Track Smack: Will Gordon make four Hendrick cars in Chase?

NASCAR.com

1. With his win at Pocono, Jeff Gordon moved into the second wild-card position. Does this mean all four Hendrick Motorsports cars will make the Chase?

Joe Menzer:Hmm ... I'm not too sure about that. A while back I was asked on one of those national radio shows which two drivers I thought would be the wild cards this year -- and if you'll recall, that's when I predicted Kasey Kahne, who had only one win at the time, would win another race to become one of them. But I chose Kyle Busch as the other, and I still think he could win a second race and jump ahead of Gordon. Then again, if Gordon wins one more ... sure, all four Hendrick cars will be in.

David Caraviello:Oh no. Not the "national radio show" thing again. Is Menzer on another book tour? Was "The Great American Gamble" (still available everywhere) re-issued?

Bill Kimm:It's beginning to look like a very real possibility. I honestly didn't think Gordon would get his victory ... but if he can sneak in another one (which is totally possible this week at Watkins Glen International), there's no reason to think he won't make it. Kyle Busch just does not look Chase-worthy right now, and with five races to go, you'd better look ready.

David Caraviello:Well, I think it's pretty safe to say that three are in. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are high enough in the points that they're basically locks, and Kasey Kahne isn't going to lose hold of that first wild card spot unless some other contender wins twice in the next five weeks. And you know what? I think Jeff Gordon gets in, too. As I've told my Smack brothers here again and again in recent weeks, this last run of regular-season tracks fits him better than any other candidate, and he's run better over the course of the year than his points standing might suggest.

Joe Menzer:This Sunday at Watkins Glen is shaping up as a great deal. I think you have to say defending race champ Marcos Ambrose is still the favorite to win the race, but Gordon has won there four times and Kyle Busch has led nearly 20 percent of the laps he's run there. If Gordon or Busch can win, that will really shake out the wild-card deal. I can't wait to get there and watch it unfold in person. Oh, and by the way, I'm available for interviews.

David Caraviello:And, Joe is giving those poor souls listening to him on "national radio" bad information. Kyle Busch is watching it slip away, my friend. Not just Gordon, but Ryan Newman is ahead of him now. Kyle is certainly a driver capable of winning, and he's shown prowess on road courses and at short tracks, but I don't think that's anything close to guaranteed.

Joe Menzer:Never said it was guaranteed, my friend. But they've had some awful luck and maybe it's about to turn. I do guarantee you that he hasn't forgotten how to drive.

Bill Kimm:Well, I believe in that regional radio interview I did a couple weeks ago I said Gordon was done. So now that he has righted the ship, maybe I'll go out on a limb here in Smack and say Busch is done. Then he will win at the Glen and show just how much I know!

David Caraviello:All season, Gordon's points standing was an illusion. They've run so much better than that, almost week-in and week-out, and from February to June just had all kinds of bad things happen. To his credit, Gordon still says he doesn't believe in luck -- and if any national radio shows are listening, I'd say I'm right with him there: you make your own good fortune -- but obviously they've gotten past their problem phase and are finishing races. Given the speed they've shown, it was only a matter of time, even if Sunday's victory was aided by the rain.

Joe Menzer:As for Bill's earlier comment that with five to go, Kyle doesn't look "Chase-ready" and you'd better be ready at this point in the season ... did you not catch Tony Stewart's dramatic turnaround during last year's Chase? He said point-blank after barely getting in (with zero wins, no less) that he didn't even think he deserved to be there. Then he ripped off five wins in 10 Chase races, of course.

Bill Kimm:Yes, but that was in the Chase. There's a big difference in turning it on when the points reset than battling your way for a wild-card berth.

David Caraviello:My goodness, the poor radio listeners of America. (Attention producers: You want real information, you know who to call.) And Bill's right, Kyle doesn't look Chase-ready right now. And if you're hoping for another once-in-a-lifetime kind of run like Stewart unleashed last season ... well, keep waiting. That is, if Kyle even makes the Chase at all.

Bill Kimm:"Bill's right." I think that is the first time Caraviello has ever uttered those words. I should retire now and enjoy the rest of my week.

David Caraviello:Have 'em gold-plated and mounted, my friend. So, anyway, yeah -- Hendrick can absolutely get all four cars in, especially since three of them are basically locks right now. I've said it all along, Jeff's performance has been better than he's gotten credit for, and the slate of tracks the circuit is visiting right now favors him. If they do it, given the four-car cap, it will be an achievement almost on par with Roush getting all five drivers into the Chase in 2005. Of course, Roush didn't win the championship that year. Sorry, Rick.

Wild card standings
1. K. Kahne 2 622
2. J. Gordon 1 611
-- R. Newman 1 611
-- Ky. Busch 1 599
-- J. Logano 1 575

Joe Menzer:Even though he got in on points, Tony Stewart surely had to battle just to get into the Chase last year. He barely made it. That argument doesn't hold water. So, on this one, "Bill's wrong." Of course Kyle Busch doesn't look Chase-ready right now. He and the team are struggling. But to write them off because of what has been mostly bad luck -- and to ignore that this is a track in Watkins Glen where he has three top-five and six top-10 finishes to go along with one win, plus has led nearly 20 percent of the laps he's run -- is to make a mistake. That team and driver have speed, too, and some fight left in them. I'm just saying they could win one of these next five races and spoil the planned Chase party for Gordon, that's all. And I said "could." Not "guaranteed."

Bill Kimm:I guess the big question is will Joey Logano, Ryan Newman or Kyle Busch win again? Because it appears that will be the only way Four-Time doesn't make the Chase. Odds are Logano's shot came and went at the Tricky Triangle. Newman doesn't seem like a win contender and Busch is struggling mightily right now, but has the Glen this weekend. As long as Gordon keeps it clean and stays between 11th and 13th in points ... he should be in. But Busch is the big wild-card in all this.

David Caraviello:Oh and by the way, enough with the revisionist history, Menzer. A year ago today Stewart was ninth in points, with a nice cushion between him and 11th. He got in on points, not as a wild card. That's a very different situation from Busch, who at the same point is on the outside looking in, and has no hope of making the top 10. Completely different. So enough of this "Tony just barely snuck into the Chase last year" stuff.

Joe Menzer:I already pointed out that he got in on points. But he barely got in. Oh, and Tony also had zero wins prior to last year's Chase. And he sat at a table in a bar in Chicago right before the Chase began and declared that someone else should have taken his spot because they didn't deserve it and had no chance, blah, blah, blah. All I'm saying here is that if Tony caught fire, and if you weren't going to write Gordon off prior to his rather fortunate rain-shortened victory last week at Pocono, how can you write off Busch now?

David Caraviello:Incorrect again, Menzer. Tony qualified last year in ninth place in the standings, with a hefty 28-point cushion over 11th-place Brad Keselowski. That is not "barely getting in." Now, they might not have been running as well as they wanted at the time, but again, let's not spin half-truths. Wouldn't want the national radio audience to turn on you or anything.

Bill Kimm:Simple answer -- Gordon has been posting top-fives and top-10s recently, and Busch ... well, not so much.

David Caraviello:That Bill Kimm:, on it again. Time to promote you from regional to national radio, my friend. I hear there may be an opening.

Bill Kimm:Oh come on David, this is an election year -- half-truths are totally acceptable.

Joe Menzer: Next thing you know, he'll be touting "Caraviellocare."

2. Dodge announced Tuesday that it's leaving NASCAR at the end of the season. Can Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing contend for a title with a lame-duck manufacturer?

Bill Kimm:I may be going against the grain here, but I believe so. Reading Ralph Gilles' comments has made me a believer. It's clear Dodge doesn't want to leave, and I truly believe it would love nothing more than to go out as the Cup champion. I'm not counting the Blue Deuce out just yet.

Joe Menzer:I think so. Brad obviously is a terrific driver and tremendous competitor. Paul Wolfe is proving to be one of the best crew chiefs in the business. And here's the final rub: Dodge would love to go out on top and shove it in everyone's faces, so they're not going to do this halfway. They're going to throw everything at it and try to go out on top.

David Caraviello:First of all, what a disappointing situation. I think everyone at Dodge, though, can take solace in the fact that none of this is for performance reasons. Brad Keselowski has three wins in that Charger, and Kurt Busch won a bunch last year, so clearly the car is capable of going fast. The 2013 model they were slated to roll out looked good. To a large extent, they did things right. But the folks at Fiat in Italy are in control right now, so there was only so much they could do.

Joe Menzer:Great opening statement, Mr. Caraviello. Now please answer the question at hand.

Bill Kimm:So is David going to answer the question?

Joe Menzer:He really is becoming a politician.

Bill Kimm:No kidding ... that was awesome, I'm not going to lie.

David Caraviello:Now, as far as Penske goes -- I'm actually going to agree with Bill Kimm: again (shocker, I know). I think the Dodge folks here in the U.S. are ticked off at what's happened, and they want to go out with a bang, and they're going to pour everything they have into trying to help Keselowski win the Sprint Cup championship and Sam Hornish Jr. win the Nationwide Series title. Can they do it? No idea. There are a lot of good cars out there, some better. But it won't be for lack of trying.

Dodge & Penske
All-time statistics from the brand, team partnership
'03 8 19 34 11
'04 3 14 25 9
'05 1 16 33 8
'06 1 9 19 8
'07 2 13 29 6
'08 2 7 18 1
'09 2 12 28 0
'10 2 9 20 3
'11 5 18 30 4
'12 3 8 14 1

Joe Menzer:Now there's an answer. But I think you meant to say that you agreed with me, Mr. Senator.

Bill Kimm:OK, well we all agree on that one. Do we talk more now about Caraviellocare and how he will require everyone to attend at least one rock festival per summer?

Joe Menzer:No, let's get back to the racing question -- if that's OK with the Congressman. There is no question that Dodge is going to throw every engineering and technical resource they have left in the box at winning these championships. They have nothing to lose and nothing to save for next season now. It's all or nothing. So, in some ways, this may help the efforts of Keselowski in Cup and Hornish in Nationwide. Strange, but true.

David Caraviello:Can they do it, and will they do it, are two completely different things. No question, Brad is a heck of a wheelman who is tied for the series lead in victories and in contention to be the top seed in the Chase. But can he win the title? He's good enough, certainly. But from a competitive standpoint ... well, there are probably reasons for the Penske move to Ford. They're still the only Dodge organization, still have nobody else to lean on for information verification, can't "cross pollinate" -- as Roger Penske would say -- with other affiliated teams. Eventually, that could take a toll, regardless of how good Brad is or how much Dodge wants to win.

Joe Menzer:And what a story it would be if Dodge could pull off even one of those titles. Keselowski in Cup obviously is their best shot. He's sitting there with three wins and keeps climbing in the standings. So he's solidly in the Chase and will be able to use those wins as bonus points that likely will start him at or near the top when the points are reset at the start of the Chase.

Bill Kimm:I hate to rain on the Dodge parade right now, but I think Brad is its only shot. Sam Hornish Jr. is great and all, but I just see no possible way he wins the Nationwide title. That baby belongs to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Elliott Sadler or Austin Dillon. Hornish is racing for fourth.

David Caraviello:I must say, I was struck by how crestfallen the Dodge folks sounded on Tuesday when they made this announcement. Clearly, they were preparing for 2013 -- they had put all that research and development into a new car, after all -- and it all really feels like they had the rug pulled out from underneath them. I don't want to hammer too much on the paisans in my ancestral home, but this has Fiat's fingerprints all over it. The Italian company owns most of Chrysler, they're getting more into things like motocross and sports-car racing, and ... well, you can connect the dots. If I'm Ralph Gilles, I'd be ticked off, too.

Bill Kimm:David ... no team wants to run Dodge. We can place blame overseas if we want ... but the reality is there is no top-tier team willing to go with Dodge. Bottom line ... no results, no future.

Joe Menzer:If we want to get more into what happened with Dodge, let's put some of the blame on the leadership of Dodge's motorsports division, too. Gilles admitted that the decision last March by Penske to leave Dodge for Ford "caught them off guard and they never really recovered from it." Later he admitted Ford basically offered Penske a deal he couldn't refuse -- one Dodge wasn't willing or able to match at the time because they were "in review mode." Whether that was coming from Italy or not, they got caught with their hands off the wheel and paid a dear price for it.

David Caraviello:No question, Joe, a lack of savvy played a part. But Bill, Dodge was really hurt by consolidation in the sport, which took away two of their teams, and I think if the manufacturer had been given the green light to throw some money at a more established organization, things might be different. But clearly, they weren't. But I will give you that they needed more than one team to stay in business, given that no other franchise would want to be on an island the way Penske has been.

Joe Menzer:Bottom line, Senator David, is that Dodge seemed OK with having the one team in Penske. But Penske obviously wasn't (even though I have to point out that Roger Penske himself repeatedly said he was -- right up to the day he signed the new deal with Ford, when suddenly he wasn't). You should understand -- there were some pretty dirty politics going on behind the scenes there.

Bill Kimm:You mean Penske was like a politician in this situation?

Joe Menzer:Exactly.

David Caraviello:But yeah, as far as winning it all this year, it's Brad's show. Sam has had a really good season, but he's running both series now, and I don't know how conducive that is to a Nationwide Series championship bid. Brad's certainly good enough, but boy does information-sharing pay dividends in the Chase. It really helps when an affiliated team without a dog in the hunt can give you all their information. That's going to put the No. 2 guys at something of a disadvantage.

Joe Menzer:You just gained two points in the latest voter approval poll. Congratulations!

3. Elliott Sadler won his fourth race of the season last week at Iowa. Should the Nationwide Series points leader be in a Sprint Cup ride next season?

Joe Menzer:Do you guys not read my One Menz Opinion column that runs at NASCAR.COM every Monday? I defer to it. The short answer is, yes, but he's not going to simply climb into any car. He deserves a quality ride. Maybe he could be the new guy in the No. 22 car at Penske?

David Caraviello:Hey, remember the good 'ol days of Smack when Joe Menzer: used to predict that Elliott Sadler would win five times every season? He was only a few years off! But that doesn't detract from what Sadler is doing now. He's doing his best impersonation of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. from last season, and trying to go out and seize it. I'm a huge believer in Stenhouse, and Austin Dillon is a star in the making, but it's getting tough to deny Sadler right now.

Bill Kimm:Let's see if I can make it three-for-three with Senator Caraviello today. The answer is no. First off, Nationwide success doesn't always equal Cup success. Just look at Dale Earnhardt Jr. Second, he had his shot, it didn't work out. Now we can all point to reasons why. But two good years in the Nationwide Series don't mean you all of a sudden get promoted back to a level where, let's be honest ... he was average.

Joe Menzer:The numbers don't lie. Elliott struggled much of his 11-year Cup career. He finished higher than 13th in points only once (ninth in his only Chase appearance in 2004). But you don't luck your way into three career Cup wins. I think he's proven something these last two years -- and especially this year with the ability to get back into Victory Lane. I strongly disagree with the junior senator from Georgia on this one. I think Sadler definitely has earned another Cup opportunity.

David Caraviello:Hold on, hold on, I need a motion for a recess to try and comprehend what I'm hearing. Bill, my friend ... you do realize Dale Jr. has won 19 times on the most competitive major motorsports series on the planet, is the current points leader, and has made the Chase three times, and ... you're saying that's not success? Dude, that's wild success. Not everyone is Jimmie Johnson, sure, but come on, man.

Bill Kimm:It was a joke! Just trying to lighten the mood up in here after all the doom and gloom at Dodge. A little poke at our current points leader -- that's all.

David Caraviello:You need new material!

Joe Menzer:I can hear the Speaker banging his gavel from here, over the Internet! You are out of order, sir! Don't you dare bash Dale Earnhardt Jr., even in a joking manner!

Bill Kimm:Would it have been better if I said Mark Martin?

David Caraviello:Mark Martin has won 40 times and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Sure, go ahead and essentially call him a failure, too. Where's my gavel ....

Bill Kimm:As Caraviello knows, when you are on top the arrows come from everywhere -- fair or not.

Joe Menzer:Now let's bring this discussion back to the original question and boil it down to the basics: there is going to be a Cup ride open at Penske next year in the No. 22. Should it go to Sadler or Sam Hornish Jr.? Who deserves it more?

Bill Kimm:As far as Sadler ... love the dude. One of the classiest people in the garage and I would love to see him back in the Cup Series. But let's be honest ... if you are looking for a Cup driver, who would you hire -- an up-and-coming driver like Justin Allgaier, Cole Whitt, James Buescher, or do you bring in an aging Sadler? Odds are stacked against him with so few rides out there.

Elliott Sadler
Career Cup statistics
14 430 3 19 69 170 21.4 22.8 8

David Caraviello:Sadler is indeed putting himself in line for something, though no idea what that might be, or even if anything is available. As is usually the case, this is less about talent and more about timing -- what rides are available when. I feel the No. 22 is out for him, because Penske needs a proven commodity with all the turnover they've had in that seat in recent years. What about RCR, which is Sadler's team? Does something open on the 31 car, or does Jeff Burton stay another year until Austin Dillon is ready to take the leap. In fairness to Jeff, we haven't heard anything about him going anywhere. Will there be an opening at Ganassi? Will Stewart-Haas and Joe Gibbs find sponsorship to keep Ryan Newman and Joey Logano, respectively? There are a lot of moving parts here, and Sadler's waiting for all of them to fall into place.

Joe Menzer:I admire Sam's loyalty to Penske and his dogged determination in trying to make it as a stock-car driver, and he has displayed tremendous progress after, let's admit it, getting thrown into Cup before he was ready. But considering Penske is going to be making the switch from Dodges to Fords and there is going to be an adjustment period anyway, I think you should go with the guy who has more Cup experience and has, in fact, displayed more Nationwide success lately. And that's Sadler. Let Sam run Nationwide another year and try to win races and a championship, and then maybe you go to three Cup cars at Penske in 2014 with Sam driving one of them.

David Caraviello:Not going to happen, Joe. You have a high-dollar car that's seen too much turnover for all the wrong reasons. They're not going to take a flier on this one. At least, they shouldn't.

Bill Kimm:David is right on ... unfortunately for Sadler there is a lot of great talent out there. Let's not forget Brian Vickers still doesn't have a full-time ride.

Joe Menzer:And Bill, why are you going to hire one of the guys you just mentioned when they haven't won as much as Sadler lately in Nationwide? Yes, they're solid up-and-coming talents. But you go with the guy who is getting it done the most.

Bill Kimm:Because this sport doesn't reward experience ... it rewards youth and the ability to sell a paint scheme.

Joe Menzer:Guys, guys, guys. ... Vickers is going to end up staying with Michael Waltrip Racing in an increased role (I'm betting). That No. 31 car is being held for Austin Dillon eventually, so anyone who goes there (assuming Jeff Burton isn't good for one more year, which I think he might be) is a temporary replacement. And, again, what makes Vickers, even with his strong performances this year, more attractive to Penske than Sadler? I don't get that.

Bill Kimm:As you said, Joe, Sadler deserves a top-tier team. Not too many of those open for someone closing in on 40.

Joe Menzer:It sounds like politics might play a role. Imagine that.

David Caraviello:Listen, Elliott has a lot going in his favor. He's won Cup races, he's proving he can win again, he's fabulous with sponsors and the media. He'd be a great ambassador for anyone. But the right ride has to be there. The last thing the guy wants to be is in a situation similar to what he was in at RPM, back before that team restructured, when it was a financially-strapped organization that struggled to get cars to the track. That experience clearly left a mark on him, and I think he'd rather stay in Nationwide and bide his time rather than move to a Cup ride fraught with risks.

Bill Kimm:Sadler had his chance. I just don't see him getting another one. At least not with one of the big boys.

Joe Menzer:He is absolutely beside himself hoping to get a ride in Cup, trust me. But you are right. It has to be a quality one or it makes no sense whatsoever. This may be his best and last chance to make it happen one more time.

David Caraviello:Bill, that's a very short-sighted statement. And Joe, you are absolutely correct on this one.

Joe Menzer:Did I just hear the Speaker pound his gavel?

David Caraviello:The gentleman formerly from Ohio has spoken. I declare this session closed! Goodness, I need to stop watching so much C-SPAN.

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