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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? Junior Stressed Out? Said Rained Out? & Why Did McDowell Pout?

Did You Notice? That Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks a little haggard lately? In virtually every single interview I’ve seen him do over the past two months, Junior’s answers are so slow and meticulously constructed it feels like he’s processing the question in slow motion. I feel like it’s either one of two things – it’s either Junior’s stressed out, or he’s still adjusting a bit in his new role at the more politically correct Hendrick Motorsports.

Remember, the Most Popular Driver is also in the midst of figuring out his own identity after leaving the family-owned team and the comfort of a beer sponsor for two backers in Mountain Dew and the National Guard in which he’s expected to be a role model for kids and adults. Add in the increasing demands of his JR Motorsports team, and it’s clear Junior’s got a lot on his mind these days. And have you noticed that in almost every post-race interview he does, the words “I’m proud of my team?” are mentioned – regardless of whether they played a part to cost him the race or not? HMS drivers not named Kyle Busch have made it a point never to publicly throw anyone from his team under the bus. But just once, wouldn’t it be nice for Junior to vocalize what so many of us have been thinking – “I would have finished fifth, but my freaking cousin blew the call once again. He’s really got to stop doing that!”

Did You Notice? That marketers on Watkins Glen might have more luck bringing fans in if they knew how to spell names of the series’ biggest teams. On billboards all over the central New York region advertising the Watkins Glen race last weekend, one of the messages advertising the race – in large white font above photos of the Kevin HarvickJuan Pablo Montoya clash – were “Gibbs vs. Hendricks.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see any Hendricks Motorsports on the entry list this weekend at the Glen. Hmm… I guess they must have pulled out at the last minute.

Did You Notice? That after the shock of Martin Truex Jr. re-signing with DEI subsided, it was revealed the contract was only through the 2009 season. And despite all the happy faces this weekend, I don’t think this announcement necessarily means Truex was always 100% committed to resigning with the No. 1 car. Remember, this organization claimed they had an option to pick him up for ’09 anyway based on Truex’s contract, a legalese portion of fine print which could have been debatable in a court of law. It’s certainly possible that if Truex recognized DEI would take him to court over that option, it was easier to resign with his team than to go to whatever other options were available. No matter what happens from here though, this much is clear: Max Siegel has exactly nine months to turn things around before his primary driver jumps ship. And the clock starts… now.

Did You Notice? The sheer aggression of the Nationwide Series race at the Glen versus the conservatism of the Cup race one day later? Those who watched both races know exactly what I’m talking about. On Saturday, we had Busch take out both himself and mild-mannered Jeff Burton while fighting for the lead; Burton retaliate to regain the top spot; point leaders Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer take each other out while fighting for position; and Brad Keselowski put forth a valiant, aggressive effort to get a top-10 finish with a wounded car.

KEITH: NATIONWIDE SERIES BREAKDOWN AFTER WATKINS GLEN

Compare that to the Cup race the following day, where the end of the event saw Tony Stewart scared to pass Kyle Busch because he didn’t want to risk precious points that could get him in the Chase. Behind him, Marcos Ambrose didn’t want to hit Stewart, for God forbid Stewart wrecks and he gets blamed for taking out a Chaser. There were 11 lead changes in the Nationwide Series race, while the Cup race only had eight – and most of those switches were based on strategy.

Wasn’t the aggressiveness of the drivers supposed to ramp up before the Chase? Right now, I’d take another 20 races of moderate aggression under the old system versus one all-out slugfest at Richmond.

Did You Notice? That Busch could easily be in great shape to tie or surpass Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty’s modern era total of 13 wins in a season? I know it’s been talked about a lot, so I won’t spend too much time on it: but, we still have three races left on the schedule at tracks Busch has won at already this season – and convincingly at that. If you give him victories at two of those three tracks – Talladega, Dover and Atlanta – that already pushes him up to 10 wins. Busch was also a contender at Texas, Charlotte, Richmond and Fontana earlier this season, racking up top-five finishes and leading laps in each race. Let’s say Busch gets lucky and racks up wins in three of those four – that pushes us to 13, and we’ve still got seven other races we haven’t even mentioned left on the schedule. This is fast becoming not just a career year for Busch; it’s one he can push to a level that’ll go down in the record books as one of the best of all time.

Did You Notice? Boris Said’s comments about always qualifying the go-or-go-homers? In case you missed it, Said believes the sport should hold a separate session for whoever’s not “locked-in” to the field on Saturday morning if qualifying is ever rained out. This way, part-time teams like his who come to a select number of races each year still have a shot to make the field fair and square.

Considering Said’s team lost $250,000 by missing a race they would have almost certainly made without the rain, it’s clear he might have been a little biased with those comments. But that doesn’t mean his message has no merit. Just allowing full-time teams to slip by with a mulligan discourages these part-time programs from coming to the track each week. And I think it’s important to give those teams an opportunity to succeed. After all, wasn’t the whole concept of this sport based on the fact Joe Schmo should be able to come to any track with his independent team and have the opportunity to compete with the best of ‘em? Providing opportunity is not sending a team home due to rain before they even have a chance to make a lap on the track. With the Top 35 locked into the field, you can bet qualifying those other 10 cars at the Glen would have taken no longer than a half an hour at best. I think it’s something NASCAR should seriously look into if they’re looking at keeping this kooky system for 2009 and beyond.

Did You Notice? Michael McDowell’s comments after triggering a wreck that took out nine cars, destroyed David Gilliland’s No. 38 and sent Bobby Labonte to the hospital? “I was just racing hard,” he said after the wreck. “And really, it doesn’t look much different than how it was with Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton yesterday – but I’m sure they’ll make a big deal out of it.”

Yeah, it was exactly the same, Mr. McDowell; in that wreck, no cars got damaged, and in yours, we had a 40-minute red flag. Sorry to make that such a big deal! Certainly interesting that 24 hours after that incident, McDowell was temporarily ousted from the No. 00 in favor of veteran Mike Skinner. After 17 races and no top-20 finishes, you could already see the reasons why – and after Sunday, you could hear them.

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