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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Chevy is dominating this year. The Bowtie has 23 of 35 wins, plus seven drivers in the Chase. It makes sense in a lot of ways. There are almost as many Chevy teams than the other two manufacturers combined. Of the cars that have made at least 15 races, Chevy has 20, Dodge has 13 and Ford has 8. Sheer volume helps give Chevy the upper hand, but also the strength of the teams. Right now Hendrick, Gibbs and Childress are the three strongest teams in the sport and all three are Chevy-powered. Last year Roush was strong, scoring 16 wins, but Chevy’s stable still took the Manufacture’s Championship. In fact, Chevy has won the last four and 8 of the last 12. This year Chevy’s dominance is more pronounced because Roush Racing took a step back.

So it is in a Chevy-dominated scene that Toyota will enter next year. A lot of owners, writers and fans speak with an almost xenophobic tone when discussing Toyota coming to Cup. Maybe they will eventually dominate all of NASCAR. Maybe they will outspend everyone and destroy the financial model of the sport. That can not be an excuse for not competing in the short term.

Whatever success Toyota eventually sees, it will not happen for at least a few years. Which means existing teams should have an advantage in the short term. Looking at the Dodge and Ford teams, they are trying their best to squander any edge over Toyota they have.

-Robert Yates Racing began falling behind technology last year and everything snowballed this year. Both drivers are gone (sure Dale Jarrett has one race left, but hasn’t been competitive for most of the year), giant sponsor UPS is leaving with Jarrett, and there is serious talk about Yates only fielding one car next year.

-In a time when teams are scrambling to expand, Penske Racing contracted one of their three teams last year. Now a two car outfit, they have one win in 2006. Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman have a total of 9 top five finishes. Penske cars averaged 17.5 per year since 2002. Wasting time perfecting the Dodge Intrepid set the team back this year. Now crew chief Matt Borland may leave for Toyota’s Red Bull team.

-Chip Ganassi’s team hasn’t won a race in four years. His 2007 driver lineup will have a combined 77 races of experience heading to Daytona. Factor in the inconsistency of the cars and it’s hard to imagine great improvement next year. Oh yeah, and there was also the bizarre handling of Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears last year.

-Even Roush Racing seems slightly confused. Roush had five cars in the Chase last year and won 44% of the races in ’05. The Ford team also won the Cup in ’03 and ’04. Several times Roush drivers were literally taking turns leading laps. This year there features crew chief swaps, three winless drivers, and only two drivers in the Chase.

With so many large teams struggling, things look a lot easier for a new manufacturer to enter the sport. Maybe Jack Roush should worry about his own company instead of crying foul on Toyota. All the manufacturers are in the sport ultimately to win and succeed. Toyota's methods might be different, but the goal is the same. Whatever view is taken regarding Toyota, this much is clear: The more bumbling teams that reside in NASCAR, the easier Toyota’s job is.