These new cars are a handful for the drivers -- not just physically, the drivers are mentally drained, too. They are tough to drive. Mark Martin suggested the front splitter be raised to 7 inches -- that seems a little extreme, but any more height we could get would help us. They are a handful for us crew chiefs, too. This car has a tendency to be tight in the middle of the corner, and once you start freeing up the car and making it turn in the middle, you're too loose in, and too loose off. It's very hard to find a balance.
Sooner or later everybody is going to hit on it. This past weekend at Phoenix, Martin and Jimmie Johnson were a bit better than everyone else. We're getting better. We're missing a little something, but we're getting closer.
It was a fuel-mileage race at Phoenix, but we weren't pushing our fuel mileage. Our cars weren't handling as good as we needed them to, so that actually helped our fuel mileage. We struggled with a car that didn't have a good setup the whole race. It was a long race for us. We had an exhaust leak that burned through a spark plug wire, so we ran on seven cylinders. On one of the cautions, Tommy Chandler went under the hood and got it fixed.
We're in a three-way tie for 18th, but here's the important number for us: we're 81 points out of 12th. That's the magic number for us. We keep track of it. We're all keeping close attention to it. You look back at a couple of bad races out there -- a wreck at Bristol, and at Martinsville we got taken out -- if it wasn't for those two races, we'd be right in the thick of things. We've had consistency not having mechanical failures, and we've proved that consistently we can be there. We just need some breaks.
I feel like we have a real good chance getting into the Chase. With Bobby Labonte being a veteran driver, he knows how to do it. He's a smart, meticulous racer. He's not going to get himself in a bunch of trouble. I feel like we've got a good enough team, and I definitely think we have a shot at being 12th. The interesting thing this year is that week in and week out you'll have a group of guys who dominate one race, and then you go to the next race and they'll run horrible. I don't think there's any one team that has this car figured out. The 99 and Carl Edwards have something figured out on the intermediate tracks, but other than the 99, I don't think anyone has figured it out. That's why we're doing all these tests, so we can be first to figure that out. We're going to Nashville next week, and then after that, the 45 crew is going to Iowa to test for a couple of days. We'll do intermediate testing, and they're going to do short track, and we will share what we find out.
As for Aaron Fike and the story that he did heroin before competing in a NASCAR Truck Series race, I don't know a whole lot about the story. That is pretty disappointing, not only for the other drivers but the team he races for. Everybody on our team is just as competitive as Bobby, and everybody takes it seriously. If we don't run good, it affects a lot of people. The decisions I make affect a lot of people, too. So my point is, we're all responsible not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us. I don't think having a random drug-testing policy is a bad idea. I wouldn't be opposed to it.
Jeff Meendering is the first-year crew chief for the famed Petty Enterprises No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Charger driven by Bobby Labonte. Meendering will take ESPN.com readers inside his life on and off the track each week with the help of writer Angelique S. Chengelis.