The Frontstretch: Four Burning Questions: Ricky vs. Trevor and Does the Lady in Black Still Have It? by Mike Lovecchio -- Thursday May 5, 2011

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When will we see Trevor Bayne again?

It’s a question many have asked, but we’re still awaiting an answer. Trevor Bayne continues to receive treatment for what is now believed to be an inflammatory condition, but was released from the Mayo Clinic late this week. What we do know now is this: Bayne was admitted suffering nausea, fatigue and vision impairment. The vision has improved, but is still not at 100 percent and Bayne will not be in a Nationwide car again this weekend. The No. 16 will again be driven by Chris Buescher.

Roush Fenway officials have said there is no timetable for Bayne to return to racing, but emphasized this is not a career-threatening issue like there were some whispers stating earlier in the week. While his medical condition will certainly delay Bayne’s arrival into the Cup Series full-time, it’s important to remember that the young driver is just 20 years old and his best days in racing are still ahead of him.

Does Bayne’s illness make Ricky Stenhouse the No. 1 prospect for RFR?

With Trevor Bayne sidelined and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s No. 6 team running like gangbusters, it’s not unreasonable to question whether the succession plan at Roush Fenway Racing is up in flux.

Ricky Stenhouse has been sporting the Web site www.rickyvstrevor.com on his car in recent weeks, and the site itself tries to show a friendly rivalry between the two Roush Fenway drivers currently competing in the Nationwide Series. Both were considered favorites for the title at the beginning of the season, but as Bayne continues to miss time with an illness, Stenhouse sits fifth in points with six top 10s in nine races. Suddenly, Bayne – who was the frontrunner for RFR’s No. 6 car should David Ragan lose his ride – is forced to watch as Stenhouse continues to make a name for himself as one of the better Nationwide-only drivers currently competing in the series.

The surprising Daytona 500 race winner was the more marketable of the two and the favorite to earn a full-time ride. After all, he has limited experience already in the Cup Series and proved he can have success. But as Stenhouse’s star continues to brighten, depending on the timing of a ride opening up at RFR it could be he, not Bayne, who gets first crack. But Bayne could just as easily come back, prove he’s healthy and retain his position as RFR top prospect. Either way it’ll be interesting to see how the situation plays out over the course of the year.

Can Denny Hamlin follow up a strong run at Richmond with a win at Darlington?

Denny Hamlin went into Richmond last weekend with just one top 10 finish on the season and left the short track with a season-best second, his first top 5 on the year. Still, he didn’t budge in the points and remains 17th after nine races despite being considered the favorite to unseat Jimmie Johnson in the offseason. Just as it was too early to write him off after eight races, it’s too early to think Hamlin has returned to his 2010 form after one solid run at Richmond, but last week was was a reminder. It was reminder that while Hamlin has struggled, he still races for one of the elite teams in the garage and can win a race any given week. It was also a reminder that he doesn’t have to be in the top 10 to make the Chase.

If Hamlin doesn’t make the top 10, it’s hard to envision him not having multiple wins and earning a wildcard bid. His first win could easily be this weekend, with three top 10 finishes at Darlington in five starts and a win last year, but it could just as easily come in Charlotte, or any of the short tracks he seems to easily dominate at. Simply put, yes, Hamlin can win this weekend (and I think he will), but even if he doesn’t he will win eventually, and two wins is almost certain to get you in the Chase. Given what he did last year, I don’t think that’s much of a stretch.

Is Darlington still a prestigious Sprint Cup event

It doesn’t have two dates, nor does it have its famed Labor Day date, but Darlington is still the host of one of the most exciting races on the Cup schedule. The Lady in Black has the history and character many modern day tracks don’t have, and its difficulty is in a league of its own. Drivers still see a win at Darlington as one of the crown jewels in the series, on par with Indianapolis and Daytona, and that’s likely to remain for as long as the track remains on the schedule. I think I speak for all fans when I say the drivers aren’t the only ones who cherish races at Darlington. The loss of its Labor Day event signaled a change in the sport that has seen less than favorable reviews from fans, and there’s not one fan that would not love to see the Labor Day date return. We can all hope that one day at will.

Contact Mike Lovecchio

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Dave
05/06/2011 08:02 AM
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Maybe, just maybe, if every fan would boycott watching the Labor Day event for just 1 year, NASCAR would get the idea that we want that day returned to Darlington!

JC
05/06/2011 12:44 PM
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Give Darlington a 2nd date by taking one away from Talladega (the big crap shoot). Darlington is Real Racing, Dega is pure luck.

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