continue to drop like a rock. They have lost something as of late. When they started the 2009 season, it looked like a continuation of their domination from 2008. They’ve had mechanical failures, they’ve had bad driving race cars and it has slapped the wall. Even with three wins under their belt so far this season, if they don’t get this turned around, they are absolutely going to miss the Chase.
If you look at the 2008 season, the record book showed the No. 48 winning the championship but the No. 99 and the No. 18 both were the dominating cars. What’s ironic is like the No. 18, the No. 99 just isn’t running very well right now. Carl Edwards is hanging in there, but trust me, it’s by the hair on his chinny chin chin.
On the positive side of things is David Reutimann. He continues to let everyone know that he is still a player and he is just outside the top 12 in points. He’s got six races to go but he needs to get up there and get some consistent top-five finishes. These last six races before the Chase have a wide variety of configurations. The question mark in these remaining six races for David has to be the road course at Watkins Glen.
To me when you look at the top 12 in points right now, it’s looking pretty close to what the top 12 should look like coming out of Richmond in September. Brian Vickers, while continuing to have good runs, still has to leapfrog the No. 18 and the No. 00 to even get close to the top 12 and that’s a pretty tall order.
There were a couple drivers who aren’t Chase contenders that needed and got good runs at Indy on Sunday. Dale Earnhardt Jr. actually ran well all weekend long. Sure, he blew a motor and finished 30th, but the promising thing is that regardless of that, they ran well. They practiced, qualified and raced well too.
The other one that needed a good run and got his best finish since the spring race in Atlanta was Kevin Harvick in the No. 29 car. That group, just from a mental standpoint, needed that kind of run Sunday. Again, they aren’t going to make the Chase but Sunday definitely was a positive for them.
Our race winner Sunday, Jimmie Johnson, and our points leader, Tony Stewart, continue to make the statement that they are your two top contenders once the Chase starts. The No. 48 is doing their normal deal. This is about the time in the season when they start to peak. The next thing you know, we will be about halfway through the Chase and there they will be.
The other team that left Indy with their head held high has to be the No. 5 car. They’ve had top-two finishes in the last two races. They went into Chicagoland outside the top 12 in points and now they are comfortably in the Chase with a little bit of cushion.
While I think the No. 2 car is safely in the Chase, they have to be scratching their heads about what went wrong at Indy. They were absolutely terrible there. They weren’t very good in practice, terrible in qualifying and not very good in the race.
Pocono this weekend is another very similar place to Indy. If you look at June’s Pocono race and then Sunday’s race at Indy, there are some common characters that ran well at both places. Both tracks are similar but also different. Pocono’s track is very bumpy and the car never stops moving around. Indy is very smooth. Historically, if you run well at Pocono then you should run well at Indy and vice versa.
Pocono from the June race to the late July race is actually a somewhat different race track. The race track will have lost grip from sitting there in the summer sun since we were last there. I saw this trend in all of my years as a crew chief plus we have seen it continue with the old car as well as the new car. You just know that even if you ran well in June, when you came back about six weeks later you were always going to have to find ways to gain more grip.
As a broadcaster, my goal is to not be biased. I don’t pull for or pull against anyone. I pull for good safe racing every week. With that being said, I just have to say that my heart bleeds for Juan Pablo Montoya and that entire race team. To have that kind of dominant car and to lose the race based on two speeding segments on pit road makes me just want to cry for those guys.
But you know what? That’s the nature of our sport. I do want the fans to know that things are different than they were six or seven years ago. Back then, random cars were clocked at random segments on pit road with a stop watch from the tower but today with the electronic scoring it’s pretty darn bullet-proof.
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.