Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Nine Down, One to Go: Martinsville, Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix Musings

You gotta give Carl Edwards credit for trying. He finished third at Martinsville, a track he's not that good on, and then won Atlanta and Texas. Edwards even finished fourth at Phoenix on Sunday, putting together a four-race stretch after a disastrous Talladega and Charlotte that would give anyone a boost in the points.

Unless that person was chasing Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson won both Martinsville and Phoenix in dominating fashion, and even rained on Edwards' parade with a late charge to finish second in Atlanta. Not even a 15th-place egg at Texas could bring Edwards within 100 points of the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. And unless something completely unforeseen happens Sunday at Homestead, Johnson will become the first driver since Cale Yarborough to win three consecutive Cup titles.

Johnson could easily be working on his fifth straight championship; he's never finished lower than fifth in the season standings in his Sprint Cup career.

If Johnson finishes 36th or better in the Ford 400, he'll clinch the title regardless of what Edwards, 141 points back, does. If Johnson leads a lap, he needs a 38th-place finish; if he leads the most laps, the benchmark becomes 39th. Johnson finished 39th in the Coca-Cola 600 in May thanks to a blown motor, so it is possible.

Just not likely. Like it or not, we can start engraving the trophy now.

Needless Change?

Jamie McMurray will be getting a new crew chief in 2009, but the way he's been running in recent weeks, one might wonder why. McMurray has four Top-10 finishes in the last five races, including three Top-5s. He finished fifth in Charlotte, along with back-to-back third-place efforts in Texas and Phoenix.

He also finished seventh in Atlanta, and McMurray had strong runs at Talladega and Dover derailed by any number of issues.

So ... why is owner Jack Roush getting rid of Larry Carter again? I'll grant that McMurray sits 16th in the point standings and hasn't won a race since July 2007, but is it really that smart to make a change just when things seem to be coming together?

I'll grant Roush normally makes these sorts of moves with a measure of success, but it's no coincidence that Edwards struggled in 2006 when Roush took away crew chief Bob Osbourne. Only once Osbourne returned did Edwards return to his winning and championship-contending ways.

If I'm Roush, I'm not letting Carter go anywhere.

Merger Talks

I realize I'm well behind on following the Chase for the Sprint Cup on this page -- I'll get to that in a bit -- but the big news of the day coming into the NASCAR season's final weekend takes precedence. There have been talks in recent weeks of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. merging with another existing Sprint Cup operation -- Petty Enterprises and Chip Ganassi Racing being the two likeliest candidates -- and as of Wednesday, the talks became reality.'s David Newton reports that DEI will merge with Ganassi for the 2009 season to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. As it currently stands, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Juan Pablo Montoya will be three of the team's four drivers, while the driver of what is now the No. 41 Dodge has yet to be decided.

A.J. Allmendinger and Scott Riggs are among the drivers slated for that ride. Reed Sorenson, the current driver of the No. 41, will move over to Gillett Evernham Motorsports' No. 10 at the end of this season.

Given both organizations' recent struggles, both on the track and in the bottom line, this move makes sense. NASCAR was already moving toward a competitive climate that would only allow the super teams to flourish, and the economic struggles facing NASCAR and the nation as a whole made such a move even more necessary.

Ganassi and DEI have both struggled for sponsorship dollars of late -- Ganassi had to shut down the No. 40 team in July and lay off 70 employees because of a lack of sponsorship, and of DEI's four cars, only Truex's No. 1 has full funding for 2009. So from an economic standpoint, the merger benefits both teams, even if funding is still needed for Montoya and Almirola. Montoya's car, the No. 42, only has partial sponsorship, while Almirola's No. 8 will lose the U.S. Army as a sponsor after this weekend'd finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Manufacturer details remain to be seen, given Ganassi's contractual obligations to Dodge, but reports have EGR running under the Chevrolet/General Motors brand. There is also the matter of DEI's engine alliance with Richards Childress Racing, though a source told Newton RCR wanted to keep that relationship, even after the merger.

DEI's season has been well-documented, and many attribute much of the team's problems to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s departure after last season. But DEI's problems started long before NASCAR's most popular driver left for Hendrick Motorsportsl, as evidenced by the team's results each of the last three seasons. While the merger probably won't yield short-term results, if the newly-formed EGR can survive the economic crunch and not give way to the Hendricks, Gibbs and Roushes for the world, this team could be successful in the long run.

I'm just not sure the late Dale Earnhardt ever had anything like this in mind when he founded this company.