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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hendrick shows it is the only powerhouse team in NASCAR this year

In order to be a powerhouse team, you have to win races and titles, and run up front on a weekly basis.
By that standard, there is only one powerhouse team in NASCAR this year, and that is Hendrick Motorsports.

Last year, Roush Racing had several cars that were great every week, RCR was pretty strong, Joe Gibbs Racing was consistently up front … meaning Hendrick had some company in the powerhouse category.

This year, that’s not the case. RCR has fallen to pieces and may not have any of its four cars make the Chase. Gibbs’ Kyle Busch is struggling many weeks, and Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are hit-or-miss. Roush Racing has some downright terrible teams this year (see: Ragan, McMurray), and of the other three, only Carl Edwards’ 99 team is really elite based on overall performance this year.

That leaves Hendrick, home to four-time winner Mark Martin, who is aggressively chasing his first career title. There is also Jimmie Johnson, who always seems to be in the top-5 no matter how rough his day was. And Jeff Gordon is back in championship form, holding down the second spot in the points. (There’s another driver there, too, but I don’t want to derail the conversation so I won’t talk about Mr. Earnhardt and his struggles.)

The only other team that can be counted on to run up front each week is Stewart-Haas Racing, and that’s basically a Hendrick team by association.

The Chicago race was a clinic put on by the Hendrick drivers, serving notice that it is the best team in the garage and will most likely take home the title this year. There are legitimate title contenders at the team (Martin, Johnson, Gordon), and no other team can even begin to say they have three guys capable of making the Chase and winning the title.

So unless things change in the second half of 2009, there is only one powerhouse team in NASCAR … and the rest are just trying to catch up by the time the Chase begins.

Ambrose impressive
If you were tracking Marcos Ambrose Saturday night (and I was, as he was on my fantasy team this week), you wouldn’t have expected him to finish strongly. He struggled most of the night in the 20s, and was a lap down for a long time after Martin tried to lap the field. But somehow, he came back and finished 11th. He is on a great run lately, with three top-10s in the past six races, and has reached 18th in the point standings.
Those who might have written Ambrose off as a road racer have been proven wrong, and it looks like he’ll be around NASCAR for a while. Look for him to build on the first half of the year and continue to be successful.

Double-file restarts here to stay
After getting caught in several wrecks related to double-file restarts, likely dropping him out of the Chase this year, Jeff Burton is firmly in the camp against the new restart rules. While I understand his bad luck, his words mean little. The double-file restarts are here to stay. They made Saturday’s race exciting. Without them, we would have had nothing but a Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson runaway snoozefest. The best parts of the race came at the end, when the double-file restarts had everyone side-by-side.

So sorry Jeff Burton, but you’re just gonna have to hope your luck improves on these restarts. The fans, and NASCAR, like what they see.

Name game is petty
One thing that drives me nuts is when networks play politics and refuse to call the race by its proper name. The Chicago race was the 400, but the announcers kept calling it “NASCAR racing brought to you by Papa John’s” for some reason. A company pays millions to sponsor a race, then the networks wants to play games because they didn’t buy any TV spots during the race. It’s petty and silly.

It must have killed TNT when the announcers actually had say the word Lifelock at the end of the race when they mentioned the $1 million dollar prize a fan won from the company.

It’s similar to the petty battle between ESPN and the other networks that broadcast races, which leads to them never announcing on their NASCAR Now show where we can see the race on Sunday. It’s childish. Next time contracts come up, NASCAR should mandate cross-promotion between the networks. It can only help grow the sport.


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