Q: My buddies are saying that Jeff Gordon will never win a championship again and that he is at his end. What many people fail to realize [is] that if it wasn't for the Chase, J.G. would have two more Cups. With only one restrictor-plate race and no road races and no Martinsville, is there any other driver that has the least to benefit by the Chase [format]?

Fanning the Flames: Little Rock, Chase Hopes, Ford’s New Engine And A Crack-Back

If every race were as good as the one we saw last weekend, ratings would be up 15% right now, not down. Watching Martinsville made me long for the muggy summer nights of my youth spent at the track, breathing in exhaust fumes and picking rubber out of my hair. Good show, boys.

While I doubt this column will equal that race in terms of excitement or entertainment, rest assured, I’ll try. The questions and commentary I’m receiving from you all is awesome. Let’s keep it up.

Now, on to the inbox…

Q: My buddies are saying that Jeff Gordon will never win a championship again and that he is at his end. What many people fail to realize [is] that if it wasn’t for the Chase, J.G. would have two more Cups. With only one restrictor-plate race and no road races and no Martinsville, is there any other driver that has the least to benefit by the Chase [format]? — Joe

A: I think what you’re asking me, Joe, is what Chase-likely drivers are most handicapped by the current makeup of Chase tracks. In Gordon’s case, he has traditionally performed well on the road courses, plate tracks and short tracks. And since there is no road course and only one plate venue in the playoffs (Martinsville is in the Chase, Joe), he’s not able to play to his strengths.

To this I agree… to a point. Thing is, over his career Gordon has run strong at all types of tracks — intermediate, flat, plate, road and short — so to say he’s handicapped because of the lack of a road course or the small number of plate tracks is a little misleading. In fact, I think the two factors that have hurt Gordon in the Chase more than the track makeup are the Car of Tomorrow and Jimmie Johnson.

The one name besides Gordon that hit me after I first read your question was Tony Stewart. Then, I realized he’s in the same boat as ol’ Gordo — he’s been good for a long time just about everywhere. Actually, I believe the fact that they are so good magnifies the two in this case.

That said, and for the sake of giving you a straight answer, I’d say Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and maybe Denny Hamlin.

Oh, and I’ll also opine that Jeff has another title in him — so tell your buddies they owe you a beer.

Q: Matt, I heard a lot last week about the teams testing at Little Rock (“The Rock” as many know it). What, if anything, do they learn from that if NASCAR controls so many of the parts needed to make a racecar run (ie: wings, tires, shocks, etc.)? Or, at best, how do they get a hold of these “official parts of NASCAR?” — Mark Rubley

A: Well, the teams certainly can’t tune a car in at Little Rock. They’re more apt to try out any new setups and get a ballpark on what may or may not be working for them. The cars are really pretty close when they get to the track courtesy of the seven-post shakers and simulators. It’s then up to the driver’s backside to get it from “close” to “race-winning.”

As for the “official parts” they’re using, the parts aren’t official at all aside from the tires. The teams can get shocks from the manufacturer and set the pressures according to the track they’re testing for. Similarly, the dimensions of a rear wing are well known; the teams simply construct their own. And as for those Goodyear Eagles we all love so much, the Official Tire Manufacturer leases 200 tires per year to Sprint Cup teams to be used for testing at non-sanctioned tracks.

Q: Doug Yates says the unrestricted version of the new engine is ready. With all the old engines blowing up and the best finish for a Ford at Bristol being a 15th, what are they waiting on? Why aren’t they using the new engine? Marcos Ambrose finished ahead of all the Fords on seven cylinders. I know a new engine won’t solve all their problems, but it can’t hurt, either. — Kenny Leffel

A: Actually it can, Kevin. These new engines are years in the making and while Ford may have not had stellar short-track performances, let’s not forget it did score victories at Daytona and, most notably, California, where sustained RPMs have engine builders waking up at 3:00 a.m. crying for their mommy.

However, I talked to Kevin Kennedy with Ford Racing this week and asked him what the update was on the new piece. Kevin told me that the engine has in no way been delayed. Ford unveiled it on the Charlotte Media Tour in January (and with all the beat writers dropping like flies over the offseason, it’s no wonder there wasn’t much coverage) when it announced the engine would not make its competitive debut until the second half of the season.

Ford has done the on-track testing, which he informs me has gone well, but continue to tinker a bit further until Roush and Yates engineers are satisfied that it’s ready to be unleashed on Sundays. He also noted that to ensure Ford gets the maximum out of its current stock of hardware, it wants to obsolete the current parts at a natural rate.

Lastly, and in response to our illustrious Managing Editor, Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? That the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team hired a new coach this week in John Calipari? Meanwhile, Tom’s UConn Huskies, while in the Final Four (I’ll give you that, chief), face possible sanctions due to recruiting improprieties. Yes, a return to our rightful spot atop the nation’s elite is just around the corner. All will be right in the world very, very soon.

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