Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Musings After The Glen

Wonder Boy Not So Wonderful?

Perhaps more surprising than Tony Stewart's inability to overtake Kyle Busch during the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen on Sunday was the fact that Jeff Gordon finished 29th.

I'll say it again, because it bears repeating: Jeff Gordon finished 29th at Watkins Glen.

I'll understand if you have to read that last sentence a few times before it really sinks in. Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion, has won four races at The Glen, tied for the most all-time with Stewart. Gordon has also yet to win in 2008, and many figured the upstate New York road course was just the place to get back in line.

Only it didn't happen. Gordon was just off all day long, while teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were factors until each encountered their own set of problems (Johnson a flat tire, Junior an idiot crew chief). Gordon has been off for much of the season, even though he sits sixth in the standings.

Yes, for Gordon, sixth in the standings is an off-year.

Is it the cars, crew chief Steve Letarte or Gordon himself? It's hard to say, and although Gordon appears set to make the Chase again, he's running like a shadow of his former self. Then again, if it weren't for the Chase, he'd be a six-time Cup champion, so I guess struggling is only relative.

But bear in mind: Gordon is in danger of going winless for the first time since his rookie year of 1993.

McDowell = Cup driver? Maybe not ...

Michael McDowell made contact with David Gilliland late in Sunday's race, setting off a massive nine-car pile-up that caused a 43-minute red flag and sent Bobby Labonte to a local hospital. Now, McDowell has been parked for three races.

Mike Skinner will drive the No. 00 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing the next three weeks in what the team is calling an "evaluation period." This is the second big spill of the season for McDowell, who tumbled famously in qualifying at Texas back in March. McDowell also ran afoul of Jeff Burton at Martinsville, so it's been a tough year for the rookie.

While I'm tempted to joke about Skinner hoping into this ride -- he never won a Cup race and has spent the last couple years exiled in the Craftsman Truck Series -- the fact is Skinner worked well in this capacity once before. Remember early in the season when Team Red Bull parked A.J. Allmendinger and put Skinner in the ride?

Skinner did what was asked, and since Allmendinger returned to the car, the No. 84 Toyota's performance has improved -- even more so once the team hired Jimmy Elledge as crew chief. In fact, after Allmendinger's 11th-place finish at The Glen, the No. 84 is in the top 35 in owner points, guaranteeing a starting spot this weekend at Michigan.

So there is precedence for success in this role for Skinner. I'm just not sure McDowell has the ability to rebound the way Allmendinger did. Say what you want about Allmendinger, but he doesn't make a habit of tearing up his, or anyone else's, equipment.

Mears to Childress? has reported that sources close to the situation say Casey Mears is close to signing a deal to drive for Richard Childress Racing in 2009. Those same sources say an official announcement could come as early as this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

One possibility is that Clint Bowyer would move over to the No. 33 car, which will be sponsored by General Mills, while Mears takes over the Jack Daniels No. 07. Mears' current sponsor, Kellogg's, would probably have a lot to do with that potential move; General Mills is reportedly uncomfortable with the idea of sponsoring a driver who spent the last two years peddling Frosted Flakes.

What makes me wonder, though, is ... would Mears succeed with RCR? Nothing I've seen to this point in Mears' career suggests he would. Mears struggled at both Target Chip Ganassi and Hendrick Motorsports -- though in the interest of fairness, Mears did go through four different teams in four different seasons. Hard to succeed when you spend most of your time trying to build chemistry.

But the fact remains; there are those who feel that in firing Kyle Busch last year, Hendrick got rid of the wrong driver. Mears is one of the more likeable guys in the garage area, and he does have one career win (the 2007 Coca-Cola 600), but if Mears couldn't consistently succeed at Hendrick, what's to say he'll succeed at RCR?

Then again, I could be wrong. Who thought Busch would be this dominant in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing?

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