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Monday, January 01, 2007

NASCAR Driver Preview: Jeff Green

Jeff Green Age: 44
0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 2 top 10’s, 7 top 15’s
Avg Start: 25.4 Avg Finish 24.4
Points: 28 Driver Rating:59.3
#66 Best Buy Chevy Crew Chief: Harold Holly

Jeff Green is a definite candidate for most anonymous driver in the Nextel Cup. The only time he is caught on camera is during crashes or incidents with other drivers. Aside from getting parked by NASCAR at Richmond, name a time when Green was mentioned during a race. There was the occasional crash, or a few instances when he ran inside the top. Primarily, though, Green ran in the 20's, kept to himself and finished races. In his first year with Haas/CNC Racing, he had his best season since 2002. He had two top tens and finished 28th in the standings. The numbers don't look great, but Green's team improved a lot during the home stretch.

After his move from Petty Enterprises, the season began solidly for Green and his new team. Aside from an early crash at Daytona, he ran competitively. He had six top 20 finishes in the first 10 races sat 21st in the points. He had a very good race during the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte. He led 16 laps and had a 96.3 driver rating. He and teammate Johnny Sauter both ran up front in the first half of the race. Green wound up 12th, his best finish to date.

Unfortunately his summer was not as solid. He finished worse than 25th in eight of the next nine races. His plummeted to 28th and still had zero top ten finishes. By the time the series reached the fall Richmond race, Green was 27th in points and probably more than a little frustrated.

Early in the race Green was hit by Johnson and spun. Later, Johnson was involved in another crash that didn't involve Green. While Johnson attempted to get the car back in line, Green ran into the #48 car. NASCAR quickly ended Green's night, pulling him from the race. In a season filled with spins and intentional bumps, Green was the only driver to receive this harsh penalty.

Green's temper has cost him before. Last year he had skirmishes with Michael Waltrip at Martinsville and Darlington where they took turns hitting the other. Green can't afford to let his emotions ruin any finishes next year. The competition has increased and there is no time to settle personal agendas on track. He also had a crash with Tony Raines at Phoenix. Afterwards he appeared to stare down Raines, but it never led to anything more, probably because Green’s car was on a truck by then. Raines later took responsibility for the wreck.

The Chase did provide improvement for Green and the #66 car. He scored a season-best 7th at Talladega, followed by another strong run at Charlotte (16th). Two weeks later Haas made a crew chief switch. Bootie Barker moved to the Busch series and Harold Holly joined the cup team. Green and Holly previously won six races and the Busch title in 2000. They also set a record with 25 top five finishes that year (As amazing as Kevin Harvick was in 2006, he only had 23 top fives.). Holly's first Cup race was at Martinsville in October. Green finished 8th and had his highest rated race of the season (98.7). Aside from the crash at Phoenix, Green finished the year strongly. He averaged an 18th place finish in the final seven races.

The Green/Holly combination worked in a limited time. This allows for hope in 2007. Haas is running a second car in 2007 for Johnny Sauter. In the long run expansion is the only way the team can survive at the Cup level. It’s a more efficient use for personnel, beacuse two teams can compile and trade more information. More sponsors also creates a larger operating budget. In the short run, however, it could cost Green in 2007. As the organization gets Sauter’s team up to speed, there is the risk of neglecting the established #66 team. Because Sauter's team must qualify for at least the first five races, he will require stronger engines and more attention to qualifying. Until both teams are up and running, the organization risks overextending themselves.

Another asset for Green is that Haas uses Hendrick engines. This helps greatly for qualifying and especially on plate tracks. Talladega is one of Green's best tracks, along with Martinsville. He also has done well at the two road courses in the past. Green is not going to make the Chase or threaten for wins. That doesn't discount the fact that he is a capable driver that will keep the car inside the top 35 in points and pull off the occasional top 10. With increased competition next year, a driver that can secure one of the guaranteed starting spots is definitely valuable. Over the past three years, Haas finished 27th, 28th, 28th in owner’s points. The last three years Green finished 30th, 29th, 28th. It's a pretty safe bet to pick Green in this neighborhood again.

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