Chevrolet onslaught shows no sign of slowing down

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The front end of the Phoenix International Raceway garage, where haulers are parked as usual based on where the drivers are in the Nextel Cup point standings, looks like a local Chevrolet dealership.

There's points leader Jeff Gordon in a Chevrolet, followed by Jeff Burton in a Chevrolet.

After the yellow Ford of Matt Kenseth there are the Chevrolets of Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch.

Seven of the top 10 are Chevrolets.

The lineup reflects the first seven races in which Chevrolets have won six times, taken 27 of a possible 35 top-5 positions and led an amazing 81 percent of the laps.

That number is even more lopsided over the past five races in which Chevrolets have led an astounding 91.4 percent of the laps.

It's so out of whack that representatives from other manufacturers have called Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's director of competition, to see what can be done to level the playing field.

The concern was so great after Chevrolets led 270 of 334 laps last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway that one manufacturer questioned NASCAR's intention when calling a late caution for debris immediately after leader Kurt Busch pitted in a Dodge.

The caution put Busch at the back of the lead lap and cost him practically any chance at victory.

Pemberton isn't concerned. While he admits NASCAR is working with Dodge to alleviate an aerodynamic problem in traffic, he said the chassis dyno and wind tunnel numbers don't suggest Chevrolets have a competitive advantage over Ford, Dodge or Toyota.

He said NASCAR isn't looking to make rule changes to help the other manufacturers, saying the Chevrolet advantage is in the sheer number of cars.

Twenty-one of the 50 cars that attempted to qualify for Saturday's race at Phoenix were Chevrolets, compared to 13 Dodges, nine Fords and seven Toyotas.

"We'll sit here and evaluate as we always do," Pemberton said. "You don't historically make rule changes in the middle of the year."

This isn't the first time a manufacturer has gotten off to a fast start. Buicks won seven of the first eight in 1981. Fords won the first nine races of the 1992 season. Chevrolets won the first seven and 21 of 31 in 1995.

Jeff Gordon, who won the championship in '95, said this start has been more impressive because the teams are more even than ever.

"In '95, we came out with a brand-new body style," Gordon said. "We maybe even had a new engine. We had a dominant car as well as teams that were strong.

"This year, it's all about the teams. If you see the same guys winning here it has nothing to do with anything other than the teams that built that car."

Don Miller, the president of Dodge's Penske Racing, agreed. He reminded that the Chevrolets were further ahead after last season because of their dominance, which allowed them to put more emphasis on the Car of Tomorrow that is being used for the third time this weekend.

"When it comes to this car they have really done their homework," he said. "They had a real heavy concentration of testing that the rest of us didn't."

Chevrolet won 23 of 36 races and led about 60 percent of the laps a year ago. It won 17 times in 2005, 21 in 2004 and 19 in 2003.

It has won four straight manufacturer's championships and there is nothing to suggest this won't be the fifth straight.

"To be honest with you, Chevrolet has been ahead of us for probably the last year, or last year and a half, since 2005," said Greg Biffle, who drives for one of Roush Fenway Racing's five Ford teams.

"We managed to win championships in [2003 and 2004]. But really, competitive-wise, they were better than us."

The Dodge camp appears most concerned with Chevrolet's dominance. This time a year ago, Kasey Kahne had two of his series-high six wins and was third in points.

Heading into Saturday's race, Kahne is 33rd in points with six consecutive finishes of 19th or worse. David Stremme and rookie Juan Pablo Montoya are the highest-ranked Dodge drivers at 12th and 13th for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

"I know they've got an advantage," Kahne said of the Chevrolets. "That's obvious. You can watch that in every single race. It's the way NASCAR is these days.

"I heard Jeff Gordon complain after Texas about how bad the aero push was. I was, 'Man, you should drive my car and see how bad a Dodge is.' Until we get a little help it'll be tough to mess with them."

Gordon doesn't buy that argument.

"I would argue that very much," he said. "We went to the chassis dyno and we were down on power to the other teams. We're still winning races. … If they want to complain about anything it would be that our engineers and technical support have done a good job with it."

The concern isn't as great with the Ford teams. Roush Fenway Racing has three drivers in the top 10 with Kenseth at third, Carl Edwards at eight and Jamie McMurray at 10th.

Kenseth won the second race at California and was a last-lap pass by Burton from victory last week at Texas.

Ford's biggest issue is it has only nine full-time teams, with five of those at Roush Fenway Racing and two at Robert Yates Racing, which is in a rebuilding process.

"There's only technically one of us, if you will," Biffle said. "If you were to say we had three Roush conglomerates all running Fords, then the tables might be balanced a little different.

"But they've got three strong, strong teams, three strong teams of good drivers driving Chevys, and that's something we know we have to battle."

Biffle was referring to Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing. HMS and JGR not only have seven teams between them, they supply engines and technical support to several other teams, such as Ginn Racing and Hall of Fame Racing.

"And let's face it, you take Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and all those guys, and feeding a little bit of information back to Chevrolet, it'll trickle around to those teams a little bit faster," Biffle said. "Within our organization, all we have is us.

"We have our five teams to gather that information and use it within ourselves. You know, it's tough to beat the odds, and the odds are there's more Chevrolet teams and better cars."

Dale Jarrett, a former Robert Yates Racing driver, said before the season that Ford was behind in technical and engineering support. Burton, who drove for Roush Fenway Racing through the middle of the 2004 season, didn't want to diminish the support of another manufacturer.

But he admitted Chevrolet is well ahead of the game.

"Chevrolet does a great job with more than just giving the teams money," he said. "They help their teams with technology and help them understand the technology.

"Chevy is committed to winning races. They have a passion for their motorsports program. They bring a sense of urgency and that sense of urgency is really important. It's a winning mind-set."

The mind-set of other manufacturers is more of a catch-up mode.

"It's not really a surprise to us to see them running as well as they are," Biffle said.

Pemberton insisted NASCAR has no bias toward Chevrolet. Because the governing body is impartial, he said there's a better understanding of what's happening, from the way teams are built to driver and crew changes that affect performance.

He said most of the complaints come from sponsors and manufacturer upper management.

"You have to look at the big picture," he said. "That's how we look at it. The sheer numbers on Chevys are staggering. They support the most, and look at what they gain from their affiliation.

"Look at the Busch Series, too. Chevy and Ford have spent a lot of time in the Busch Series and they support the Busch Series. That carries over into the Cup series."

Pemberton fully expects the field will be more balanced by midseason and the complaints will subside.

"When you're in the trenches like a lot of these teams are and come away from a Sunday, you understand what you need to do better and why you get beat," he said. "Most of the time there's some detail you missed or something you should be working harder on.

"For the most part, the teams are probably one of the last ones to complain."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.