Each week, Frontstretch Senior Staff Writer Becca Gladden looks at the 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 Monday for Becca's fun and thought-provoking commentary.
Who â€¦ gets my shout-out of the race?
Both Penske Racing teams -Nos. 2 and 12. Last week, I commented on the fact that Kurt Busch had quietly slipped into the Top 10 in points, and this week both Penske drivers brought home very good finishes – Busch came home a solid fifth, while Ryan Newman followed close behind in sixth. Busch moved up another spot in the points to ninth place in the process; Newman jumped five spots, though he is still back in 19th. Despite the strong run, however, Busch was upset about pit road problems during the race and let his team know it, apparently quite angrily. But a more interesting storyline to me is this little post-race quote from Ryan Newman: “Obviously, the Hendrick cars are the ones to beat, and from what I've heard they got a head start on everybody with testing, and that kind of shows up.” Race fans – any hidden messages there?
What â€¦ was the best part of Saturday’s prerace?
If you missed the opening ceremonies prior to Saturday’s rainout, you missed one of the best National Anthems in quite a while. The stirring rendition, as Fox’s Mike Joy described it, was performed by the Commandant’s Own Drum and Bugle Corps of the United States Marines – the only active drum and bugle corps in the armed forces. I’ve been saying for years that the most respectful anthem performances are by military bands or singers and this was yet another example – it was so much more enjoyable than the screechy performance on Sunday. I’m especially partial to instrumentals like these which allow the fans to sing along – as it should be. My second choice of best anthem: The annual tradition of the kids from Motor Racing Outreach singing at Bristol.
Where â€¦ have we seen a better example of the old adage that cautions breed cautions?
There were six cautions at Richmond in just 55 laps between Lap 317 and 372, averaging out to about one caution every nine laps during that stretch. Four were for on-track incidents, while two were for debris (anyone notice how hard the TV crews are working to show the debris these days?). Darrell Waltrip looked like a pretty good prognosticator when he said way back on Lap 160 that Richmond was known as a track where “we have trouble early and we have trouble late,” and he was certainly correct.
When â€¦ is someone besides a Hendrick Motorsports driver going to win a COT race, or any race for that matter?
Jimmie Johnson’s win today makes HMS the undisputed king of the Car of Tomorrow until proven otherwise. Hendrick drivers have swept all four COT races – one each for Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, and two for Johnson. Perhaps more importantly, they’ve also won seven of the last eight races, taking every trophy since Las Vegas in March with the exception of Texas, won by Jeff Burton. While other teams, especially Gibbs and Childress, appear to be running moderately well with the CoT, no one has been able to challenge this year’s Hendrick dominance, evidenced by an impressive 1-2-4 finish by Hendrick today (Casey Mears was 18th). The year’s first two races were won by Childress and Roush drivers, but it’s been almost All Hendrick All the Time since then.
Why â€¦ are we still having impound races in 2007?
Back in 2005, NASCAR’s mad scientists cooked up a silly experiment known as the impound race – a weekend schedule which eliminated practice sessions between qualifying and the race itself. Although it was supposed to be a moneysaver for team owners, it ended up as a confusing, cumbersome system, particularly since only some tracks used the impound schedule while others did not. Surprisingly, five races are still using the impound rule, including both Car of Tomorrow races at Richmond – adding to the stress for crew chiefs still trying to figure out how to get the new car dialed in. The other impound races this year are both Talladega dates (the second one also a COT race), and the Pepsi 400 in July at Daytona.
How â€¦ bad a nightmare has Michael Waltrip’s year been so far?
During the off season, Waltrip was confident that he could prove all the doubters and naysayers wrong – that he could start a three-car race team from scratch in a very short period of time, with a new and unpopular manufacturer to Cup racing, and be competitive right out of the gate. Well, two of his cars are currently 39th (Dale Jarrett) and 42nd (David Reutimann) in points, and Jarrett has now used up his allotment of past champion provisionals for the season and missed the Richmond race after failing to qualify on time. As for Waltrip himself, he has competed in just one of the year’s first ten races, the Daytona 500, an accomplishment that was itself marred by cheating allegations. He now occupies the very last spot in the Cup standings at 55th with negative 27 points as a result of the Daytona penalty. Then, of course, there is the serious car accident that Waltrip was involved in last month, which finds him facing a scheduled May 14th court date to answer charges of reckless driving and failure to report an accident. Perhaps the one thing that keeps Waltrip going is the sure knowledge that at this point, there is absolutely no place to go but up.
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