Hamlin Gets Hammered, Loses Crew Chief Until Chase
The headline says it all. A trick panel in the rear firewall of Hamlin’s Toyota Camry at last weekend’s Brickyard 400 allowed for the car to benefit from extra air flowing over the chassis, producing more downforce.
Such modifications are against NASCAR’s rules, and as such, the team, Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb were severely penalized with a loss of points, a hefty fine for Grubb and the crew chief being suspended for the next six weeks.
To be honest, crew chiefs are paid large salaries to find ways in which to bend rules inside the tiny engineering box on the Gen 6 race car. It is no surprise that someone as clever as Grubb, or someone on his staff, came up with such an ingenious way to produce extra downforce.
Grubb’s suspension could have been longer and far more damaging. Instead, it is for the remaining races of the regular season. Hamlin is a race winner (Talladega spring race) and already has one of the 16 spots in the Chase. Hamlin will be back on top of the box, calling the shots on race day for the first race of the Chase.
Once again, NASCAR barks loudly but steps back from the bite.
Gordon on a Hot Streak?
Rejuvenated by his second win of 2014 last weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon has made it clear that he has every intention of going all the way this season. After the race he repeatedly expressed confidence in his team being able to take him into that final race at Homestead as one of the four drivers challenging for the title.
“I think the reason why we're leading the points is because I believe we're the best team,” Gordon said following his win in the Brickyard 400. “I think we saw we were points leaders, we saw we won at Kansas, but I don't know if we believed we were capable of winning this championship this year, truly believe it. We do now. We got to keep that fire in us, keep it going.”
One would be foolish to bet against this wily veteran, who appears to be on a mission to win his fifth title this season.
Happy Harvick and Co. Need to Find the Handle
Although his team's place in the Chase is secure, now is the time for those teams set for postseason play to up their game and regularly score top-five or at least top-10 finishes.
Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing squad is among the best in the Cup Series and always a threat to win. Their rebound eighth-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis needs to be the start of a string of top 10s all the way through Richmond.
Harvick is unbeatable when the car is good. He dominated in his win at Darlington, but that was four months and a dozen races ago. The remaining six races before the start of the Chase are all tracks where Harvick does well. He has wins at every track but Pocono. He led 24 laps in the June race at the Tricky Triangle, yet he finished in an unrepresentative manner of the team’s effort, 14th.
Expect a much better finish this weekend for the Budweiser Chevrolet.
Edwards Faces Continuing Distractions
After Carl Edwards' team owner, Jack Roush, tried to get the upper hand on the morning of the Brickyard 400 by having an impromptu press conference to officially announce that he would leave the team, Edwards had to manage the distraction of the media and a race team that knew officially that Edwards is a lame-duck driver—while at one of the biggest races of the year.
The announcement by the team, whether orchestrated or not, was classic Roush and puts Edwards on the spot moving forward. His team will need to be reassured every week, although Edwards is a race winner with a spot in the Chase, that he’s the guy until Homestead and that it's in the best interest of everyone to go out and win the title.
Lame-duck situations are usually a bit difficult, but last year, Kevin Harvick showed how it should be done, winning four races, making the Chase and finishing third in points. If not for his team’s falter in the second Bristol and Loudon races and the Talladega Chase race being a wreckfest, it would have been a real three-way battle for the title in 2013.
Edwards will also have to deal with the media, which already knows he’s headed to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015 but continues to delight in watching him dodge the question. He is contractually unable to discuss next year’s situation until sometime in September.
Will Kahne Get His Chance at Revenge?
At last year's second Pocono race, Kasey Kahne was able to take the race lead on the final restart from Jeff Gordon. Gordon's memory of losing that race to Kahne had him determined to make the final restart against Kahne during the Brickyard 400 "the restart of his life," as Gordon put it after the race.
It was, and Gordon went on to win.
Kahne was not a factor in the June race at Pocono, having been involved in an accident early in the race. He'll not let his Hendrick teammate get the best of him again this weekend should the two be involved in a restart in the closing laps of the GoBowling.com 400.
Added incentive for Kahne is that he is still the only Hendrick driver who is winless this season, while teammates Johnson (three), Gordon (two) and Earnhardt (two) have multiple wins.