- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When four of Roush Racing’s five drivers started up front at California Speedway two weeks ago, their rivals got a glimpse of how beneficial teamwork can be.

Each driver took a turn leading a lap before slowing long enough to allow a teammate to pass, repeating the process until all four had picked up NASCAR’s five-point leader bonus.

Now, with Roush’s drivers making up half of the Chase for the championship field, other competitors are worried they’ll be ganged up on during the 10-race battle for the Nextel Cup title.

“It should be every man for himself,” Ryan Newman said. “If five Roush teams are in the top 10, they have an obvious advantage. The way they were swapping the lead at California for bonus points makes you wonder if they have something planned for the last 10 races.”

Whatever strategy the Roush camp has planned will be unveiled Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway when the Chase begins.

The driver field is led by Tony Stewart, who begins with a five-point advantage over Greg Biffle. The contenders are separated by five points all the way down, and Biffle is followed by Rusty Wallace, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Newman.

Biffle, Busch, Martin, Edwards and Kenseth are Roush teammates and at an obvious advantage over the field. They can share notes and test results, and each Sunday help one another.

It’s a luxury none of the other competitors in the Chase field has.

Newman and Wallace are the only other teammates in the Chase, and the relationship between the two is so sour that both probably would prefer to finish last than ask for help from the other.

The Penske Racing South tandem never has been tight, based largely on their different driving styles.

Wallace is a veteran who learned his craft in the driver seat. Long before computers and number crunching took over the sport, Wallace adjusted his car by feel and tradition — if something worked once before, try it again.

But Newman and crew chief Matt Borland are trained engineers and both rely on graphs, charts and logic to run their team.

When Newman had instant success with his method and Wallace was struggling, little dialogue existed between the two teams though they operate side-by-side in the same race shop.

Newman claims that Wallace won’t work with him, while Wallace grumbles that Newman doesn’t respect him.

The relationship has deteriorated to the point where the two have almost no interaction, and Newman acknowledged he doubts there will be any give-and-take between the two on the track.

“Would Rusty Wallace pull over and give me the opportunity to have five points? I don’t know,” Newman said.

Logic says that if the Penske drivers are going to have any shot at chasing down the Roush camp, Newman and Wallace are going to have to learn to get along. Wallace’s crew chief isn’t so sure.

“Ryan is right. Rusty and Ryan have different driving styles,” Larry Carter said. “I’m not sure if we knew what [Newman] was doing, would it benefit us? I don’t know. It might, but we don’t know. We just don’t know.”

Wallace should be open to trying anything during his final push to retire on top of the sport. He’s retiring at the end of the year, and wants badly to go out with a second championship.

Wallace won his only title in 1989 in a down-to-the wire shootout with the late Dale Earnhardt. He almost won his second title in 1993, when he won 10 races, but came up short.

It has been a constant chase for Wallace since then, and this will be his final shot. Wallace hasn’t won a race since midway through last season, but used consistency to make his way into the Chase and won’t break from that plan.

“It’s our consistency that has gotten us this far, and there’s really no need to be looking for some other game plan,” Wallace said. “This is my final season as a driver and I want to go out being remembered as a winner.”

Wallace and the rest of the field will be chasing Stewart, who heads into the Chase as NASCAR’s hottest driver. He has won five of the last 10 races, and hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in a race since late June.

His title hopes were derailed in the first Chase event last season, when Robby Gordon intentionally wrecked Biffle and Stewart and Mayfield were caught in it. None of them recovered in the points, but Stewart says it’s just part of racing.

“There are 43 guys who start the race and there’s 10 of us in the Chase — you can’t control the other 33 guys, they’ve got a right to race just like everyone else,” Stewart said. “They’re still racing for their spot in the point standings and their share of championship prize money, too.

“I’m not sure there’s any solution to prevent what happened last year. When you’re in the top 10 there at the end, you’ve got to protect yourself. You’ve got to race hard, but you’ve also got to protect yourself.”

The final 10 races will be, chronologically, at New Hampshire (one mile); Dover, Del. (one mile); Talladega, Ala. (2.66 miles, with restrictor plates); Kansas City (1.5 miles); Charlotte (1.5 miles); Martinsville, Va. (1/2 mile); Atlanta (1.5 miles); Texas (1.5 miles); Phoenix (one mile) and Homestead-Miami (1.5 miles).


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