NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? The Unbreakable Car, the Unbearable All-Star Rules & Sophomore Success

Did You Notice? The degree to which the Car of Tomorrow’s durability stepped it up a notch on Saturday night? There’s no questioning the new car has better durability, but the amount of vehicles who walked away from serious problems with the wall – especially turn 2 – was unprecedented for the Lady in Black. Kyle Busch was the biggest offender of the CoT luck bank at Darlington, slamming the fence so many times you’d think his car would have been mincemeat by sometime around lap 150. But Busch held on, and so did several others as the DNF total for Darlington stood at just two when the race was over; and neither one of those problems was due to a crash.

So, complain all you want about the CoT – and clearly, it still has some problems – but if we had the old car this past weekend, there’s no telling how many cars wouldn’t have finished the race.

PUGLIESE: NASCAR ODDS ‘N’ ENDS

Did You Notice? That the possibility of drivers making it into the All-Star Race having competed in one Cup race all year long simply isn’t fair.

But that’s exactly what Kenny Wallace is trying to do. The Cup veteran – currently with a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series with Jay Robinson – has signed up to drive the No. 37 car for Front Row Motorsports, knowing full well his presence in the field could win him the 2008 Fan Vote for the All-Star Race. Last year’s winner of the vote – which guarantees a starting spot in the main event – Wallace is hoping his fans will step to the plate once again.

But with all due respect to the man – who’s a great guy and a Frontstretch Driver Diary participant – why should they vote for him? It’s one thing to run a part-time schedule or even a handful of races in the series so far in 2008. But Wallace has driven in just one. I look at the fan vote the same way I look at casting my ballot as a fan for the MLB All-Star Game in July; if a player will spend the better part of the season on the sidelines (disabled list or otherwise), why would that make him an all-star?

Wallace will have an opportunity to earn his spot the hard way – by finishing in the top two in the Sprint Showdown before the race. But should he lose and the fan vote swings his way, he would be better served to give up his spot to a semi-regular or regular driver who deserves a shot at the main event.

Did You Notice? That the All-Star Race was extended from 80 laps to 100 for the upcoming weekend? Instead of four segments of 20 laps apiece, the series will be running four segments of 25. That, I don’t understand; especially with the CoT’s problems on intermediate tracks – where cars have had problems passing on anything other than new tires – shorter segments would seem to lead to better racing.

Personally, I’ve never understood why you needed four segments for the All-Star Race anyway. Can’t we just have a 20-lap sprint for the big money? I know that would cut down on the TV time and pre-race pomp and circumstance; but the first three segments usually just serve as an idle warmup for one last dash of incredible racing at the finish. Do this experiment with me – can you remember the winners of segments 1, 2 and 3 of the All-Star Race last year? No, I don’t either; that should tell you all you need to know. Especially with no inverting the field this year, having multiple segments just seems kind of silly to me.

Did You Notice? That NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott is going to have to qualify for the All-Star Race? Since the part-time driver isn’t a Cup champion within the last 10 years, he’s no longer eligible under the criteria needed to be a part of the main event.

Wait a second… since when was a former Cup champion not an all-star? Especially since this will be Elliott’s final full season driving on tour, it seems like the equivalent of a small crime that NASCAR’s 16-time Most Popular Driver can’t rest on his laurels at 52. Considering that traditions like golf’s Masters Tournament accept champions long after their competitive playing days, it seems a little strange to force a man who won the initial Winston Million into having to earn a slot in the field.

Considering all those years where the sport accommodated former champions like Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty and even Terry Labonte, you’d think an exhibition race would be able to make some room; heck, 1999 champion Dale Jarrett retired two months ago, and he’s receiving an automatic entry into the field. I can tell you this much; if I voted in the Fan Vote competition, I would be definitely pushing for Elliott to get in.

Did You Notice? That while the current rookie class is struggling, the 2007 rookie class is holding their own one year later? So much for the sophomore slump; David Ragan’s entrance into the top 12 is the highlight of a great year for all five drivers in their second season. Ragan, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Reutimann and Paul Menard are all higher in the points standings than they were at this time last year, with each of them showing marked improvement at various tracks. They’ve also combined to make every race so far in 2008, a far cry from the litany of DNQs both Reutimann and Menard experienced to start off their freshman seasons. The only driver lagging behind is AJ Allmendinger; but to be fair, he hasn’t had much of a chance this season after sitting out nearly two months while Mike Skinner attempted to bring his car back into the Top 35 in owner points.

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