ANDY CAGLE: Yates Racing Is Behind the NASCAR Curve
No, it has nothing to do with TNT retaining Bill Weber for its broadcasts in 2007 and beyond. That just makes me angry. I mean like Tony Stewart angry.
My confusion is about what the heck is going on at Robert Yates Racing. I just can't figure it out.
First, Dale Jarrett announced he was going to work for Michael Waltrip and Toyota in 2007. Then UPS said they were following Dale -- I guess they have too much invested in the whole Dale and the "racing the truck" thing to back out now. These blows were followed by the announcement that Elliott Sadler was bouncing from the Yates organization after 2006 for parts yet unknown.
I understand why the drivers are looking for greener pastures -- neither have been exactly world burners this year -- Sadler is currently 20th in points and Jarrett is 25th. Sadler will fail to make the Chase for the second straight year after making the inaugural in 2004. Jarrett's last three points finishes include a pair of 15ths and a 26th.
But the latest move by Yates himself is leaving me a bit bewildered.
In an attempt to revamp his struggling organization this past off-season, RYR, under former general manager Eddie D'Hondt brought in veteran crew chiefs Richard "Slugger" Labbe and Tommy Baldwin Jr. for Jarrett and Sadler, respectively. To me, these seemed like some good moves, even though I didn't know why Todd Parrott didn't stick around after Jarrett won their first race after being reunited last year (this was the same pairing that brought home the Winston Cup in 1999).
Well, now Labbe and Baldwin have been shown the door. Meaning that Jarrett will have his fourth crew chief in the person of Butch Hylton since the beginning of the 2004 season, and the four millionth in the last five years (I exaggerate, but only a little). Charles Barraclough takes over for Baldwin on the 38 pit box.
Labbe and Baldwin appear to have been axed because they were hired by D'Hondt, who fell out of favor with both Robert and Doug Yates, who wanted to take a bigger role in the family business.
So for 2007, Yates Racing will have new drivers and new crew chiefs. Steven Leicht, the 19-year-old Yates development driver, will probably be behind the wheel of the 88. David Gilliland, the one-time Busch Series winner, who has a total of nine Busch Series starts, has been offered the 38 seat. Speculation is that there will be a third Yates team next year, perhaps piloted by Ward Burton (it's good to see Ward mentioned for a ride).
Whoever is behind the wheel and whoever is on the pit box is going to have similar trouble, just as Sadler, Jarrett, Labbe, Baldwin, Brad Parrott, Todd Parrott, Raymond Fox, Michael McSwain and the host of others that have guided a Yates team over the past several years, have had. Yates Racing just hasn't been able to keep up with the engineering side of the sport.
While most teams have a whole team of engineers, Jarrett complained that Yates Racing employed six engineers and that they weren't getting engineering support from Ford Motor Company.
In contrast, Hendrick Motorsports has an engineering staff of approximately 80. Jack Roush got his start in racing as an engineer, and a major part of his business is engineering and developing racing and performance auto parts.
Yates and Roush entered into a collaborative agreement to share engines several years ago, and it has been extremely beneficial -- to Roush.
Yates has been known for the past 20 years as a premier engine builder and routinely produces power plants that out-horsepower anyone in the garage. The only problem is that he hasn't been able to put a good enough car around the engine the way Roush has.
NASCAR Nextel Cup racing ain't like it used to be.
You can't just out-horsepower your way to wins and championships. Yates has gotten behind the curve on chassis setups and aerodynamics and most of the other components that go into racing, and is just wasting a whole lot of horsepower in cars that can't put all that power to the track and keep it there.
And until the organization figures how to, it doesn't matter who's behind the wheel or calling the shots on race day.
It doesn't take firing two veteran crew chiefs (again) to figure that out.
Andy Cagle can be reached at email@example.com.
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