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Minter: For Roush, Cuts May Increase Team Numbers

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 17 2009

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Does the upcoming Richard Petty Motorsports-Yates Racing merger create a super team for Jack Roush? (NASCAR file photo)

Does the upcoming Richard Petty Motorsports-Yates Racing merger create a super team for Jack Roush? (NASCAR file photo)

Some Thursday observations:

Like many other NASCAR rules that have been implemented over the years, the four-teams-per-car-owner limit isn’t as iron-clad as it seemed at the time. Rick Hendrick effectively expanded his four-car operation to six through a close alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing. The two companies run the same chassis and engines and share data from the race track.

Now Jack Roush, in the middle of a season that has seen his Cup teams performing far below their usual standards, cut his official team roster from five to four with his plans to drop the 26 car now driven by Jamie McMurray. But he’s essentially adding four from the planned Richard Petty Motorsports-Yates Racing merger, which will give him eight teams.

From driver comments at Richmond, it sound as if the alliance between Roush and the new team will be as close as Hendrick and Stewart-Haas.

Roush’s Carl Edwards said he looks forward to having a winning driver like Kasey Kahne and his crew chief Kenny Francis around to share information with, along with A.J. Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler. Richard Petty’s fourth driver, Reed Sorenson, is not part of the deal, but Yates’ Paul Menard is.

“I know just based on performance the way that 9 car (Kahne) has been running, that’s a big deal for us to gain them as quasi-teammates,” Edwards said. “That’s pretty cool. Kenny Francis is real smart. Kasey is a great driver. A.J. is a great driver and Elliott has proven that he’s a great driver, so I think we’re going to get some solid folks over there that can help us.

“It’s cool for Ford, too. I think that will make us more of a powerhouse and maybe be able to compete and stay on the upside with those guys at Hendrick.”

The question now turns to which of the remaining “smaller” teams will be the next to announce an alliance and to whether the Cup circuit will become a series dominated by three or four giant teams with the rest being field-filling start-and-park squads.

* Sunday’s opening race
in the Chase for the Sprint Cup should give an indication whether some of the top teams have been slumping or sandbagging as they prepared for the championship run.

Tony Stewart cruised along as the points leader for most of the regular season, but his average finish in the past four races is 19.5.

Jimmie Johnson, the three-time and defending Cup champion, has always had a mid-summer slump, but is this one so late and so long that it will affect his Chase chances? He hasn’t had a top-five finish since his win at Indianapolis in July.

On the other hand, Denny Hamlin seems to be peaking at about the right time. In the past six races he has two wins and all top-10 finishes, and one of those wins was just last week – a long-sought victory at his home track, Richmond International Raceway.

And then there’s Juan Pablo Montoya, who has said all season that he’s been focusing on making the Chase, points racing if necessary throughout the season. Will he and his team step it up now that the title is on the line?

“The initial plan is to do the same thing we are doing, maybe a little more aggressive on changes,” he said after Saturday’s race at Richmond.

* The wild Camping World Truck Series
finish at Gateway International Raceway last week saw Matt Crafton penalized out of contention for rough driving in separate incidents involving Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday Jr.

But one has to wonder, given Crafton’s lack of a reputation for being a dirty driver, whether other factors were at play.

Was the racing groove so narrow that two drivers couldn’t run side-by-side into a corner at crunch time? And have the horsepower-limiting rules that have been imposed on the truck series this year created situations where drivers have to change the way they work the throttle and therefore made wrecks more likely?

Just wondering.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 17 2009
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