Happy Speedweeks, folks! It’s been a wild one so far and they haven’t even dropped the green on the Gatorade Duels. Manifolds, wheel well vents, suspensions, and revitalization have been the stories of the week; with so much going on, allow me to indulge myself for a bit before we get to your questions.
First off, how cool is it to see Robert Yates Racing show some muscle? Yeah, the Yates cars usually qualify well at the plate tracks, starting on the front row at Daytona and Talladega a total of eight times since 2004; considering where the company was just two short months ago, however, the performance is hands down the feel good story thus far in Daytona. Of course, Dale Jarrett‘s win at Talladega in 2005 was the only time Yates cashed in on one of those eight front-row starts, so it’s important to temper the enthusiasm until we see how well those candy-covered Fusions run in the midst of the pack. Judging by David Gilliland‘s second-place run in the Shootout, though, they’re off to a promising start in that department, as well.
While I’m on the topic: Is it just me or does Ricky Rudd seem like he just returned from a year-long vacation? Of course it does, because he has, and it appears to have done wonders for the Iron Man. He and Gilliland look like two brothers, arm and arm smiling and gushing over how great it is to be teammates. I guess that’s what sweeping the front row will do for chemistry.
And now a word from our sponsor: “Hi, this is Michael Waltrip. Get your intake manifold performance enhancer now, anywhere NAPA Auto Parts are sold!”
Aaah yes, Mr. Waltrip. Fined 100Gs and docked 100 driver and owner points, for the “foreign substance” found in Mikey’s fuel line points chalked up to desperation on the part of the NAPA team.
While the aforementioned substance has not been named, the rumor is it could be jet fuel. That seems to make sense, as most fuel additives we buy for our street cars contain a small amount of the octane booster. I guess it’s better to shoot the moon and get a top 10 on pole day than to rely on beating the other nine unqualified drivers in the Duel? It appears so. Mikey is jumping into the No. 00 backup car, so David Reutimann better hope he doesn’t wad up his primary if both cars make the race.
As for the other suspensions this week, note to Ray Evernham: Your cars were already in the show! Why on earth do you allow your team directors (those are crew chiefs to us lifers) to cross that thin red line during qualifying?! Not only have you lost these men for the 500, but Kenny Francis is gone till Bristol, while Josh Browne and Rodney Childers are in the basement for two weeks.
That goes for you too, Robbie Reiser.
Although the penalties are appealable, you can’t help but think Evernham and Jack Roush will take it on the chin right away. If they appeal, the penalties (there’s no way these are getting overturned) would go into effect at California, meaning Francis and Reiser would miss the all-important Bristol event when the Car of Tomorrow is debuted.
Speaking of Evernham Motorsports, did anyone catch Erin Crocker‘s performance and subsequent comments following the ARCA race on Saturday? After starting on the pole in the best equipment money can buy, the Evernham project slid through the field late in the race only to be spun on a restart when it appeared she missed a shift. Asked to comment afterward, Ms. Crocker stated, “We got a little free, I lost my momentum and we never should have (restarted) back in the riff raff.”
Riff raff? This coming from a driver who took the car of the field to the back and then made a crucial error at crunch time? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
Finally, I was watching one of ESPN’s 12 daily NASCAR-devoted programs (not that I’m complaining) when the topic of James Hylton came up. Asked what his chances were of making the Daytona 500, Andy Petree and Rusty Wallace both wholeheartedly agreed that Hylton would indeed make the race due in large part to the RCR equipment he was steering.
Now guys, I love a feel-good story the same as I love a 12-ounce ribeye, but to zealously state that the 72-year old Hylton was going to make this field reeked of ESPN working the let’s-milk-this-story-for-all-it’s-worth-so-the-ratings-will-go-up angle.
OK, I’m done clearing the conscience. Now on to the questions:
Q: I’ve been following Carl Edwards since he was in the Truck Series and was as surprised as anyone when he had such a great rookie season in Nextel Cup. I was surprised again last year when he had a rough time. My question is whether you think he is Chase material, and how do you think he stacks up as a driver against the rest of the field? – Kristin99
A: Edwards was not billed as the next big thing when he made the jump to Nextel Cup competition in 2004, replacing Jeff Burton in the No. 99 car. He quickly turned heads with a top-10 run in his first race, though. Since then, he’s been a media, as well as a sponsor’s, darling. To answer your question, yes, I think Edwards is Chase material. He has his original crew chief back in Bob Osborne and finished strong last season, averaging an eighth-place run over the season’s final nine races. After an offseason of reloading and refocusing, Edwards has too many resources behind him with Roush Racing to not be successful. I’ve got him picked to finish eighth this season.
As for how he compares to other drivers on the circuit, I think he’s a top-10 wheelman who, as he matures, will be a Chase winner eventually. Carl’s first career win at Atlanta told you all you need to know about him; he fearlessly hung that piece out over the edge, using every bit of racetrack and (literally) every bit of rubber he had to nose out Jimmie Johnson in an instant classic.
Q: If Jamie McMurray lays another egg this season and produces no chicks, will Jack Roush let him go? If so, do you reckon if Jamie starts dating Rusty’s daughter (again) it’ll help his career, or would Steve just kick his buttocks? – Aftershock
A: It’s pretty simple: Jamie has to completely turn things around this year if he hopes to keep his job. The win at Lowe’s in 2002 is so far in his rearview mirror he can no longer see it.
And make no mistake, the pressure will be on, as Jack Roush has given him a golden opportunity to make right by giving him the freedom to handpick a crew chief. Roush has also retooled the team to the point it now bears no resemblance to the group that won a title in 2004. Things have been laid out exactly the way Jamie wanted it; that means if the No. 26 experiences a season similar to last, McMurray’s out.
As for the Rusty connection, I can’t imagine where a “close personal relationship” with anyone is going to help these days. I think we’ve seen where that’ll get you! By the way, I’d take Steve over McMurray man-up in that battle. Jamie’s a lover, not a fighter.