California not right
track for Chevrolets

Feb 20, 2007 6:21 AM

Last week at Daytona, the Chevy’s were a heavy -330 favorite. This week at California, the tables are turned.

The combined efforts of Ford and Dodge are a rather large -155 choice to win the race this Sunday. Ford and Dodge have won four of the last five California Speedway Cup races with Hendrick Racing’s Kyle Busch being the only Chevy to carry the checkers during that span.

Hendrick has been Chevy’s only bright spot since the track debuted. Jeff Gordon has won three of the Chevy’s 5 victories. Gordon’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, won his inaugural California race as a rookie.

So why is Chevy an underdog? It looks like they have some pretty good stats in their favor, or at least Hendrick. The problem is that there is no one else stepping to the plate for Chevy other than Hendrick. At least that was the case until last year when a few names showed up for Chevy from all different camps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr, recently known for being awful at intermediate tracks, wheeled home to an excellent second place finish with Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer third. Finishing sixth was Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin. Gordon finished fifth so there were four different Chevy teams represented in the top 6 for the fall California race last year.

So again, why is Chevy such a big underdog? It seems like Chevy is making a major push to get better on these horse power tracks where handling is essential.

The teams are now understanding more about the points game like Jack Roush, who has centered his whole operation around being the most consistent on the type of track that is more prevalent in the series.

Ray Evernham followed the Roush plan and laid it with great success last year for Kasey Kahne and his organization. They didn’t win a Championship, but they saw the Cup just dangling out there for them to grab. However, with the focus of the team on the intermediate tracks, the Kahne was disappointing on the short tracks, roads, and plate races which basically cost him a real shot at the title.

Last year Kahne became the first Dodge to win at California Speedway in 13 races and was the 11th different driver to win a race there. He had a total of six wins last season. In just about each case, his car was on a completely different level than everyone else. He blew away the field.

Because of that car and his tremendous successes driving it, Kahne is the favorite this week at 5/1 and accounts for a 25 cent edge on the manufacturer prop all by himself.

Traditionally over the years, we could use the preseason Las Vegas testing in late January to give us a barometer of how well teams may be prepared for the California race and other like tracks. The Las Vegas banking was similar to California so many teams utilized the same set-ups. This year with the steep banking changes, the set-up is definitely more suited for Texas, Charlotte, and Atlanta similarities.

However, the thing I left most impressed with after the Vegas sessions was the strength of the Evernham teams. It’s not just Kahne, but Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs as well. That team was blazing fast and showed everyone in the make-shift garages that they made some pretty good advancements over the short winter. If they get Riggs and Sadler’s cars close to the levels of Kahne, look out Cup Series!

The other part of the manufacturer equation and why they are favored rests with Ford. Yes, that’s Ford, and not just Jack Roush’s Fords. Robert Yates Racing went through some tough times last year, but they may be back this year. Not a championship level of course, but one where they are at least competitive and capable of contending for a few race wins.

The Yates team was applauded for their times in Las Vegas testing. Both David Gilliland and Ricky Rudd looked good out there and give solid evidence of the shared engine program of Roush-Yates working for both parties. Sadler won for Yates at California in 2004, the owner’s only California win. Should he do again this week, Rudd can get bettors 50/1 and Gilliland 55/1 in the Sports Books.

The Roush crew has been so impressive over the years at California that it really doesn’t matter who is in his cars. A few have come and gone, but the cars have remained the same. Mark Martin leaves — no problem. Throw the next kid in. Jeff Burton goes — no problem. Bring that kid from the trucks. Kurt Busch leaves — big deal. Give his car to that other guy.

It really doesn’t matter who pilots a Roush car and his point has been well taken as he proves it each year. Matt Kenseth has become the face of Roush Racing, winning last season and sitting at 8/1. He and Carl Edwards would be the drivers to key on outside of Kahne as logical candidates to win the race.

In five career Cup races at California Speedway, Edwards has not finished worse than sixth. That result occurred in 2004 and merely a filler race to get him set for his rookie campaign the following year. No one has been more consistent over that span than Edwards at California. Being consistent is what wins championships, something Roush preaches.

There is one lemon in the Roush garage that has been anything but consistent. Jamie McMurray inherited the championship cars of Kurt Busch and could do nothing with them last season. These were vehicles that dominated races almost like Kahne did last year and McMurray could do nothing.

My theory on why McMurray hasn’t done well is that he is too set in his own ways. I was a bit surprised to see Roush take a driver from somewhere else. He usually likes to take a fresh mind in order to absorb his philosophy, rather than having it go in one ear and out the other.

Maybe McMurray thinks he knows it all already. It’s just a thought and I haven’t any proof, but my goodness why is that team not finishing in the top 5 weekly like Kurt Busch did?

We’ll take a conservative approach this week and tap our top two Roush drivers, two Evernham guys, and then come back with a Hendrick driver. A very tough choice, but I could be happy with any of them.