It didn’t seem possible that Hendrick Motorsports could raise the bar after winning three consecutive Sprint Cup titles.
But then Haas CNC Racing, which has an alliance with Hendrick, got a boost in the offseason when Tony Stewart joined forces with Gene Haas, providing Hendrick with even more tactical knowledge.
The ability to acquire feedback from a two-time Cup champion such as Tony Stewart, as well as a driver the caliber of Ryan Newman, elevated programs for all parties involved — evidenced by the fact that three Hendrick and both Stewart-Haas teams are in contention to qualify for the Chase Saturday night at Richmond.
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Ford and Roush Fenway Racing will receive a similar bump if and when Richard Petty Motorsports and Yates Racing merge this offseason. Much like Haas and Hendrick before this season, Yates and Roush have an alliance, but so far it is of little help to Roush as Yates’ cars are 30th and 32nd in the standings.
However, with the ability to bring Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler into the fold, the Yates-Petty partnership can certainly benefit Roush in the future.
“It’s always hard to tell who is at what level, but I know just based on performance the way that (No.) 9 car has been running, that’s a big deal for us to gain them as quasi-teammates,” Carl Edwards said. “That’s pretty cool.
“(Crew chief) Kenny Francis is real smart. (Kahne) is a great driver. (Allmendinger) is a great driver and (Sadler) has proven that he’s a great driver, so I think we’re gonna get some solid folks over there that can help us. It’s cool for Ford, too. I think that will make us more of a powerhouse and maybe be able to compete and stay on the upside with those guys at Hendrick.”
Petty of the future
Teammates to be
2009 at a glance
Going into Richmond, Edwards appears to be a Chase-lock — if he finishes 24th on Saturday he’ll be one of 12 drivers in NASCAR’s playoffs. However, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth’s futures are not nearly as secure. At 11th and 12th in the standings, respectively, Biffle and Kenseth are currently riding the bubble. Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch will be gunning for their spots on Saturday night.
“You always try to put your best teams together,” said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton, who worked as a crew chief and program manager at Ford prior to his current role. “With Ford putting their group together, it’s going to help them overall with the group in general.
“Any time you can surround yourself with good teammates it works to your advantage.”
And it’s not only Hendrick and Roush who are employing this strategy.
For Cal Wells, Executive Vice President for Michael Waltrip Racing, improving his driving and engineering roster has been one line of defense against powerhouse organizations since the company’s debut in 2007. His secret weapon? Toyota Racing Development.
While MWR shares space and information with JTG/Daugherty Racing, none of the Toyota teams have alliances with other organizations to the degree of Hendrick/Stewart-Haas, but they share information through their Toyota Racing Development relationship. Through TRD, all Toyota teams share data, so Wells doesn’t feel the pressure to merge with another organization.
“Toyota approaches their teams that way anyway,” Cal Wells said. “It’s not as symbiotic as Hendrick and Stewart-Haas, or what I believe the Jack Roush and Richard Petty alliance under the Ford umbrella.
“But we’ve been working surprisingly closely with the other Toyota groups. We hope to draw closer and closer. Part of that is earning credibility. The better you run, the more interested people are in talking to you.”
TRD also provides engines to both MWR, JTG-Daugherty and Red Bull Racing. Joe Gibbs Racing has its own engine shop. However, since Hall of Fame Racing moved in with Yates Racing last year, JGR lacks a technical partner.
But Denny Hamlin — who is currently fourth in the standings and the only Toyota locked into the Chase going into Saturday night’s race — firmly believes the company is “missing a little bit right now just having three cars.”
While he doesn’t condone spreading the company’s “resources too thin,” Hamlin feels that with a fourth car, satellite teams or the ability to acquire “really good information and drivers,” the team could improve upon its strong platform.
“We’re running about as good as we can considering we’re three cars and three cars only and that’s it,” Hamlin said. “In the future, we’re definitely looking at the fourth team and satellite teams and all that stuff. Gibbs has done the satellite stuff before and you’ve got to have a fully funded satellite team with a good driver for that to work. That’s why it’s working for Stewart and for Hendrick and those guys.
“You’ve got Stewart willing to spend whatever it is that Hendrick is so they’re not giving up anything. They truly have a six- or seven-car team to be honest with you and realistic about it. If we had double the cars, I’m sure we would probably run better each and every week because we would have more to bounce off of.”
RPM has earned two wins for Dodge this season with Kahne collecting the checkered flag at both Sonoma and Atlanta. Kurt Busch won the first race of the season for Dodge at Atlanta in March. Yet, with Richard Petty Motorsports leaving the fold, only Penske Racing remains to carry the Dodge banner.
Busch, who is the only former Cup champion in the Dodge camp at this time, believes the strength of an organization still comes down to the teams. With Sam Hornish Jr. still acclimating to stock cars and David Stremme in a lame-duck position, Busch hasn’t had the support from the Nos. 12 and 77 squads that many of the other drivers currently in the Chase Zone enjoy.
“I still think what we need at Penske Racing is an affiliate to work with and it doesn’t matter if we’re Dodge or competing against Chevy of Ford. That’s what the next step is we need to take a look at.
“Sometimes the feeling that I’ve had this year is that I’m on an island all by myself. We just have to continue to find ways to make this (Cup car) fast with no testing. That’s why I like the theme of merging with guys, because you get a fresh set of notebooks without even having to hit the racetrack and test.”
The accumulation of data is just one benefit shared by technical alliances. Organizations that have expanded from two to four teams over the last decade or formed partnerships with other companies have also benefited from an economy of scale in the fabrication end of the equation or through an engine partnership.
In George Gillett’s case, the principal owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, “winning” was the ultimate reason for merging with Yates.
“It was a logic-based decision,” Gillett said. “If you just sit there and look around a set of pieces fall into place.
“(Ford has) a brand new engine coming out. We know it makes a hell of a lot of horsepower and torque. So logic takes over.”