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Nextel Cup Team Scouting Reports

Feb. 19, 2007
Feb. 19, 2007

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Feb. 19, 2007

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Nextel Cup Team Scouting Reports

On Sunday at Daytona the nine-month, 36-race charge for the Nextel Cup begins anew. Here's a rundown of the top teams' drivers and others with a shot at the checkered flag.

HENDRICKMOTORSPORTS

This is an article from the Feb. 19, 2007 issue Original Layout

MINUTES AFTER themorning test session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Jan. 29, the four Hendrickdrivers huddled in a circle to compare notes from their runs. The confab lastedonly 10 minutes, but the scene revealed the biggest strength of the Hendrickorganization: No other team in NASCAR does a better job of sharing informationand resources. This season it won't be a surprise if all four of RickHendrick's drivers (defending champ Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon andCasey Mears) make the Chase.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

DRIVERSAGECUP SEASON'06 POINTS STANDING
JIMMIE JOHNSON316th1st
No champ has repeated since Jeff Gordonin 1997 and '98, but Johnson is just entering his prime.
JEFF GORDO3515th6th
It's been six years since he captured hislast title, but he won twice in '06 and remains as fast as ever.
KYLE BUSCH213rd10th
In the 10 races before the Chase, he hadmore points than any other driver. Consistency could bring a title.
CASEY MEARS285th14th
After four winless years at GanassiRacing, he'll have the best equipment of his career at Hendrick.


ENEMY LINES: AN INSIDER ON AN OPPOSING TEAM SIZES UP THE HENDRICK DRIVERS

Every time youarrive at the track you know you're going to have to beat Jimmie Johnson'steam. Even if he's slow for the first 100 laps, he'll be there at the end. Thisteam can find speed like no one else.... Casey Mears is in the car that hastypically not had success at Hendrick, but he's a great talent.... Jeff Gordonis capable of winning another title, but there's only so long you can competeat a high level in this sport, and Jeff's focus probably isn't as [sharp] asit's been in the past.... Kyle Busch is just flat out fast, but he's got toquit making his own problems.

3 Drivers whohave won Cup titles for Hendrick Motorsports-- Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte andJimmie Johnson--the most for any owner.

ROUSH RACING

THESE AREuncertain times for Roush Racing, which just two years ago put all five of itsdrivers in the Chase. Hoping to revitalize his teams after just two made thepostseason in '06, Roush has been playing musical chairs with crewchiefs--always a risky move. Last year's Chase runner-up, Matt Kenseth, is theonly driver who's been with the same pit boss (Robbie Reiser) for longer thansix months. For Roush to remain at the top, he needs Greg Biffle (13th in '06points) and Carl Edwards (12th) to rebound. Their combined wins dropped from 10in '05 to two last year, but both have the talent to be title contenders.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

DRIVERSAGECUP SEASON'06 POINTS STANDING
MATT KENSETH348th2nd
He's one of only three drivers to qualifyfor the Chase in each of its three years (joining Jimmie Johnson and MarkMartin). Expect the 2003 champ to go 4 for 4.
GREG BIFFLE375th13th
He led the third-most laps in '06, buthis Chase bid was hurt by failed engines, driver failures and flat tires. Hehas to click quickly with new crew chief Pat Tryson.
CARL EDWARDS274th12th
After being reunited for the last tworaces with crew chief Bob Osborne (who had left in April), he had two top 10s.Look for that momentum to continue.
JAMIE MCMURRAY305th25th
McMurray was among the biggestdisappointments of '06, finishing with only seven top 10s. With a new team toadjust to, he'll probably struggle early.
DAVID RAGAN211stN/A
Little is expected of a driver who in twocareer Cup starts has an average finish of 33.5. In his last race, on Oct. 22,Ragan was involved in three crashes.

ENEMY LINES: ANINSIDER ON AN OPPOSING TEAM SIZES UP THE ROUSH DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth is alot like Jimmie Johnson: You know he's going to be near the lead at the end ofthe race.... When Greg Biffle's team hits its setup, they're tough to beat....Carl Edwards ran better in '05 than in '06, and no one knows why. Sometimes youwonder if his head will crack open and a robot will come out.

2,125 Total lapsled in 2006 by Matt Kenseth (1,132) and Greg Biffle (993), who ranked secondand third last year.

JOE GIBBSRACING

JOE GIBBS RACINGhas won three of the last eight Cups, and this season the team's big dog, TonyStewart, looks like a good bet to grab another, having closed 2006 with threewins in eight races. In addition, he'll be teamed with crew chief GregZipadelli for an eighth consecutive season--the longest active Cup partnership.Most important, the Gibbs outfit may be the most complete in NASCAR, with solidprograms for intermediate tracks, superspeedways, short tracks and road coursesalike. No driver in '07 should have a mechanical edge over Stewart and histeammates Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

DRIVERSAGECUP SEASON'06 POINTS STANDING
TONY STEWART359th11th
Though he missed the Chase last season,Stewart led more laps for more miles than any other driver. Barring mechanicalfailures, he'll be in the title hunt all the way to Homestead on Nov. 18.
DENNY HAMLIN262nd3rd
The '06 Rookie of the Year hopes to avoida sophomore slump--a common occurrence in NASCAR. Having Stewart as a teammatewill help.
J.J. YELEY302nd29th
He led all drivers last season in adreaded category: crashes. The rookie was involved in a series-high 17.

ENEMY LINES: ANINSIDER ON AN OPPOSING TEAM SIZES UP THE GIBBS DRIVERS

Tony Stewart(left) has a lot to prove this year after missing the Chase. But he's a hugetalent, one of the best pure drivers in NASCAR.... This is a do-or-die year forJ.J. Yeley. The organization is giving him a lot of support, and he needs torespond and have a number of top five finishes to keep his job.... Denny Hamlinis very consistent and rarely makes a mistake on the track. He's a greatcomplement to Stewart.

8 Consecutiveseasons Tony Stewart has won multiple races, the longest such streak at thestart of a driver's career in NASCAR history.

EVERNHAMMOTORSPORTS

IN AN EFFORT toimprove the chemistry on his team, owner Ray Evernham fired Jeremy Mayfieldlast August, replacing him in the number 19 car with Elliott Sadler. Much ofthe owner's unhappiness with the driver was that Mayfield, who has five careerCup wins, didn't work and play well with others--specifically with Evernham'sstar, Kasey Kahne, who led all drivers with six wins last season. Evernham ishoping that the affable Sadler will prove more willing to share setupinformation with Kahne and the team's third driver, Scott Riggs. "Elliottwants to work with everybody, and that's the key for us," says Kahne."Things are different around here." Improved teamwork could make the26-year-old Kahne more consistent in 2007.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

DRIVERSAGECUP SEASON'06 POINTS STANDING
KASEY KAHNE264th8th
Four wins on 1.5-mile tracks sparked hisbreakout season in 2006. But inconsistency at Daytona and Talladega (averagefinish: 19th) cost Kahne.
SCOTT RIGGS364TH20th
Back-to-back top 10s at Martinsville andTexas helped him to his best Cup finish. He also reached the All-Star Challengethanks to a win at Charlotte.
ELLIOTT SADLER3110TH22nd
Ninth in the '04 Chase, Sadler failed towin a race for the next two years and didn't finish higher than 20th in sevenof his last eight starts for Evernham in


ENEMY LINES: AN INSIDER ON AN OPPOSING TEAM SIZES UP THE EVERNHAM DRIVERS

Kasey Kahne(right) can win on every type of track. I'm not sure if an Evernham car iscapable of winning the title, but there's no doubt that Kasey is talentedenough to do it.... Elliott Sadler has been a huge disappointment. He's at apoint in his career where he needs to decide if he wants to be a racer or atelevision personality.... Scott Riggs has shown flashes of brilliance, andthis could be a breakout season for him.

9 Poles won lastseason by Kasey Kahne (6), Scott Riggs (2) and Elliott Sadler (1), the most byany current teammates.

RICHARD CHILDRESSRACING

NO OTHERoperation appears more ready to establish itself among NASCAR's elite than RCR,with its formidable lineup of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton (both earned spots inthe 2006 Chase) and Clint Bowyer. After having missed out on the first twoseasons of the Chase, Richard Childress and his team find themselves with afull tank of momentum heading into the Daytona 500. "We didn't stink in thepast; we were just mediocre," says Harvick, who won five times last year."Everybody got a taste of success, and everybody wants to keep elevatingthat to the next level." RCR's fortunes may ride on how quickly its driversand crews adjust to the new Chevy cylinder blocks in their custom-builtengines.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

DRIVERSAGECUP SEASON'06 POINTS STANDING
KEVIN HARVICK317th4th
With crew chief Todd Berrier, Harvick wonfive Cup races in 2006, doubling his career victory total. His 15 top fivestied for the most in '06.
JEFF BURTON3914th7th
This driver's coming off his best seasonsince 2000, when he was third in the standings. The win at Dover in Septemberwas his first since '01.
CLINT BOWYER272nd17th
After starting strong (sixth at Daytona),he struggled to stay in the top 20 all season. His best work came onintermediate tracks (eight top 10s).

ENEMY LINES: ANINSIDER ON AN OPPOSING TEAM SIZES UP THE RCR DRIVERS

I never like itwhen a driver owns his own race team because it tends to take away from hisfocus, and Kevin Harvick has his own Busch team. I think something is about toblow up with him and Richard Childress, and I don't see Harvick being assuccessful as he was last season.... Jeff Burton is a really smart guy on thetrack. He's probably the best teammate anyone could have.... This is going tobe a real breakout year for Clint Bowyer. I expect him to win some races.

93.5 Percent oftheir combined '06 starts that Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyerfinished. Harvick and three others tied for best rate (97.2%), finishing 35 oftheir 36 races.

DALE EARNHARDTINC.

IN DECEMBER alongstanding private feud between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother,Teresa, the owner of DEI, went public when she told The Wall Street Journalthat Junior needed "to decide on whether he wants to be a NASCAR driver or... a public personality." Earnhardt, whose DEI contract expires at the endof the season, has said he won't re-sign unless he's given majority ownershipof the company--something his stepmother is reluctant to do. Stay tuned. On thetrack DEI should run well on superspeedways and short tracks but is likely tobe off the pace in the Car of Tomorrow races. "We're nowhere close to wherewe need to be right now with the COT," says Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt's crewchief. "We could be in for a tough time."

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

DRIVERSAGECUP SEASON'06 POINTS STANDING
DALE EARNHARDT JR.328th5th
Little E has only two wins in the lasttwo years and has yet to win a title. But the number 8 team made strides on alltracks last year and is quietly confident.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.262nd19th
The two-time Busch champ--who finishedsixth or better three times in his last nine starts--could be ready to run withhis team's more famous Junior.
PAUL MENARD261stN/A
Not much is expected from the Buschgraduate in his first full season in the Nextel grind. His average finish inseven '06 starts was a respectable 23.1.


ENEMY LINES: AN INSIDER ON AN OPPOSING TEAM SIZES UP THE DEI DRIVERS

There's a lot ofanxiety around Dale Earnhardt Jr. because of his unresolved contract status fornext year. He's a great talent, but he's also the Elvis Presley of NASCAR,which is always distracting. Earnhardt can win races this season, and frankly,there's a feeling in the garage that it's time for him to elevate his game andchallenge for the championship.... Martin Truex Jr.'s team is coming togetheras he goes into his second year with crew chief Kevin Manion. He'll be a threatto be in the Chase this season.... Paul Menard might not qualify for the races,but week in and week out he shows that he can be special.

6 Cupchampionships (of his seven) won by Dale Earnhardt after age 33, the age thatDale Jr. turns in October.

PENSKE RACINGSOUTH

THE ARRIVAL of2004 points champion Kurt Busch, who switched teams after the '05 season,replacing the retired Rusty Wallace, was supposed to vault Penske into theupper echelon of the Nextel Cup last year. Instead Busch and teammate RyanNewman were the circuit's biggest busts, with just one win between them. As aresult, owner Roger Penske made some changes for '07, including a new crewchief (Mike Nelson) for Newman, as well as a new nose (reconfigured for betterhandling in traffic) for the team's Dodge Chargers. Also, look for Busch toimprove in his second season with Roy McCauley atop the box, building onBusch's solid performance at the end of '06 (four top 10s in the final nineraces).

View this article in the original magazine


DRIVERSAGECUP SEASON'06 POINTS STANDING
DAVID GILLILAND302nd42nd
Elliott Sadler's replacement enjoyed acoming-out party last weekend when he took second in the Budweiser Shootoutbefore grabbing the 500 pole.
ROBBY GORDON3814th30th
The ultratalented owner-driver, whoswitches from Chevy to Ford this season, has three career Cup wins--and ahistory of on-track turbulence.
DALE JARRETT5023rd23rd
The 1999 Cup champ has finished out ofthe top 10 in points in each of the last four years. But he's still fast, andhis savvy should bolster the Toyota effort.
MARK MARTIN4825th9th
When he cedes the wheel to rookie ReganSmith at Bristol next month, Martin's string of consecutive starts--617,entering the season--will end.
TONY RAINES426th35th
He sat while Terry Labonte started thefirst five races in '06 for Hall of Fame Racing, then showed he belonged in thecar by finishing 28 of 29 races.
BRIAN VICKERS235th15th
Red Bull's best hope has moved up thepoints standings every year he's been on the Cup circuit and got his firstcareer win at Talladega last October.
MICHAEL WALTRIP4323rd37th
The two-time Daytona 500 winner hasn'tfinished higher than 12th in points, and now his driving may take a backseat tohis role as team owner.


THREE PHOTOSNIGEL KINRADE (GORDON CAR)GordonTHREE PHOTOSRUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (3)PHOTONIGEL KINRADE (BIFFLE CAR)BiffleTHREE PHOTOSRUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (3)PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (STEWART CAR)StewartTWO PHOTOS RUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (2)PHOTONIGEL KINRADE (STEWART)PHOTOSAM SHARPE (KAHNE CAR)KahneTWO PHOTOS RUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (2)PHOTONIGEL KINRADE (KAHNE)PHOTOSAM SHARPE (HARVICK CAR)HarvickTWO PHOTOSRUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (2)PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (EARNHARDT CAR)EarnhardtTWO PHOTOSRUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (2)PHOTOSAM SHARPE (BUSCH CAR)BuschPHOTORUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGESPHOTOMARK J. REBILAS/US PRESSWIRE (BUSCH)PHOTONIGEL KINRADE (STREMME CAR)StremmeTWO PHOTOSRUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (2)PHOTOJOHN RAOUX/AP (MONTOYA)PHOTOJASON D. SMITH/US PRESSWIRE (GILLILAND CAR)GillilandFOUR PHOTOSRUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (4)