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NASCAR: Big names struggling

By Mike Mulhern
Winston-Salem Journal
Even with field for NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship expanded to 12, some big-name drivers are in danger of not making it.
Such drivers as perennial contender and 2004 champ Matt Kenseth (16th this week) and Kurt Busch (a distant 21st). And two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time champ Jeff Gordon are living on the bubble, to make the 12-man September cut, though they improved to sixth and seventh this week after Sunday’s race in Dover, Del.
It wasn’t that long ago that Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards finished the championship run 1-2-3 ó and then all three failed to make the cut the next season.
With his win Sunday at Dover (his fourth in 13 races this season), Kyle Busch and his Toyota teammates at Joe Gibbs’ operation are hot. Ford’s Jack Roush has things finally going his way, and Richard Childress does appear to have righted his ship, though ó Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer are leading that parade.
But elsewhere in the NASCAR garage, things are very up-and-down.
Kasey Kahne, for example, had a dog of a season in 2007, but has been hot for the past three weeks, nudging his way into that coveted 12th and final Chase spot.
Biffle is picking up steam, too, though he’s still looking for his first tour win since last September at Kansas.
NASCAR’s new car seems to have thrown a wrench into everyone’s playbook.
Edwards, despite his three quick wins, calls the season “very strange.
“I think about it every day, every night before I go to bed ó ‘What can we do?’ Seeing it with Jimmie and Jeff, they were so fast last year. Now they’re not as fast. I don’t know whether they’re having trouble …”
And were it not for a 100-point penalty at Las Vegas and a 100-point loss in a Talladega crash, Edwards would be sitting even better than his current fourth place.
“The thing about Kyle and his team running so well right now is that it’s going to be hard to do that all year,” Edwards said. “So maybe they’ll peak and we’ll beat them like a drum at the end of the year; that’s what I’m hoping for.
“It’s hard to stay on top all the time. I don’t think anyone has done that for a while.”
With its new car, NASCAR has succeeded in turning its Cup tour into an IROC series, and that doesn’t appear to be for the better. The new car is a Jekyll-or-Hyde creature. Teams all have way too much horsepower. Cut these engines by 200 horsepower and the racing might pick up.
Consider Kenseth and Kurt Busch. They’re both former champions, both good “car” guys ó and they’re both struggling.
If this new car is a technical exercise, these two guys should be at the head of the class. They’re not.
Busch has one top-10 finish this season, and that was at Daytona. Kenseth? Mr. Consistency was fourth Sunday, only his second top-five finish in four months.
And how about Gordon? Now there’s a real stunner. Gordon won six times last year, had an amazing stretch run, and lost to even more amazing Johnson (whose own 2008 has been a qualified disaster.) Gordon has not won this season and finished fifth Sunday.

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