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If someone were leading the game 861-2, is it time to ask questions?

If someone were leading the game 861-2, is it time to ask questions?

Happy times at the Brickyard, for Richard Childress (R) and Paul Menard, a year ago

   By Mike Mulhern

   Richard Childress and Chip Ganassi both insist their racing operations are doing just fine, thank you, and they say all their Sprint Cup teams need is a couple of wins to make that clear to all.
   However, the record says otherwise.
   Look at one startling statistic here.
   Ford clearly had an engine edge at the start of the season, but in May the Rick Hendrick Chevys really came alive.
   -- Since Darlington's Southern 500 in mid-May Hendrick's four Chevy drivers have outscored Childress' three Chevy drivers in laps led by a whopping 861 to 2.
   -- And Hendrick drivers have outscored Childress drivers in wins 5-0.

   Well, this track should be an excellent place for the two veteran team owners to make their case: Childress kissed the bricks last August to celebrate Paul Menard's Brickyard 400 win, and Ganassi kissed the bricks in August 2010 to celebrate Jamie McMurray's victory, and Ganassi came close to kissing the bricks in August 2009 when Juan Pablo Montoya dominated the 400, before getting slapped with a pit road speeding penalty.
   But that was then, and this is now:
   Childress' three drivers are winless this year. Kevin Harvick's last tour victory was at Richmond late last summer. Menard's first and only tour victory was here last summer. And Jeff Burton's last tour victory was back in 2008.
   Ganassi's two drivers are likewise winless this year. McMurray, who had that great 2010 season, winning the Daytona 500, Indianapolis' 400, and Charlotte's fall 500, hasn't won since, now nearly two years on. And Montoya, who has yet to live up to his Formula One and Indy-car reputation in this branch of the sport (with only two wins over his 5-1/2 years here), hasn't won since Watkins Glen in the summer of 2010.


   Richard Childress: time to shake things up again? Or just stay patient? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The Childress and Ganassi teams work closely together, with Childress providing engines and engineering for Ganassi, with engines perhaps the key link.
   However the contrast between this part of the NASCAR Chevrolet camp and the Rick Hendrick side of the Chevy camp is sharp -- all four Hendrick drivers are running very strong, with five wins so far, and the Tony Stewart-Ryan Newman department has four more wins itself for Hendrick engineering.

   Ganassi himself concedes 2011 for his teams was pathetic. And at the end of the season Ganassi shook things up, dropping team managers Steve Hmiel and Tony Glover, and bringing in John Probst and Max Jones. Things haven't looked much better this season. McMurray has led but 16 laps, Montoya but 14. Nothing close to a win. And just a handful of even top-10s. Painful...and for a year and a half now.
   Ganassi points out he has been making "a lot of changes," and he insists "things are going well.
   "Are we where we want to be in the points? (20th and 21st, with little chance of making the playoffs) No.
   "Are we where we want to be in performance? No.
   "But are we happy about the people we have and the direction we're going? Yes.
   "We're not where we want to be....but we're not finished."

 Chip Ganassi, hands raised in victory, and ready to kiss the bricks in 2010, with winner Jamie McMurray (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Childress shook up his operation after last season too. And he says he's seeing results: 
    "One of our cars is sitting sixth in points and should have won three races. Three times Kevin was right there to win.
    "We've been competitive...but we haven't put the wins together.
    "Last year we won six races."
    Childress knows his men should be competitive at this track in Sunday's 400, and he knows Ganassi should be too.
   But will they?
    "We've won this race three times (in 1995 with the late Dale Earnhardt, in 2003 with Harvick, and in 2011 with Menard)," Childress points out.
    However hanging over the Childress camp are some questions about maybe more shakeups coming for 2013.
   Burton has been one of those questions; but Childress confirms he is committed to running Burton again next season.
   And Childress says sponsor Caterpillar's second-quarter earnings success comes at a good time for the team. "I just talked with them Wednesday, and they're really happy," Childress says.
   "But we would all like to see that team running a lot better."
   Burton led 24 laps at Daytona, but only four laps since March. His second place finish at Daytona three weeks ago was his best of the season.
   Burton's new crew chief this season is Drew Blickensderfer, Burton's third crew chief in the past 18 months. Todd Berrier started last season with Burton, and their average finish over the season's first 19 races was 20.8, when Childress decided to change things up and put Luke Lambert in charge. With Lambert, Burton's finishing average the final 17 races was 15.4.
   So far this season, over the 19 races, Burton and Blickensderfer have a finishing average of 18.2.
   Childress seems a bit perplexed that Burton isn't doing better. "We're doing a lot of stuff with that team to get it better," Childress says.  


 Richard Childress (L) and Jeff Burton (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
   Are there problems under the hood for the Childress men?
   Childress insists not. "NASCAR takes the engines to check 'em all out. They've taken Montoya's engine, they've taken McMurray's engine, they've taken Kevin's engine, they've taken Jeff Burton's engine....and they've taken all the Chevy engines, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s too. So we know exactly what all the Chevy engines are making for horsepower and torque, the whole thing.
   "And we're right there (with the Hendrick engines). One week we may be better than them, and the next week they may be better than us. It's all really close."
   But Childress knows there's something Hendrick engineers have found that his men are still looking for. "It's something," Childress says.
   The difference, he says, "is a number of little things. You can't just say 'Oh, it's the aero, so let's go work on that.'
    "You've got to work on aero, chassis, bump-stops, engines, acceleration, weight, everything.
    "And when you get a little off, it's not just one thing. You can't just say 'Oh, let's go fix our engines.'
   "We qualify well sometimes, and run well. We've got speed."
   But still no wins.

    On top of all this, Childress has his two grandkids, Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon, to fit into the big picture next season too. Ty is set to run Trucks full-time, Austin to run full Nationwide and part-time Sprint Cup.
   Childress says "We've got to put a plan together for both of them. And the plan (right now) is for each of them to run two years Nationwide and run in seven Cup races a year (as rookies)...and if they prove themselves and if we feel right....
   "Like Austin said 'I don't want to move up until I feel I can compete to win.' And Ty is the same way: 'We don't want to be just Cup drivers, we want to be able to go out and win.'
   "And if it takes three years of Nationwide to get us all comfortable.....
    "We've got a plan...because I've seen too many guys come into Cup too early."
    And after all even guys with more than 10 years on the tour are finding it hard to win these days....


       The next generation: how will Austin DIllon (R) fare in NASCAR's big leagues? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



The issue is not just with Childress and Ganassi,

The issue is not just with Childress and Ganassi, but with all the non-Hendrick teams. Nascar has always favored the bowtie, that's unquestioned, but they tend to change rules a lot when it comes to a perceived advantage to any team other than Hendrick. The cooling rules at Daytona and Talledega are prime examples. They claim it was about tandem drafting, but those of us who have watched the sport for 40 years know it was to give the other teams a way to compete with the FR9.

I've watched this sport for many-many years, and there are ebbs and flows to the advantages enjoyed by particular teams and manufacturers, but one constant is that you never see Hendrick without the majority of laps led and wins. They never slump because they have the sanctioning body in their back pocket to tweak the rules in their favor.

Honestly, this is one of the several reasons the sport is in decline. People are tired of manipulated results, favoritism, media worship of individuals and teams, lack of open testing, lack of reporting of engine test results, stealing of sponsors from the teams by the sanctioning body, GWC finishes (when it gives one of the chosen ones a chance to win), top 35 rule, tire changes after teams have qualified, bogus penalties for rules infractions, double-secret probation, Fox, DW, Larry Mac, MW, and the general dumbing down of the sport.


Um, the cooling rules were put in Daytona cause watching tandem racing was a complete embarssment to the sport. RCR has never been on par with Hendrick for the last 15 years. They are 2 totally different raceteams, comparing them is a shameful cry. It\'s like comparing the Dallas Cowboys( who have one playoff game since 1996) to an organazation like the Pittsburgh Steelers or New England Patriots. Organazations that have developed and sustained a winning model. With RCR, let\'s be realistic in what you have. Richard Childress is a dedicated owner with great resources, but he does not have the pocketbook that a Hendrick, or even Gibbs or Roush for that matter have. And yes, he does have a treasure chest full of money, but he\'s not going to go broke, or let the company margin suffer to get on spending par with Hendrick, Gibbs, etc...... That\'s where you see the differnce on the racetrack. Has been like that for the past 10 years really.RCR has there moments, but they are far from being anything close to what Hendrick is. It\'s the reason Harvick is always so smirky, somewhat bitter. Cause he know\'s he\'s not getting what the drivers at Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush get........... And Burton stays through next season to get his grandkid in the #31 in 2014. But if I know the people at RCR, they will use the #3 and make a shameful wad of money off of that...... Paul Menard will be at RCR until Paul Menard does not want to be at RCR, or live in Charlotte, or drive racecars; And he wants to move back to Wisconsin and sit on the board At the Menards Hardware Stores in the mornings and fly off to Vegas in the company G-5 in the afternoon...... The Menards sponsership at RCR is a lucrative windfall....... Earnhardt-Gannasi, or as it should be know Gannasi-thanks for the free engines Teresa, see you at the Christmas party Racing, is a raceteam with no growth outlook. That has a lot to do with the moderate sponsership money they recieve. Target is a good sponser, not a great one. They are not a Lowes or a Home Depot by any stretch. But they send the check every month and have for the past 8 years. They help keep the doors open and pay Juan\'s salary. Getting anymore money from them would be impossible. So it\'s an even flow. The sponsership for McMurray is in question for next year, but they should scrape out enough money to bring McMurray back. But it\'s not like McMurray has many suitors anyhow. Gannasi Saved McMurray from being where Elliot Sadler is now, so McMurray is not going anywhere. But it\'s been 2 years since his lucky win\'s at Daytona & Indy( I will give him Charlotte), so McMurray should be feeling some heat................ Let\'s be honest about why Nascar has waned in populairty, etc..... I almost compare it to American Idol, Nascar had a rebirth in the late 90\'s, Jeff Gordon, Earnahardt, new TV contract, big money from sponsers. A lot of glitz & Glazz. But the reality is, watching an actual race on televison can be consuming. There long, often can be boring. So there is very little attention span for a viewer. You have to be a die-hard bone head like me to sit there and watch the majority of the race. So, the popularity of Nascar dwindled over the years cause it\'s really not a great product on television. Sure the boom of the late 90\'s sucked people in, but when they realised it\'s usually not that great to watch on television, they left. Now attendance at the track can be attributed to almost the same. There was the Nascar boom, it brought more people in that were not usual fans, usual sponsers, but they came and went with the times. And yes, the fact that people don\'t have as much money to spend sure has hurt the sport. I think Nascar has settled in to what it really is in terms of the sport populous. It\'s a show that is really geared for the true fan; Ulike most of the stick and ball sports where most people can sit down and relate to it cause everybody knows somebody who played that sport, plays it, is around it, grew up around it......And those sports r pretty easy to follow........... But one thing I know for certain is Nascar need\'s to find a way to impose spedning limits on teams. They have to find a way. Sponsership money like it was 10 years ago is not coming back. Even if the Economy rebirthed to a monumental growth, corporations are not going to spend on advertising, promotion like they did 10 years ago. Nascar need\'s to find a way to control costs cause if they don\'t, your going to have 4-5 teams, owning all the cars in the top 20 in points; Thenafter that your going to have teams that race on minimal budgets that allow them to be just competitive enough not to be embaressed, ala Richard Petty Motorsports, gannasi, Furniture Row, Wood Brothers. The sad thing about that is these are race teams that really want to compete and win, and are bringing good money to the table. But with superteams and super budgets, these other teams are being priced out of the sport; And the sport is becoming a refelction of a well-off suburban high school playing an innercity high school with limited everything...........

Excellent analysis. Brutally honest. But

Excellent analysis. Brutally honest. But how much blame shouldn't we be putting on Detroit for letting this happen?

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