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Time is running out for teams trying to catch all those Hendrick guys

  Rick Hendrick (R, with Jeff Gordon) is sitting atop the NASCAR world, with everyone else chasing his men (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   This has been a Rick Hendrick year, no question about that.
   The rest of the teams on the NASCAR tour have rarely even been much in the game.
   And in this sports business, when you get behind, it's hard, if not impossible, to catch back up, until the off-season break.
   Matt Kenseth concedes the Jack Roush camp needs to catch up.
   "Everybody finds a way to work on it -- whether it's computers or seven-post machines or tracks that we still can go to to test, or whatever… but we just haven't done as good a job this year," the Daytona 500 winner and California 500 winner says. 
   "Last year (when teammate Carl Edwards won nine races) we had a couple of things that seemed like they were an advantage…until
other people caught onto it.  Carl won a bunch of races right away, with the rear-end housing and other stuff, until everybody caught onto
    "It's just harder to find that advantage these days. And you just have to have every single thing right. And it seems like we've got
ourselves a little bit behind.
    "But I know they're working hard on the stuff trying to figure it out, and hopefully we'll get it better.

Matt Kenseth: winning Daytona and California was great, but what's happened since? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


"It's basically set-up stuff. I guess you could have some structural differences in a car; but the aero on the cars are almost all identical with this car, and there aren't as many variables as there was with the other car. 
     "All the bodies are basically the same; all the engine stuff is close enough where that's not going to be the difference, really, in my opinion, between running first or second or eighth and 10th. 
    "So it's mostly set-up stuff – bump-stops and springs and maybe front geometry, and maybe some structural stuff with the front snout that you can still work on.
    "It just seems like they are a lot more technical than they used to be.  You used to be able to make bigger changes to your car and try stuff, whereas this stuff just seems like it's a lot more technical. 
    "To me it seems like it's really hard to get it just right -- and it's really easy to get it off.
    "And for us, when we get it off, it's really hard to fix it.
    "When we're really close, we can make small adjustments and we can feel it
     "But when we're a big chunk off it's just really, really hard to find it. 
     "We unloaded the first lap at Chicago really far off, and we put it back in the trailer (Saturday evening after the 400) driving just as bad as it did when we unloaded it. And we threw everything we could think of at it."
    At least Edwards and Kenseth are probably going to make the championship chase. But even so, there are six Chevy teams in the top-12 right now, and only those two Fords.
    But it's not the Chevy camp that's dominating; it's the Hendrick camp.
    Hendrick's Jeff Gordon says he can commiserate with Richard Childress' four struggling teams: "I think the biggest shakeup is obviously at Richard Childress'. It looks like something has happened with their programs.
    "I can relate to this, because we went in a direction last year that we thought was the right one, and when you get in that position, it is hard to get out of it. You stick with it for a certain period of time because you think it is better. Your theories and your data show that this should be better…and then if it doesn't work you, you have to abandon ship.
    "It is hard to get things turned around."

Jeff Burton: how to turn this big ship around? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Burton, one of the Childress men trying to crack the playoffs, says the whole Childress camp is struggling:
   "It's a little bit of chaos at the moment, no question about it," Burton concedes. "I think everybody would admit that.
    "We haven't had the results we need to have.
     "When you're not having results, the pressure gets turned up. That's the way it is right now.
     "There's a huge effort to do things differently, and change things…and that creates a great deal of problems.
    "People are working more hours than they've ever worked. We're asking a whole lot more out of everybody.
    "It's not going to turn around overnight.
    "When you get behind, everything gets harder.
     "We are in a hole, no question. We've got to dig ourselves out of it.
     "I think we can, but it's going to be a grind.
     "This is a result-oriented business. The results speak for themselves. We are what our record says we are -- and we're not good enough right now."
   On top of that, teammate Kevin Harvick is reportedly looking to leave the Childress camp, even though he's got another year on his contract.
   Tony Stewart did persuade car owner Joe Gibbs to let him out of the final year of his contract, so he could move on, but that was contingent on Gibbs not having any sponsorship shortfalls related to Stewart's departure. So when Home Depot stepped in to take it on again with rookie Joey Logano, Gibbs was cleared to let Stewart leave.
    Burton says he's a little surprised Harvick might be looking. "I know this about Kevin -- Kevin wants to be part of an organization that's competitive," Burton says. "Richard wants to have an organization that's competitive.
    "Harvick is wanting to go win championships and races…and so is Richard.
    "Ultimately they've both been really good for each other. There have been a lot of race wins with that combination…but I think neither one of them thinks it's good enough (right now), and they're both pushing hard.
    "I hate we're in this situation where we even have to talk about it. But…the pressure is turned up and everybody is feeling it."
   So where are the problems that need to be solved?
   "It's been my experience that when you're running well, it's not because of one thing…and when you're running poorly, it's not because of one thing," Burton says.
    "Our preparation going into this year was wrong. We didn't know it was wrong, but obviously we did some things wrong, and that's showing up right now.
    "If you're doing what you think is right, and it's not good enough, you just can't say 'Well, do this, because that will fix it.' It's harder than that.
    "There are a lot opinions, a lot of theories, but we just didn't do a good job of going from last year to this year and improving.
    "Now here we are in August.
     "It takes a while to turn the big ship.
     "I think the testing ban has been a big negative for us. Now that's not NASCAR's fault; that's our fault. We need to be quick enough on our feet where when NASCAR makes a change we're not sitting there holding the bag.
    "Last year I would venture to say that we tested more than most; I'm not aware of a team that tested more than us.
     "We received a lot of benefit from that.
     "We weren't testing because we just wanted to be at the track; we were testing because it was effective.
     "Now that we haven't been able to test, I think that's hurt us some.
     "But that's our fault. We've got to adapt our program."

    Richard Childress (L) would love to know the secrets Rick Hendrick (R) has working so well for his teams right now (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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