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?
Believe it or not, I am going to give it to NASCAR officials this week, for eliminating the ridiculous practice of “inverting” the field during the All-Star Challenge. In my Big Six column following last year’s All-Star event, I wrote: “Why does NASCAR stick with this strange inversion gimmick for the All-Star race? Apparently, it is meant to add some excitement to the event, but the only real suspense is how many laps it will take for the ‘Big One’ to occur after a bunch of slower cars are placed ahead of the fast ones.” Mercifully, we were spared that fiasco this year, although the race was relatively boring until the final laps of the last segment. Still, I’d rather see a good clean race that lacks passing than a race that’s hampered by a crazy rule contrivance. What about you?
What â€¦ will be the biggest issue in next week’s Coca-Cola 600?
Unless NASCAR and Goodyear get together and make some changes this week, we’ll all be talking about tires again next weekend. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin were among the most outspoken critics of the hard tires Saturday night. Although the compound may prove a better match for a longer race, it is not a match for the smoother track. “Right now, these tires and this racetrack don’t match up. It’s like we’re on ice. I just hate it because we’re not putting on a better show,” said Gordon. And Stewart was not optimistic about anything changing for the 600: “The racing can be better if Goodyear will work with everybody, but I’m not sure if that will happen or not.” Michael Waltrip tells us not to blame Goodyear for tire issues because they only bring the compound that NASCAR asks for. If that’s true, then when will NASCAR step up to the plate and ask for changes? Time to start listening to the drivers on this one.
Where â€¦ did the new and improved Johnny Sauter come from?
Sauter ran two pretty clean and impressive races Saturday, driving from 20th to second in the Open and claiming one of just two available spots in the Challenge – then starting 20th in that one and finishing a very respectable sixth. Clearly, a lot of the credit has to go to Sauter’s crew chief Bootie Barker, one of the smartest guys in the garage, for being a stabilizing influence on Sauter’s typically haphazard driving style and for giving him cars he can succeed in. “This was the best turning car I’ve had on a one-and-a-half in a couple of years,” said Sauter after the All-Star race. Great job, Bootie!
When â€¦ are drivers going to start paying back Juan Pablo Montoya for his recklessness?
Pretty soon, I think. David Gilliland, Joe Nemechek, Paul Menard, Jon Wood, A.J. Allmendinger, and Scott Riggs are the latest ones to grab their place in line — they’re all drivers who were caught up in what can only be described as Montoya’s latest inexperienced (if not altogether bonehead) move on the first lap of the All-Star Open. Adding insult to injury, Montoya rebuked any responsibility for the incident, stating, “If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same,” and suggesting that the drivers who are upset with him should just “get over it.” Nemechek commented that drivers are going to start giving Montoya, an accomplished open-wheel driver but a NASCAR rookie, a taste of his own medicine: “He’s going to get his and it’s coming,” warned an angry Nemechek after the Open.
Why … was everyone so happy about the Busch brothers’ crash?
Of course I know the answer to that, but to be fair, Busch the elder deserves some recognition for trying hard to improve his public persona the past year or two. Before that, an incident like this would have produced a classic Kurt meltdown (perhaps even justifiably in this case), but Saturday night was clearly evidence of Kurt Version 2.0. The thing that struck me as strange in his interview – and I’ve not seen anyone else comment on this – was the fact that he dragged Kevin Harvick into the mix. Busch likened the incident to his wreck in the Daytona 500 and stated, “A guy named Harvick won the (Daytona) race and a guy named Harvick is leading right now.” Huh? Was Kurt really more annoyed that Harvick was winning the race than he was that his own brother wrecked him? Is he still holding a grudge from that whole “ear pinning” thing with Harvick at Bristol last year?
How â€¦ long will it take Matt Kenseth to live down that pit road speeding penalty?
It’s less than 24 hours since the end of the All-Star Challenge and I’m already sick of hearing it referred to as the “million dollar speeding ticket.” So I can only imagine how Matt must be feeling. Kenseth described the incident as a “dumb mistake” but stated that he was hoping to stay up front where his car ran best. “It was real important to be up front tonight. When we were in the front, we were one of the best cars. When we were behind, we were just one of the guys for whatever reason. I just left pit road and there was a lot of traffic because we did a stop-and-go, and I looked out of the mirror and looked back down and knew I was going too fast.” Whatever the reason for his mental lapse, I hope that Kenseth doesn’t have to live it down for too long.
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