With NASCAR focusing on WWJD (What Will Junior Do?) and who Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s next racing employer will be, other good stories may be overlooked.

* One is Jeff Gordon's recent domination, winning three of the last four races. With teammate Jimmie Johnson already collecting four victories, Hendrick Motorsports teams have won seven of the first 11 Cup races and all five Car of Tomorrow races.

"Hendrick has done a really good job of putting a lot of support into their COT," said Robbie Reiser, crew chief for Matt Kenseth's No. 17 Ford team. "They have come out of the box stronger than the rest of us, and that's shame on the rest of us."

With Gordon already 231 points ahead of Johnson, NASCAR officials are thankful the Chase for the Championship is in place to make the season's last 10 races compelling. Otherwise, the other drivers would be racing for second place.

* The improvement of the Penske teams also is worth noting. Kurt Busch is seventh in the points standings, with two top-five finishes in the last three races.

With three consecutive top-10s, Ryan Newman has climbed to 13th in points; three races ago he was 24th. Newman led 39 laps in last Sunday's race at Darlington on his way to a fourth-place finish.

Hard to believe, but Newman's last victory was the September race at New Hampshire 2 years ago.

Race cars are a key to success in any series. Fall slightly behind on the technical side and it often takes a while to recover. As Jeff Burton said, after he started finishing better with Richard Childress cars, he didn't forget how to race. It's the same with Newman and Busch. Their crews are providing faster Dodges.

Speaking on a Tuesday conference call, Newman said, "I wouldn't say that Chevrolet's been dominant. It's Hendrick that is dominant, and that happens to be a Chevrolet team. I was especially happy at Darlington to be able to run with them [and] pass them.

"It's been a big turnaround for us to get back to where we are, and I look forward to building on that. It is something that we have to stay focused on. We let it get away for about a year and a half."

Cheaters, beware

First, there were the substantial fine, suspensions and loss of points with Michael Waltrip's team prior to the Daytona 500.

Tuesday's whacking of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his team is another reminder that anyone who tries cheating in NASCAR should be thinking: Is it really worth it?

Junior lost 100 points and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. was fined $100,000 and suspended for six races after NASCAR officials discovered illegal modifications to the rear wing of his No. 8 Chevrolet prior to Darlington.

Asked yesterday on a conference call if he's surprised by the severity of the penalty, reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson replied, "I can't say that I am. Each violation that's made, it's just going to get steeper and steeper, regardless of what team it is. NASCAR makes it known which areas are no-nos."

Philly interns busy

Four students from Philadelphia's Urban Youth Racing School are interning again with Craftsman Truck Series teams this week at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Johnny Ortiz, 18, is with Brendan Gaughan's South Point Racing team. Jerry Trent, 18, and Lamott Ebron, 19, are with Rick Crawford's Circle Bar Racing. Aaron Gordon, 19, is with Aaron Fike's Red Horse Racing team.

The students work in the race shops, helping prepare the trucks. They attended last night's Pit Crew Challenge at the Charlotte Bobcats arena. Tomorrow night, they'll help in the pits during the truck race at Lowe's.

"We're able to learn a lot of new stuff," Ortiz, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High, said yesterday. He plans to attend Kutztown University.

Gaughan has been involved with the UYRS for several years.

"The school teaches them the background of NASCAR," Gaughan said. "Then they get some hands-on knowledge.

"There's no one working harder to get a black race car driver out there than the Urban Youth Racing School. I [believe] that the first real success story comes out of this program." *

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