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Rick Hendrick's guys are dominating the NASCAR world....and everyone else is playing catchup

Jack Roush, and everybody else, is chasing Rick Hendrick (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Well, here's hoping Jack Roush's guys and Richard Childress' guys have a better weekend up here in the wilds of New Hampshire than they did out west in Sonoma.
    And maybe so. This is where Jeff Burton led all 300 laps once, and he just warmed up the crowd with a pre-race appearance last week. And this is where Greg Biffle made it two-in-a-row to start the championship chase last fall.
    However both camps have been struggling lately.
    In Sunday's Sonoma 350, Clint Bowyer's eighth was Childress' best; Casey Mears finished 23rd; Kevin Harvick was 29th ; Burton wound up 34th. On the Roush side, Carl Edwards ran 13th, Jamie McMurray 14th, Matt Kenseth 18th, Biffle 28th, David Ragan 33rd ; on the Doug Yates side, Bobby Labonte and Paul Menard ran 20th and 21st.
    All in all, a remarkably unremarkable Sunday afternoon.
   But then the Childress and Roush camps have been in slumps the past few months. And so has Joe Gibbs' bunch, where Denny Hamlin even called a major team meeting to discuss the situation.
    The bottom line, though, is all roses for team owner Rick Hendrick and his satellite operations: Hendrick-powered drivers have won eight of the last 11 Sprint Cup events, and tour leader Tony Stewart could easily have made it nine-for-11 Sunday.
   Burton concedes the Childress operation has fallen off the train.
   If the championship playoffs started today, all four Childress men would be on the sidelines.
   At least Roush would have Edwards, Biffle and Kenseth in the chase.
   Kenseth, who opened the year with back-to-back wins at Daytona and Los Angeles, says it's been a fitful spring for the Roush guys. Even relative newcomers like David Reutimann and upstart Brad Keselowski have won Cup events since the last wins by Roush and Childress.

That ain't the way to have fun: Greg Biffle (16) caught in a Sonoma sandwich with Kyle Busch and David Reutimann (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Kenseth's take on progress: "It's not like a steady uphill graph, where we've been doing a little bit better every week and we keep getting better and we're almost there. 
    "We had about a four-week run where we were running pretty good, and then we had a couple weeks where things didn't go right. 
    "The Pocono race we performed really well, but our fuel mileage wasn't good enough, and the way we pitted at the end, we didn't get a good finish (16th). 
    "Then at Michigan we just ran pathetically terrible.  We left a wheel loose and lost a lap, got that back, and then couldn't make it to the end on fuel without running half-throttle…and ran around half-throttle to make sure we made it on fuel."
   To a mediocre 20th-place finish.
   Time to start sweating making the playoff cut, even if it is 10 weeks away.
  "Honestly, I don't even know where we are in points," Kenseth insists. "But I know we're not in a position where we can start thinking about the chase.  I mean if we don't get running better and finishing better, we're not even going to make the chase."
   With NASCAR's teams on a stultifying run right now from Charlotte to Dover to Pocono to Sonoma to New Hampshire to Daytona to Chicago, before the year's final break, just a week before one of the biggest events of the season, the 400 at Indianapolis, Kenseth speaks for a lot of fellow drivers when he says "I don't know what to expect from week to week lately."

Greg Biffle: won Loudon last fall...but this spring he and the rest of the Roush guys have been pretty iffy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


As tough as the car-of-tomorrow is to race, particularly at the bigger, faster tracks, drivers appear almost to have given up even trying to race hard until the final 30 minutes each Sunday.
   Whether that's the case again Sunday at Loudon is up for debate.
    Particularly for Kenseth and his guys: "Greg won the last race there, so that's good. But since we started running these style of cars at Loudon the last few races, we as a team have not run very well there. 
     "I honestly don't know what to expect. 
     "We're going to try some different stuff."
    Biffle himself is incurably optimistic, no matter where the track….even though there are concerns about flat track setups. And Loudon is a fast, flat one-mile with long straights and tight corners.
    "We're going back with the same setup, the same everything, and I'm pretty confident," Biffle says.
    "Now I'm not going back there with a chip on my shoulder saying 'We're going to win this thing.' I'm saying we're going to run top-10 and continue our good run to make the chase. I'm going to use it as a tool to do that, and think about coming back later (in September) when we're in the chase, hopefully."
   Sounds suspiciously like yet another driver so worried about points-racing that this summer run may not have the edge it should.
   Bruton Smith, the New Hampshire track owner, has railed against NASCAR's points-game as too highly promoted, at the expense of each Sunday's event.
   Maybe that is indeed one of the reasons for the down TV ratings and sometimes sluggish crowds: If drivers are only stroking to make the playoffs, then why watch this sport until September?
    Indeed Biffle points to the playoffs as the big picture. Of course that's because NASCAR's antiquated points system disproportionately hits hard at teams making a Sunday mistake while not adequately rewarding them for winning, or trying harder for the win.
   "We've got to be careful, we've got to be cautious and get those points -- whether it's a fifth, seventh or a third," Biffle says.
    "We try as hard as we can, to try and win every one of them….but the fact of the matter is we can't take chances.  We've got to get good finishes."
   With that, Biffle strikes right at the heart of one of the big issues NASCAR officials need to address.
   Stroking for points shouldn't be Sunday's goal.
   Labonte: "We struggled so bad at Phoenix (a similar track to Loudon), that I'm a little nervous about going there, to be honest with you.
    "But we've got some things we can take from Phoenix and throw away…."
    However if engine power is the real game right now – with Rick Hendrick holding a commanding lead in the horsepower race, it would seem – then Sunday's Loudon race could well be yet another Hendrick win, with such long straights.
    Speed…..too much speed, even on such a short track?
    "The faster we go, the worse it gets with a flatter track," Labonte frets.
    "But they'll have double-file restarts, so that will fix everything."
    Uh, Bobby: tongue-in-cheek?

Richard Childress: chasing Rick Hendrick too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


HMS should be getting results

HMS should be getting results since they're still out there testing aggressively.Colorado,VIR,Atlanta,Ohio...they test every week.

so how much money is nascar's

so how much money is nascar's no-testing policy saving? i say scrap that no-testing rule as out-of-date and worthless. rich teams can test wherever they want to. the little guys get screwed. see a pattern here?

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