Sunday, September 20, 2009

Commentary: Random Thoughts As We Begin The Chase

Richard Petty Motorsports is a team in turmoil.

Kasey Kahne admitted this week that he has no idea who is running the show there these days; a viewpoint that is shared by just about everyone inside the walls at RPM. Managing Director of Competition Mark McArdle is gone; fired last week after a heated verbal confrontation with team owner George Gillett. Employees of the team’s engine shop are jumping ship like fleas off a wet dog, anticipating layoffs that will soon add more than 60 names to the unemployment dole.

Was it bad karma when Kahne exited Sunday’s race with a blown engine after just 66 laps? Or something more ominous?


Carl Edwards’ broken right foot hurts much less than the performance of his Roush-Fenway Racing Fords these days. Jack Roush’s teams -– all five of them -- have lost a few mph off their fastball this season, and not even a savvy crewchief like Bob Osborne can manufacture enough Top-5 finishes to make Edwards a championship contender.


Crewchief Pat Tryson is leaving Penske Racing at the end of the season to take a position with Michael Waltrip Racing. As a result, he is no longer welcome in the Penske shop, or at the team’s weekday strategy meetings.

That’s no way to win a championship.

Tryson’s driver-for-now, Kurt Busch, had a strong start to the Chase in New Hampshire Sunday, but he’ll be hard-pressed to maintain that momentum. A house divided cannot stand.


Tryson went out of his way Saturday to tell reporters that his departure from the team is not the result of a poor relationship with Busch. That came as a surprise to those familiar with the pair's raceday radio communication; conversations that are often (how do we say this politely?) a bit strident.


Juan Pablo Montoya is 0-for-26 this season, and it’s going to take at least two Chase victories (probably three) for anyone to claim the title. Unless DEI-Ganassi rediscovers the way to Victory Lane, Montoya and company will not mount a serious challenge for the championship.


Jimmie Johnson says his team is stronger today than it’s ever been. If he’s right, I’m missing something.

The three-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion seldom gets the credit he deserves, but he and the Lowe’s Chevrolet team do not appear to be the dominant force they were a year ago. Coming into the weekend, Jimmie’s average finish over the previous six races was a downright pedestrian 18.8; a far cry from the fifth-place average he posted in the 2008 Chase. He hasn’t won since Indianapolis Motor Speedway in late July, and to me, it looks like the genie has finally slipped out of Chad Knaus’ bottle, at least temporarily.


Tony Stewart’s bid to become the first championship owner/driver since Alan Kulwicki in 1992 has been nothing short of inspirational. But he’s still got a lot of work to do.

The flow of information and technology from Hendrick Motorsports will almost certainly ebb as we approach the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and while Stewart is second-to-none as a driver, he may find it impossible to beat Rick Hendrick with his own stick.


Sources within Hendrick Motorsports tell me that a combination of chiropractic therapy and stretching exercises has four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon feeling better than he has in months. If his ailing lower back allows it -– and I’m thinking it might -– Wonder Boy will make a concerted run for title number five.

In the end, though, I see Gordon coming up just a few points short of 50-year young Mark Martin in the battle for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup. No team is more focused on the job at hand than Alan Gustafson and the #5 Kelloggs/Carquest Chevrolet bunch. They’ll get the best equipment and information Hendrick Motorsports has to offer, and Martin has the ability to offset a mediocre finish or two with multiple Chase victories.

Other teams have been hotter at times, and others have been more consistent. But Martin looks like a man of destiny, and I’m predicting that 2009 will finally be his year.

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