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FORT WORTH, Texas – Observations, rumors overheard (mostly false) and thoughts following the Samsung/RadioShack 500:
If you thought the Roush and Hendrick dominance in the Nextel Cup Series was over after Kevin Harvick won both races at Bristol, think again. Jeff Gordon's performance last week for Hendrick was pure driving perfection. Greg Biffle, who finished second in the Busch race on Saturday, displayed the same kind of perfection Sunday. Like Gordon last week, Biffle had to come from the back of the field to win.
Kasey Kahne complained to crew chief Tommy Baldwin (who for the most part ignored him) all day that his car wasn't right. Then something broke, sending Kahne into the wall. Not a great finish for Saturday's Busch winner, was it Anna?
Points leader Jimmie Johnson gave us another "I deserve to be the champion this year" kind of run Sunday, working with crew chief Chad Knaus all day until his car was right.
Reactions are varied on the new lowered rear spoiler. Biffle likes it, as does Johnson. Race runner-up Jamie McMurray said it makes the driver work harder. Bobby Labonte, who wrecked early, said, "I don't think everyone is very impressed with it." Go figure.
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates had three cars finish in the top five for the first time in a Nextel Cup race.
The best quote came from comedian George Lopez, who shared grand marshal duties with former NFL great Troy Aikman: "Only in NASCAR can a guy wear an M&M's shirt and be cool."
It's sounding more and more like NASCAR will, in the future, be building Cup cars for each team, with the help of major manufacturers. NASCAR will supply a spec chassis and greenhouse section (where the driver sits) and each manufacturer will attach a nose and tail.
And it now looks like the next-generation NASCAR engine will debut next season. It will be much like the current engine, with some improvements – but with a carburetor, not fuel injection.
Robby Gordon spun his ill-handling race car and wrecked hard into the backstretch wall, taking him out of the race. "It was a hard hit, but if you're going to do it, that's the best way," Gordon said. At least it wasn't engine failure that took him out.
Speaking of Gordon's engines, a highly placed source close to Gordon's team has admitted that John Menard's engine shop in England, which supplies engines to Gordon's Cup and Busch efforts, has "found something" which definitely will allow their engines to produce more horsepower and turn people's heads – especially those at Hendrick Motorsports, whose Chevy engines are currently best in class. FYI: Menard's engine works is a former F1 engine manufacturer that was used to build race engines capable of running more than 17,000 rpm and producing 1,200 horsepower. Was there any question they would get a Cup motor right?
Now we know why Gordon has been so adamant about hanging in there with Menard.
One of the most entertaining moments of the weekend was witnessed Friday afternoon after the IROC drivers meeting. Sports car champion Max Papis, Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice and Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais were standing in a circle around Kurt Busch, listening intently on how to best drive a stock car around TMS. It must have worked for Bourdais, who held off IROC's best ever in Mark Martin to win. Friday night's TMS crowd just might have been the biggest ever to witness Bourdais win a race in the United States.
More on Bourdais: Dave Marcis, the veteran stock car driver who now is the key setup driver for IROC, was quoted as saying that "Bourdais is the best I've ever seen in an IROC car. The best." That's an incredible statement considering all the success Martin and Dale Earnhardt had in the series.
I predict Bourdais will be racing stock cars within two years.
The producer and star of a new movie about Alan Kulwicki – "Dare to Dream" – were at TMS this weekend talking about the film which debuted this month nationwide. It's a lower-budget movie, but it looks worth seeing – more than ESPN's Dale Earnhardt movie, "3."
Hard Luck Award of the Week goes to Bobby Labonte, who was sick with a stomach ailment and an ill-handling race car. He then was involved in an accident on lap 33.
A tip of the hat to Greg Biffle for publicly acknowledging the hard work put in by crew members from the four other Roush teams in the effort to ready his backup car after Biffle blew a tire – most likely caused by debris from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car – during Happy Hour practice.
Tony Stewart's catastrophic engine failure and resulting fire was very scary. With the long trail of flames erupting out from under the car, it looked a lot like a nitro Funny Car fire. Stewart's got some burns, but he'll be OK and should be back in his car next weekend at Phoenix.
Rumors are a tough deal. They are interesting reading but can sometimes cause damage to those involved. Unfortunately, too much misinformation – often from sources who turn out to be incorrect – ends up being spread around.
The rumor mill has been incredibly active this week, with some rumors potentially being more accurate than others. Among them:
Jason Leffler about to be fired from the 11 car. Wrong. A highly-placed source at FedEx says that there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that Leffler is about to lose his gig – a stance supported by an official comment from a Joe Gibbs Racing spokesperson. Leffler's team is a new addition to Joe Gibbs Racing, which as a whole is struggling to find consistency this season. At this level, sponsors have a lot to say about driver changes and according to the FedEx source, upper management loves Leffler and has no intention of replacing him. At the very least, Leffler is in the car for the rest of the season, period.
Brian Vickers out of the 25 car? Wrong again. This one is extremely damaging since Hendrick Motorsports is about to announce the extension of its sponsorship deal with GMAC. As with the Leffler case, Vickers is loved by his sponsors. And this season he has been reunited with crew chief Lance McGrew, who was the crew chief on his 2003 Busch Series championship-winning team.
Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman leaving their respective teams. Biffle won't leave Roush now that he's getting all the attention, and especially if he wins the championship this season. Newman and crew chief Matt Borland were mentioned as possibly going to Chevy with their own team. Everyone involved denies this. If it were to happen it would be a short-term deal; that duo is high on Toyota's wish list – as is Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hendrick and Jeff Gordon to Toyota. This one sounds good because Rick Hendrick is one of the largest Toyota dealers in the country, but it won't happen. Unless, of course, Toyota buys GM in the next couple of years.
Martin Truex Jr. opting out of his deal to run Cup with DEI. Truex was mentioned as a possibility to replace Vickers in the 25 car. Sounds interesting, but not true. Teresa Earnhardt isn't about to release a true talent like Truex from his contract so he can race for Hendrick. I heard it was a close relative who started this rumor just to get a better deal out of DEI.
Sterling Marlin out of the 40 car. This one sounds like it could be true, especially since Marlin told members of the media that he already has been told his contract won't be renewed at the end of this season. Of course, Marlin was told by Ganassi and Sabates not to tell anyone that information, but he did anyway.
You've got to think that the folks at Coors are jumping up and down for attention now that one of the other highly visible beer cars is struggling this season. The story floating around is that David Stremme is set to replace Marlin, as Reed Sorenson isn't 21 yet and can't represent a beer sponsor. Some say the reason Marlin is driving so well these days is that he's auditioning for another ride ... perhaps in the 07 car?
Has Johnny Benson been testing a Toyota Solara at his track in western Michigan?