What About Us?

With all the attention being paid to just 10 drivers, one wonders how the other 33 drivers in the Sylvania 300 will deal with it.

My guess is they’ll deal with it very well. Besides, once you get past the exhaustive story lines involved with the Chase, there are some interesting elements among the non-Chasers.

Specifically, you’ll want to watch the No. 24 and the No. 8—not that you don’t on a regular basis, because Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the most popular drivers in the sport.

The champagne that flowed after last week’s race at Richmond had barely dried when those teams began making changes for the final 10 races. Earnhardt Jr. will have Tony Eury Jr. back in Bud red this weekend, preparing the team’s assault on the Chase for 2006. And the same day, it was announced that Robbie Loomis was headed back to Petty Enterprises at season’s end, ending a five-year run with Gordon that saw them win the 2001 title and a boatload of races.

Steve Letarte will move to cover Loomis’ spot atop the pit box, while Loomis moves over to help Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus right their ship in its cruise toward the title.

It’s interesting that neither team, still riding the crest of disappointment over not making the top 10 for the Chase, waited long at all to start revamping. Ten races are 10 races, after all, and if you’re going to change, you might as well change right away and get a jump on it.

For Earnhardt and Eury, the move ends what has to be one of the most ill-advised team reorganizations in NASCAR history. A team that came a few points and one curse word from winning a championship last year was dissolved to fix a problem that might have been better approached by a quiet trip to the woodshed for both driver and crew chief.

You can make a case for why DEI made the move, because internal dissent kills a team’s chemistry quicker than anything. But all-or-nothing smacks of desperation, and in the right case, it can be just as disruptive as internal strife. Let’s hope a year off from each other has healed whatever ailed them.

For Loomis, he’ll go home to the Pettys, where he started and where he caught the attention of Rick Hendrick in the aftermath of Ray Evernham’s somewhat acrimonious divorce from Gordon’s team. He’ll take some of the load currently shouldered by Kyle Petty and allow the team CEO to concentrate on driving instead of all the other things that have sapped his on-track performances in recent years.

It will be nice to see the Petty Enterprises team competitive again, and Loomis is the man to make that happen. You don’t spend five years with the best team in the business and not bring that winning attitude with you to the next stop. Even if you throw out all the rest, Loomis will bring so much organizationally that the team can’t help but benefit from it.

Here’s hoping that the 24 and the 8 work through their difficulties and respond with strong performances over the remaining races. The Chase is exciting in any regard, but it would probably be more so if those two were in it.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005

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