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Toyota's Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch 1-2 for Sunday's Sonoma 350

   Brian Vickers, one of NASCAR's most polished up-and-comers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern

   SONOMA, Calif.
   If GM's meetings with its NASCAR teams a few days ago were supposed to be calming, well, maybe Chevrolet bosses need to try again.
   It might not be panic time for NASCAR's Chevrolet teams, but it sure looks like that point may be coming. Chevy men and Chevy crews were clearly ill at ease here Friday.
   Chevy drivers and team owner Richard Childress all tried Friday to put an upbeat twist on the financial effects on their NASCAR operations from GM's bankruptcy, but they were unconvincing.
   In fact the uncertainty, which many of them referred to, may be the scariest issue.
   And, again, nobody from General Motors was willing to make any statement about any of this….with Childress even noting that maybe GM executives themselves might not know just what may happen next.
   All the drivers insisted they were loyal to Chevrolet and they supported whatever GM would have to do to make it through the current economic crisis. But, reading between the lines, it appears that all GM executives could tell the teams this week is 'Trust us, things will eventually get better.'


Whoop-de-doo! Racing at Sonoma is like riding a carousel, as Kurt Busch shows (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


That's the cloud hanging over the NASCAR world as Sprint Cup teams warmed up for Sunday's 350 at Infineon Raceway, just north of San Francisco.
    And that uncertainty could play a big role in how Sunday's 350 goes, with Chevy teams that typically dominate here reeling.
    That could be an opening for an upset – Juan Pablo Montoya perhaps, or even a road course 'ringer like Ron Fellows (in Rick Hendrick equipment, for car owner James Finch) or the irrepressible Boris Said.
   Of course maybe all this is simply a perfect setup for Kyle Busch to snap out of his current slump and rock and roll to his fourth win of the season.
    Toyota's Brian Vickers and Busch took the front row for the 2 p.m. PDT (5 p.m. EDT) start. Busch, who won this race last summer, will fly next to Milwaukee for Saturday's Nationwide race and then fly back here overnight.
    "The plan is to leave here as soon as Cup practice is over, and I don't know if we're going to get to Milwaukee in time to qualify," Busch said. "We'll helicopter from here over to the airport and take a Citation 10 over to Milwaukee…and then reverse it all to get back here."
   One twist for this race will be double-file restarts after every yellow, which some drivers say will make for extra thrills.
    "It's going to spice it up, no doubt about that," Marcose Ambrose, starting third, says. "And I think as the race goes on, the drivers will become more aggressive on the restarts.
   "We're all really just waiting to see how it plays out."
   However it's close to crunch time for several drivers, in terms of negotiating new contracts with sponsors, or with making the championship chase. Even though the playoff cut is two months off, some drivers, like Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., are in danger of missing the cut.
   Harvick concedes this has been the worst season of his career. Car owner Childress a few weeks ago swapped crew chiefs, Gil Martin taking over Harvick's operation from Todd Berrier, but that hasn't stopped the downward spiral of the Childress operation. In fact Childress' other two teams appear to be feeling the effects too.


Jeff Burton says all four Richard Childress Chevy teams need to get back on track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Teammate Jeff Burton says Harvick is not taking all this very well. And Harvick's crew is getting quite upset with Harvick's attitude, and his continually berating over the radio.
   "Kevin is concerned about where we are, the same way we're all concerned about where we are," Burton says.
    "I think Kevin is focused on not so much concentrating on not so much how we got here versus how do we get out of this hole, and how do we make sure we don’t get ourselves back in this hole.
    "Kevin is frustrated.
    "He's used to contending for wins and being fairly secure in the chase.
     "But this year none of us (Childress' four drivers) have been able to do that.
      "He's had a year, to this point, he would rather forget.
      "He's concerned about it.
      "Early in the year, when we were going through it, he was real calm about it and handled it really well.
     "As the year has gone on for all of us, we've not turned the corner in the way we want to turn the corner.
     "I think the tension has been raised for all of us.
     "Everybody is on pins and needles. And it's uncomfortable, to be quite honest, because we all know that we should be doing better.
    "Sponsors know we should be doing better…and our employees know we should be doing better.
    "Richard knows we should be doing better -- and we're capable of doing better than what we're doing right now.
    "So it's been disappointing.
    "I honestly believe we will make it better. It's not going to be 'Wave the magic wand' and everything flips.
    "We're all smart enough to know there are ups and downs in this sport. But we're responsible for the ups and downs.
      "Kevin knows that too….so he wants to hold people accountable. He's wanting to make sure that everybody is doing what they need to do to turn it around."
   So just what's the problem here? And is Burton himself confident Childress has some solutions?
    "We think we know," Burton says slowly. "I'm confident we know what we need to do…but I was confident we knew what we were doing this winter, and we obviously didn't."

Brian Vickers at Sonoma (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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