Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hendrick back?

Is Hendrick Motorsports back after Jimmie Johnson’s win at Phoenix Saturday night?

That depends on if you think they went anywhere in the first place. Personally, I never bought that Hendrick was struggling, even though Jeff Gordon already has three DNFs this season and Johnson had a terrible stretch at Las Vegas and Atlanta.

If anything, Hendrick’s perceived troubles are the result of other teams catching up. Roush-Fenway has made monstrous gains in the new car, as evidenced in Carl Edwards’ series-leading three wins. Joe Gibbs has given Toyota a huge push, with the big surprise being that of the team’s two wins so far this season, Tony Stewart has none.

If anything, Hendrick is merely the victim of other teams finally figuring things out.

And considering Dale Earnhardt Jr. is third in points, 86 behind leader Jeff Burton, things aren’t all bad for Hendrick. Earnhardt has finished in the top-10 in all but two races so far this year (a crash at Fontana and a 12th-place finish at Texas) and has led 355 laps – the third-highest total in the series.

Add Johnson’s win to the mix. Sure, he won the race on a fuel-mileage call, but the car was good enough that it might’ve won the race even if fuel had never become an issue. Gordon isn’t going to spend the entire season struggling, and expect Casey Mears to contend more as the year progresses.

Everyone talks about how Hendrick Motorsports is back, when the reality is, they never really went anywhere.

Testing, testing …

Give Aaron Fike this: his admission to ESPN the Magazine to driving at least one Craftsman Truck Series race while high on heroin shined the light on one of NASCAR’s most glaring problems:

Its drug-testing policy.

Do I think NASCAR has a huge drug problem? No, but how can we be sure if we’re not testing everyone consistently and at random? The policy is one of suspicion; if NASCAR doesn’t think you have a problem, it won’t test you.

While NASCAR thinks that’s a good way to go, I’m not as convinced. I wouldn’t necessarily say performance-enhancing drugs are a big deal in auto racing, but if guys are shooting heroin before strapping in and driving a few hundred laps, NASCAR needs to take a look.

Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart all said this past weekend at Phoenix that at no point in their NASCAR careers have they ever been drug-tested.

Harvick even went so far as to practically beg to be tested.

In the other major sports, the leagues push for drug reform, while the players resist. In NASCAR, it’s the other way around. In this instance, the drivers have it right. Sure, everyone in Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Truck Series might be clean … but how do we know if we’re not testing?

I don’t know if random testing will serve as a deterrent, but it has a better chance of catching the next Aaron Fike before he straps in high on something. NASCAR’s dangerous enough when you’re competing sober. Why would anyone want someone out there under the influence of something?

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