Few have avoided early season engine problems

Published 12:00 pm Friday, March 6, 2009

A wise man once said, “To finish first, you must first finish.” That quote has been fairly relevant during this young, three-race NASCAR season.

We have seen more engine failures than in recent memory this year, and it’s not from the usual suspects. Matt Kenseth’s quest to win the first three races of 2009 lasted about six laps last Sunday at Las Vegas. A blown engine ended his day early. Later in the race, Roush Fenway teammate David Ragan’s engine let go and ended his day after 72 laps. Those guys finished 43rd and 42nd in the race.

Roush Fenway equipment is typically some of the best and most reliable of any team. In fact, the team had three engine failures during the entire 2008 season. Though, not affected as much during the race, four Toyota drivers—Scott Speed, Marcos Ambrose, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers—were all forced to start at the rear of the field after changing engines before taking the green flag at Las Vegas.

And this problem is spread across all teams and all manufacturers. Hendrick’s Chevrolet engine failures have cost Mark Martin at both California and Las Vegas. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 39th at California because of a blown engine.

It appears the Dodge engines have been the most reliable of the four brands through the first three races.

One guy that didn’t have issues at Las Vegas was Kyle Busch as he won for the first time at his hometown track. Here’s an interesting tidbit for you: Busch has 13 wins in his young career. All have been at different tracks. That’s pretty amazing. He has won on road courses, short tracks, mile and a halfs, and super speedways. Oh, that little fact will not last long. In fact, it might not last through this week at Atlanta.

This week at Atlanta is the fourth race of the season, and some teams are really beginning to think about the points standings. After the fifth race of the year, the top 35 in owners points are guaranteed starting spots week to week. To have a guaranteed spot and not have to qualify each week is utterly important to teams and sponsors.

Some of the more recognizable teams that could fall into the danger zone are Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin and Speed. Obviously, this early in the season and over the course of two races, there will be much movement in the points standings, but those teams hovering around 35th have to be aware of the standings.

The reports of Jeff Gordon’s demise as a driver were greatly exaggerated. The Boy Wonder sits atop the points standings and has been strong in all three races. It seems the 24 team has found its way and will be a factor all season.

This week’s race is Atlanta and the scene of one my favorite memories. In 2001, Kevin Harvick won his first career race at Atlanta, edging Jeff Gordon in a photo-finish. He won the race in Dale Earnhardt’s car with Dale Earnhardt’s team after taking over as driver two races earlier. Of course, he took over because Earnhardt was killed on the last lap at Daytona earlier that year. That is one race and one finish that I will never forget.

Look for Roush to get his power train issues squared up this week and Carl Edwards to take the checkered flag.