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JJ & MM 1-2 for the Talladega start, but NASCAR execs on the hot seat: low TV ratings, weak crowds, 'slow' yellows, controversial decisions.....

  Is car owner Joe Gibbs (R) making a big mistake breaking up the Kyle Busch-Steve Addington team? After all Addington has led Busch to 12 wins the past two years....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   So what to make of Joe and J.D. Gibbs' decision to dump crew chief Steve Addington and bring in someone new to manage Kyle Busch's team?
   Well, with Addington at the helm, Busch won 12 Cup events the past two years and has been one of the sport's top drivers.
   Yes, Busch may come across as a prima donna, but he's good at the wheel.
   Yes, those problems early in last season's title chase were painful, but hey, that's racing.
   Yes, Busch didn't make the chase this season, but he only missed the cut by eight points.
   So fire Addington?
   Doesn't look very logical.
   Teammate Denny Hamlin says Addington and Busch had "become stale."
   Heck, how many other teams in the NASCAR garage would like to be as stale as these guys. Kevin Harvick hasn't won a race in almost three years, for example. And none of Richard Childress' four teams made the playoff cut. And Juan Pablo Montoya --- with an amazing five top-fives in the first six races of the chase – is now out of the title hunt.
   Well, Dave Rogers, Busch's new crew chief, is a solid guy of course, and this will be his second run at being a Cup crew chief, and he's got a solid engineering background.
   But handling the temperamental Busch? Man, that could be a pain.
   Getting the car right is only half the job in this sport. Keeping the driver's head right is just as important: ask Tony Eury Jr., ask Lance McGrew, ask Todd Berrier…..
   Too many drivers on the tour today come across as prima donnas.
   Let's cut drivers' salaries in half, give that money to the crew, and things might run a lot smoother.

  Crew chief Steve Addington (L) and Kyle Busch: 12 wins together, and they're being broken up? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Meanwhile out on the track, rain washed out Saturday's pole runs for Sunday's Talladega 500, so Jimmie Johnson and teammate Mark Martin will start on the front row. TV starting time is listed for 1 p.m. ET.
   The line?
   Tony Stewart may be the man. He's been one of the best, if not the best, drivers at this track the past several years. He won this event last year (though Ragan Smith did cross the finish line first, after being forced below the yellow line by Stewart), and Stewart has logged nine top-fives.
   This is not one of Johnson's best tracks (his only win came in 2006, and he's had six DNFs).
   This has been a very good track for Jeff Gordon, with six wins and 13 top-fives. And Gordon continues to be fired up about the title, even though he's 150 points down with four races to go and needs to score big here to get back in contention.
    This used to be a very good track for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (five wins), but he hasn't won here since 2004. And he's been in a funky mood all season, almost depressed – his three teammates are in the title chase, and satellite teammates Stewart and Ryan Newman are also in the chase, and yet Earnhardt is mired 24th in the standings, and his finishing record since Labor Day looks like this: 17th, 21st, 35th, 20th, 36th, 25th, 38th and 29th.
    The man with the most on the line here (assuming Johnson finishes modestly well and doesn't crash out) is Martin. He's the closest to Johnson in the chase, 118 points down, and he's lost ground to Johnson three straight races now. However, for all his moaning and groaning about Talladega – as perhaps the one track on the tour he simply doesn't like – Martin has won twice, and scored 22 top-10s. It's just those six DNFs that so aggravate him.
    To put it bluntly, Martin and Gordon each need to pick up at least 50 points on Johnson here, to have any hope of challenging. And that is certainly doable.
    But hanging over everyone Sunday is the threat of another last lap controversy:
   Ragan Smith made a pass low on Stewart for the lead and the win one year ago, but Stewart blocked him, and Smith – rather than run into Stewart and create a very bad situation – went below the yellow line, and NASCAR not only took away what appeared to be the win but even penalized him.
   That highly controversial call by NASCAR led directly to the big crash here in the spring – same situation, different players: Carl Edwards leading on the frontstretch the last lap, Brad Keselowski diving low to make the pass, Edwards blocking low, and Keselowski refusing to go below the yellow line. Big crash, Edwards' car flipping into the catch fence and then bouncing down on Ryan Newman's car.
   If NASCAR hadn't ruled against Smith a year ago, the Edwards-Keselowski crash almost certainly wouldn't have happened.
   Throw in the vigorous bump-drafting here now (these cars-of-tomorrow are so solid in the front and rear bumpers that drivers have been able to take bump-drafting to a new, dangerous level), and the fate of Sunday's 500 may well rest in the hands of NASCAR officials in the control tower. And they have already been criticized in recent weeks for being 'late' to throw the caution for a late race crash, in order to provide an exciting finish.
   Kurt Busch, on bump-drafting here: "What else do you want us to do? And what would be the side effect to it?
   "We can't run around here without restrictor-plates, because we would have the cars running 230 mph, and they would have a better chance at hurting the drivers and fans. That's the reason for restrictor-plate racing.
   "The COT is a more comfortable car to draft with; therefore bump-drafting is more aggressive with these cars…and that's just what we have to deal with. It's a necessary evil."
    Racing here, Kurt Busch says, "is more a mental game -- what lane you're drafting with, who's in your lane, who's aggressive on a certain day, and who in the past has been a good guy you can rely on, that's not necessarily a teammate.
    "All those things are going through your mind here at Talladega, and a little bit at Daytona, where they don't at other tracks.
     "If you feel it's getting hostile up front, or in the middle, you try and separate yourself from it.
    "You have to be there at the end. You can't have a damaged car and expect to win. You have to look around you and protect your car…like you would at a short-track."
   Well, at least this race should have enough talking points to keep fans on the edge of their seats – or couches.
   And this seems to be the one race each fall that can compete head-to-head with whatever it rivals on TV. (A plus, Game Four of the World Series won't start till 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday.)


   Mark Martin (L) and teammate Jimmie Johnson: Front row for Sunday's Talladega 500...with Martin needing to gain points on Johnson in the Sprint Cup title chase (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



The starting lineup for Sunday's Talladega 500, Race Seven of the 10-race NASCAR championship

I don't undestand the Gibbs logic either...

By the way Mike, I'm LP2HLYWD on twitter also....

Just like my response on twitter, what's up with Gibbs and successful crew chiefs firing or demotions? The same thing happened with "Fatback" McSwain and Bobby Labonte. At the time, they were in the middle of the points battle and "poof", McSwain was outta there and Labonte hasn't seen the Top 10 in points since.

Like Jeff Gordon once said, (paraphrased) Kyle's a great driver, but racing in multi-series is not going to help him to become a Cup champion. Maybe he has a point. Take all that effort he's putting in the Nationwide and Truck, all into his Cup program, maybe we will see the Champion he will become.

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