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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After the 2008 Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta

1. Where Have They Been? – It appears that some race fans missing from the television viewing audience the last few years have decided to give NASCAR Sprint Cup racing another shot. Ratings are up for the four race broadcasts (Bud Shootout, Daytona Qualifying, Daytona 500, Las Vegas 400) televised this season that did not suffer a rescheduling due to weather (California). Overall, the FOX network has seen a 3% increase in its race ratings, with last week’s Las Vegas broadcast increasing by a whopping 13% in comparison to last season’s race.

Looks like the building excitement to March Madness doesn’t have anything on NASCAR this year… at least, not yet.

2. An Oldie But Goodie – Red Bull Racing Team GM Jay Frye announced late last week that 50-year-old former NASCAR Cup regular and 1995 Craftsman Truck Series champion Mike Skinner would be taking over the driving duties of the Red Bull No. 84 that had been driven by AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger is still with the team, and the plan is for Skinner to mentor the 26-year-old former open-wheel standout for at least the next four races. The No. 84 team had not qualified for an event this season until this weekend at Atlanta; however, Skinner quickly justified the hiring when he turned in the 34th-fastest lap, securing a spot for yesterday’s race. Following up qualifying with a good race on Sunday, Skinner gave the second-year Toyota team a much-needed boost with a 29th-place finish in the Kobalt Tools 500.

Baby steps…

3. From Riches To RagsCarl Edwards and his Roush Fenway No. 99 team got the rug pulled out from under them this week after visiting victory lane twice in a row. NASCAR announced that the owner and driver would each be docked 100 points, plus the 10 bonus points for Chase seeding originally awarded for Edwards’s Vegas win – due to a missing oil-tank cover. Crew chief Bob Osborne was also suspended for the next six Sprint Cup races and put on probation until the end of the year. Roush, Edwards and crew members have claimed complete innocence in any intentional wrongdoing in the circumstances surrounding the oil-tank cover not being properly secured; however, Roush remains uncertain whether the team will appeal the penalty as of Sunday night. Right now, the team is too busy smarting from an Atlanta snafu to make a proper decision; Edwards, who slipped from first to seventh as a result of the points penalty, was one of only two cars to record a DNF during the race. The No. 99 car ran up front and may have had the race-winning car, but retired due to mechanical trouble with 51 laps remaining, slipping 10 positions to 17th in the driver points standings.

THOMPSON: CARL EDWARDS PENALTY DECISION SHOULD BE SIMPLE

Give that No. 99 bunch a handful of Dramamine for that emotional roller coaster ride they are on right now!

4. Who’s Your Rocket ManJeff Gordon‘s pole win at Atlanta was the 64th of his career; thats puts him fourth all-time behind Richard Petty (126), David Pearson (112) and Cale Yarborough (70). FOX race analyst Darrell Waltrip is fourth all-time with 59 pole starts, while semi-active driver Bill Elliott is seventh on the all-time pole list with 55. All of those listed above, including Gordon, have a Cup championship and at least 40 victories in their illustrious careers…

Who knew there was a correlation between fast cars and wins?

5. Oh, Never MindRobby Gordon saw both his 100 owner and driver points restored this week by the National Stock Car Racing Commission (NSCRC) after appealing the No. 7 Dodge Charger penalty he was dinged with following Las Vegas for an unapproved nosepiece. The revised penalty calls for crew chief Frank Kerr’s fine to be increased $50,000 to $150,000, although his six-race suspension was lifted (he will still serve a probationary period). The restoration of the points moved the owner/driver to 21st from 37th in the standings before Atlanta, where he slipped to 23rd in points after a 24th-place finish – still plenty good enough to remain above the Top-35 cutline he was underneath. Gordon had campaigned for a reduction in his fine publicly, and had previously announced that if the fine was not satisfactorily adjusted, he would very likely focus on racing in the Indianapolis 500 in May instead of NASCAR’s Coca Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend. Asked if those plans were still in place, Gordon said, “That’s the pure racer coming out in me that wants to succeed. That deal is off.”

Tantrum over?

6. Jurisprudence – Speaking of the NSCRC, not only did the committee cut Gordon some slack, but the Nationwide Series teams of Rusty Wallace Inc., Richardson-Haas Motorsports, Phoenix Racing and Kevin Harvick Inc. were among teams that saw penalties, fines or suspensions modified, reduced or rescinded in the past week. In times past, the commission has been widely accused of “rubber stamping” NASCAR decisions.

Who said the words, “Kangaroo Court?”

7. Tire(d)? – Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart finished second in the Kobalt Tools 500, moving him up three positions in the Sprint Cup driver standings to eighth. Good run aside, Stewart continued his weeklong negative critique of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company’s race product, challenging the company to get out of the sport in his televised post-race interview. In fact, the No. 20 Home Depot driver was downright cranky about the harder compound tire that teams were required to run on, describing them as “crap.” And to make his point, he went on to inform the listening audience that the tire had been booted from every other race series they had been involved with.

Sounds like this popular driver will not be accused of pandering to the tire manufacturing giant for an endorsement deal!

8. Only A Matter Of Time – Is anyone truly surprised that the first Toyota win in the Sprint Cup Series would come from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable of drivers? Kyle Busch‘s win is the first by a foreign manufacturer since 1954, when Al Keller won a NASCAR event in Linden, N.J. driving a Jaguar. Toyota had the win covered, too, with fellow JGR teammate Stewart following Busch to the line in second place.

What a difference a year has made for the Japanese automaker!

9. Dependability – 43 Cup cars took to the track Sunday; and at the end of the day, 41 were still running. Hard and slick tires and a new generation of racecar be darned; man and machine put on quite a display of skill and engineering at Atlanta Sunday! In fact, in four races to date this season, there’s been just three mechanical DNFs… combined!

That’s impressive.

10. King Kyle – The oft-criticized Busch covered the field in Atlanta, and not just in the Sprint Cup race. The JGR driver also dominated the Nationwide Series event on Saturday, leading a race-high 153 laps before ultimately finishing 24th after cutting a tire down late in the race. Busch is now third in the points standings there – the worst position for him in any of NASCAR’s top-three series. Busch had previously won the American Commercial Lines 200 Craftsman Truck race at Atlanta on Friday, which leaves the younger of the NASCAR Busch boys in the CTS points lead after winning two of the first three events in that series. Oh, yeah, he is the Sprint Cup points leader as well, with a 73-point advantage over Greg Biffle.

How could Rick Hendrick possibly have known this would happen?