Each week, Frontstretch Staff Writer Becca Gladden looks at the prior weekend’s NEXTEL Cup race from a reporter’s point of view, covering the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How” of the race, the drivers, the TV coverage, even the commercials. Check back every Wednesday for Becca’s fun and thought-provoking commentary.
Q: Who … keeps his promises to his fans?
A: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
At the end of 2005, Dale Jr. apologized to his fans for a disappointing season, and promised to give them something to cheer about this year. A man of his word, Junior is sixth heading into the Chase, and would likely be higher in the standings if not for back-to-back last place finishes at Loudon and Pocono. Whether or not he wins the title, his fans are thrilled that the Budweiser Chevy is back in the hunt.
Q: What … constitutes stress for a NASCAR driver?
A: Not what many in the media seem to think.
For the past several weeks, Jeff Burton has been asked how he is handling the stress of trying to make his first-ever Chase. Burton has emphatically replied that stress is having a bad season and struggling week in and week out – NOT running in the Top 10 and having a real shot at the title. “If it’s the fourth quarter with two minutes to go and you don’t want the ball, then get the hell off the court,” Burton said. “This is what sports are all about.”
Q: When … did the Team Chevy drivers have dinner together?
You know that commercial showing Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Tony Stewart at a restaurant sharing a congratulatory champagne toast, which they pour on their heads? In reality, the commercial was filmed in two separate locations, with Gordon and Johnson at one and Earnhardt and Stewart at the other. If you watch closely, you can see that the drivers on one side of the table are not looking in the exact direction of the other drivers – because they aren’t really there.
Q: Where … is Martin Truex Jr. in the standings after 26 races?
A: Not where you might have expected.
After easily winning two straight Busch series championships, many thought Truex would have continued success in his first full Cup season, including a good shot at Rookie of the Year honors. After 26 races, he is 23rd in points with four DNFs, has just two Top 10 finishes, and is currently fourth in ROTY points – behind Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, and Reed Sorenson. Bad luck and equipment problems have both played a role in Truex’s struggles but neither fully explains his very disappointing season.
Q: Why … was a race this important an impound race?
A: It shouldn’t have been.
After last year’s trial run of impound races in the Cup series fell flat on its face, NASCAR wisely decided to scrap the idea this season, with the exception of five races: Richmond is the only non-plate track on the schedule still running impound races this year, joining both Talladega races and the Pepsi 400. With so much riding on this particular race in terms of the Chase for the Championship, it was certainly a strange decision to stick with the outmoded and quirky impound schedule.
Q: How … well did the Richmond race live up to its hype?
A: It didn’t.
Starting with the opening music on NASCAR RaceDay – Karl Orff’s “O Fortuna” – and continuing with the TV announcers repeatedly comparing this race to the Super Bowl, the Richmond race was way overhyped. Although it had a few interesting moments – particularly Kevin Harvick’s white flag pass to steal the win from Kyle Busch – the race itself was not nearly as exciting as its billing would have suggested.
Then again, neither is the Super Bowl.
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