A friend in need
Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon have something in common more than just winning the last two Cup races -- great communication with their respective crew chiefs. Last week the key to Gordon's rain-shortened Pocono 500 win was Steve Letarte's pit strategy. Sunday at the Citizens Bank 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup race, Bob Osborne was coach and cheerleader for Edwards, who hadn't been to Victory Lane in a Cup car since October, 2005.
And while Edwards' relationship has just started paying off benefits in Cup this season, he does have a commanding lead in the lower level Busch Series.
When Edwards burst on the scene, winning Cup races right from the beginning, he credited Osborne for helping him get those results. But Roush management reassigned Osborne to Jamie McMurray, who joined Roush last year, to get him acclimated to the company's style.
The problem was that McMurray and Osborne didn't get the same results that Edwards got. So Osborne was returned to Edwards to turn things around, a decision that paved the end of Edwards' 52-week winless drought.
After a disappointing Busch race Saturday night in Kentucky, when he crashed out of contention, Edwards needed Osborne's steady counsel. "We didn't win the thing and we should've," Edwards said. "It was tough to sleep [Saturday] night, and then I got up [Sunday] morning and Bob and I talked a little bit, and he convinced me to put that behind me and to go out and do a job."
With a renewed focus, Edwards was ready to put Saturday night's race and the winless streak behind him. "Part of what help[ed] me is the reason that we're running so well in the Busch Series -- and the reason we're running so well now is because I know Bob Osborne," said Edwards after the Cup race. "Bob knows as soon as something happens, he can tell when I say something exactly how mad I'm getting or how close to exploding I am. We know each other well enough. So he helped me a lot with that."
Osborne added, "the biggest thing was we had an unfortunate incident on pit road and Carl did a phenomenal job coming back up through the field -- not damaging the racecar, not over-driving the racecar. I believe that was the key to our race.
"We had to start at the tail-end, and in the first lap from that re-start there was a big accident, and he easily could've been in that. He put it behind him, had a level head and kept the fenders on the race car and got us back up front. His driving ability, you can't see enough."
When a driver and crew chief click, the wins will come. When things aren't working out you get the opposite results.
Consider Gordon's previous record with crew chiefs such as Ray Evernham and Robbie Loomis. Individually, all fine talents, but when they didn't mesh, Gordon's performance suffered. Gordon's current results demonstrate that his talent has not faded.
Of course, mere communication alone doesn't result in winning; there has to be an entire support system of good materials, manufacturing and total team concentration on bringing the best car to the track. After the race in Michigan Jack Roush admitted that the advantage his cars once had on the one and one-half and two-mile tracks were not there despite full sport of the Ford factory. Speaking of his drivers, Roush said they deserve more: "I'm just embarrassed that it took us this long to really celebrate with Carl and the guys."
Now Roush-Fenway and all the teams not winning the Car of Tomorrow races have to make sure that they have devoted enough resources to that project. Otherwise the best crew chief and driver combinations won't be enough to challenge the Hendrick Motorsports dominance.
While many in NASCAR-land are noticing rookie, Juan Pablo Montoya's full-time debut season, another rookie, Lewis Hamilton, is setting the rest of the world's racing community on its ear.
After winning the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the rookie has put together two consecutive wins, both on tracks he'd never seen before. Now, at 22-years-old, he's the youngest driver to lead the World Championship Formula One series points standings.
Hamilton's first win, in Montreal, was blown off the United States sports pages last week after Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that he has signed with Hendrick Motorsports. While Earnhardt is NASCAR's most popular driver, Hamilton's growing worldwide following could dwarf Earnhardt's unofficial "Red Army."
Still the Briton, who drives the McLaren/Mercedes, remains calm and unaffected on the surface. Winning two races in eight days and garnering seven-straight finishes in the top three -- called podium in Formula One land -- was beyond his wildest expectations.
"I didn't expect anything," said Hamilton after the victory in Indy. "But I hoped to do well and do a solid job and start reasonably well in the season. Now I have to build upon it and keep learning on a steep learning curve. But I never expected to; I hoped maybe I would get a podium at some point, but I've been on the podium for the last seven races. It's just insane, and it's just -- I find it very, very hard to come to terms with everything. So I'm not reading stuff that's going on in the papers, I'm just focusing and trying to enjoy it without any of the other stuff confusing me. But no, I don't think anyone expected me to do as well as I'm doing."