Posted: Thursday July 20, 2006 4:20PM; Updated: Thursday July 20, 2006 4:20PM
Submit a comment or question for Tim.
Mark Martin has been amazing at holding off Father Time and he's in solid position to make the Chase for a third straight season. But he's probably going to retire from Cup and Kluever is expected to be his replacement next year. Kluever has promise, but he'll be swimming upstream trying to make the Chase in the next several seasons.
Jamie McMurray? The jury is still out. Meanwhile, Edwards and Biffle ooze talent, but they haven't produced the type of season this year that everyone expected after their blockbuster runs in 2005. They have to prove their consistency.
Edwards and Biffle could also be lured away by more lucrative contracts down the road. Roush is notorious for signing unproven drivers to lengthy deals that don't pay them as they gain experience and success. Busch wanted out of Roush for financial reasons. "Kurt Busch was the lowest paid Cup champion in the last 10 years," a well-placed source said.
To be sure, Roush will remain a powerhouse. He'll provide Ford a presence in The Chase. The question is how prominent.
Ford's haunting problem is the swift plunge Robert Yates Racing has taken and the collapse of the proud Wood Brothers, who have hit rock bottom.
Yates has lost Dale Jarrett and is likely to lose Elliott Sadler, who saw the handwriting on the wall and began trying to make a move early this season. Two years ago, Sadler, then 29, was the future of the organization. He made the Chase and his best years seemed ahead. They will ... but probably with another team. Sadler, in 20th, is the highest placed non-Roush Ford driver. Jarrett is next at 24th. Keeping Jarrett would have been helpful for stability and experience in the rebuilding process.
Yates doesn't have an heir apparent. The team is talking about putting 19-year-old Busch driver Stephen Leicht into Jarrett's seat. That's both an act of desperation and a declaration that a turnaround isn't around the corner.
Ricky Rudd was 21st for the Wood Brothers last season. Ken Schrader is 34th, 51 years old and hasn't won a race since 1991. He hasn't been in the top 10 in points since 1997. What were the Wood Brothers thinking of when they signed Schrader? This should have been the start of the rebuilding year.
Chevrolet and its teams have outmaneuvered Ford on the driver front. If the Chase started Sunday, there would have six Chevy drivers -- Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon -- from three different teams. Stewart and Hamlin drive Chevrolets for Joe Gibbs Racing. It's that kind of balance among its teams that manufacturers crave.
What about Dodge, with only Kasey Kahne in the Chase? Dodge is a relative newcomer to Cup and still trying to put all the pieces together. It's a daunting task.
Ford has been active in driver development, but made terrible mistakes with its two best prospects. It signed Kahne out of Sprint cars, they lost him to Dodge because of a poorly written contact. Ford also brought Gordon to NASCAR from USAC and lost him to Chevrolet for fundamentally the same reason.
What can Ford do to strengthen its hand? Assist Roush and upgrade the contracts for Biffle and Edwards. Make them very happy. Find out which prominent driver is going to be available in the next couple of years and target him with a future contract. He'd arrive ahead of schedule and probably just in the nick of time.