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Gordon excels while Mears disappoints through first half

Gordon excels while Mears disappoints through first half

Taking the good with the bad
Gordon excels while Mears disappoints through first half

Casey Mears' struggles this year prove that not even Hendrick Motorsports is perfect, but the team has been as close as one can be.
Now that the All Star break is in the rear-view mirror, the Cup boys are revving up for the second half of NASCAR's 26-race regular season. Herewith, my early awards for 2007:

Most Valuable Driver: Jeff Gordon

This is a no-brainer. Though Gordon has won four championships, he's never gotten off to a better start than this season. Through 11 events, he's won three races, finished in the top five nine times, and never lower than 12th. More impressive, Gordon has run strong on all types of tracks and in the Car of Tomorrow as well the Car of Yesterday. Add it all up and it's quite clear that the championship is his to lose.

But can Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte sustain their dominance? The NASCAR season is one of the longest in sports, and there are many observers in the garage who believe Gordon is peaking too early. We'll see. But right now, Gordon holds a 231-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the standings and has pretty much lapped the field.

Most Valuable Owner: Rick Hendrick

This is another no-brainer. Hendrick's fleet of Chevys, after all, have won eight of the last nine points-paying races and they've swept all five CoT events. Rumors have been swirling around the garage that Hendrick has conducted more than 100 on-track test sessions in the COT -- most other teams have only had a handful -- but these private tests aren't banned by NASCAR, so Hendrick isn't doing something that's against the rules.

By the time the Chase starts, Hendrick will likely have three drivers in NASCAR's playoff -- Gordon, Johnson and Kyle Busch. And it wouldn't be shocking if they all finish in the top five in the final standings, with either Gordon or Johnson winning it all in Homestead, Fla., on the evening of Nov. 18.

Most Valuable Crew Chief: Robbie Reiser

In this season of dominance by Hendrick Motorsports, Reiser, the crew chief for Matt Kenseth, has shined -- albeit, below the radar. Kenseth rarely qualifies well and rarely leads laps, but he's consistently in the lead pack when the checkered flag falls. How does this happen? Two words: Robbie Reiser. It helps that Reiser oversees a veteran crew whose core has been together since Kenseth's rookie season of '00. They are consistently one of quickest on pit road, and it's blue-moon rare for them to make a mistake. Largely because of their strong work in the pits, Kenseth is third in the standings.

If any of the Ford teams of Jack Roush are going to catch the Chevys of Hendrick this season, it'll be Reiser and Kenseth.

Biggest Surprise: Denny Hamlin

The one driver who has consistently run nose-to-nose with the Hendrick boys in the CoT races has been Hamlin, who's currently fourth in the points. He has deftly avoided the sophomore slump that doomed the second seasons of Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, mainly because he's got a terrific relationship with crew chief Mike Ford. Hamlin also has an off-the-charts feel for his race car. For more on Hamlin, check out what my colleague Mark Beech wrote about him in the magazine this week.

Biggest Disappointment: Casey Mears

Many longtime observers in the garage will swear to you that the No. 25 car at Hendrick Motorsports is cursed. The car has consistently been outperformed by the other Chevys in the stable, and this season has been no different. While Gordon, Johnson and Kyle Busch have all won races this year and have all run in the lead pack in most of the events, Mears has struggled mightily in his first season with Hendrick. Currently 35th in the points, Mears has finished 18th or worse in 10 of the 11 points-paying races. He's not in danger of losing his job because Hendrick will stick with him for at least another year, but the boss surely can't be pleased with how the season has gone so far.

Driver to Watch in the Second Half of the Regular Season: Tony Stewart

You heard it here first: Stewart is poised to make a strong run at the Hendrick duo of Gordon and Johnson over the next few months. Stewart's luck has been atrocious this season, but he's had fast race cars, he's got a quality crew, and if there's one organization capable of catching Hendrick this season, it's Joe Gibbs Racing.

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Re: Gordon excels while Mears disappoints through first half

mvbski wrote:

Biggest Disappointment: Casey Mears

Mears has buried me so far this year.   :x

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