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SPEED Quotes: Larry McReynolds on Wind Tunnel
Larry McReynolds, former crew chief and current NASCAR analyst for SPEED and FOX Sports, was a guest on Sunday’s Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain.  Among issues discussed were McReynolds’ pick for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, Jimmie Johnson’s championship potential, whether Tony Stewart can bounce back from Sunday’s disappointing finish and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s recent performance.  Following are excerpts from the interview:

On whether the Chase contenders’ aggression level Sunday at Loudon was good strategy:
McReynolds: “I think in particular, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who had good race cars all weekend long but just didn’t have a good qualifying lap, wanted to get up through there as quickly as they possibly could.  I think this is going to be the nature of this Chase throughout the entire 10 races.  These guys know the competition is so tight right now that you’re not going to be able to sit back there and cruise eighth through 12th and win this championship."

On whether the key to the tight Chase field is the weakness the No. 48 team has displayed:
McReynolds: “I think the jury still is out even after Loudon on whether or not the 48 team will be able to win their fifth consecutive championship.  I’ve seen things uncharacteristic of this team all year long – mistakes on pit road – and I think there have been more than have been documented.  We’ve also seen the 48 car the wrong way on the track this year – either spinning out or getting spun out.  I just think they’re not where they were the past four years when they won the championship.”

On his reaction to the No. 14 team’s call to stay out on fuel:
McReynolds: “I’m not sure Tony Stewart should take blame for running out of fuel with the 14 car.  Yet, Darian Grubb, Todd Berrier and Shane Wilson all made the same call after they pitted with roughly 92 laps to go to make it to the end. One of them made a race-winning call. I can’t say Todd Berrier and Darian Grubb made bad calls, but the calls didn’t end up winning them the race.  But that’s what I loved about that race.  Not only were the drivers aggressive on the track, but the crew chiefs in the Chase were aggressive with their calls on pit road.”

On whether Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team are ready to win a championship:
McReynolds: “Yeah, I feel like the only weakness the 11 team has had is mechanical failures.  In last year’s Chase, I felt like the 11 team outperformed the 48 team in those 10 races.  But they had back-to-back engine failures at Charlotte and Talladega.  Denny, and he well admitted it, made a boneheaded move when he had the best race car at California last year, and it cost him the Chase.  Denny said something interesting last week that I found very intriguing. He said he learned last year not to watch the scoreboard during the race.  He said that’s what got him in trouble at California – he kept watching the scoreboard to see where the 48 car was. You’ve got to run your own race.”

On whether Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart’s championships were damaged or thwarted at Loudon:
McReynolds: “We keep using the term ‘mulligan’ and they used theirs at Loudon. I feel good about Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb and the No. 14 team because of the way they are performing.  From the minute they unloaded their car Friday at Loudon, they had one of the best cars there, and that’s been the case at a lot of tracks over the past couple of months.  As long as they stay focused on that and they have good race cars, they can overcome the problem they had with running out of fuel with two laps to go.”

On whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finally broken through with his top-five finish at Loudon:
McReynolds: “I don’t know if we can run through the town, crying and ringing the bell just yet, but it’s a great start.  It proves to me that Dale Earnhardt Jr. still has it.  I never questioned that and whether that team can be competitive. They overcame a lot at Loudon to get a top-five.  The biggest thing Dale Jr. has to do is quit getting frustrated when things aren’t going well because the frustration just travels over to Lance McGrew and that race team.”

On his favorite for the championship:
McReynolds: “I still like the 11 team. I’ve liked them all year long and liked them at the end of 2009.  I think they’ve learned what not to do in the past four Chases and if they can keep the mechanical problems behind them, that might be the team you have to beat for this championship.”

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