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“Racing is segregated right now between making the Chase and not making the Chase. You can’t take as many chances now as you could seven or eight years ago, because if you finish 30th or worse, it’s going to take you three or four races to get back in that Chase contention.”

It remains to be seen if Ford, who guided Hamlin to 17 victories and a spot in the Chase all six seasons they were paired together, can get Almirola into one of those coveted 12 spots. But RPM felt the team had to go for it, and the longer they waited, the harder it would be to make up ground.

It’s highly doubtful that RPM will be the only organization to make a change over the next few weeks. Every team sitting outside the top 15 right now _ save for maybe the Hendrick Motorsports’ crews of Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne _ have to be taking a good long look at personnel and wondering if new blood is needed.

Jamie McMurray, winner of three races in 2010, hasn’t done anything since and is 18th in the standings, and Jeff Burton, who has publicly said his Richard Childress Racing team needs to get better, is sitting 20th in points _ behind Mark Martin, who has run only seven of the nine races this year.

Regan Smith, who won Darlington last season, can’t be pleased he’s currently 25th in the standings as he closes in on the anniversary of his only career Cup victory. And right below him is 2004 series champion Kurt Busch, who has just one top-10 finish this season with underfunded Phoenix Racing.

Nobody can stand pat for long, and RPM’s hiring of Ford showed that silly season has officially started.