NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: 2008 Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

He made a last turn, last-ditch effort for the win, getting his car sideways in turn 4, but in the end Kurt Busch couldn’t quite grab a win at Phoenix. Still, Busch had a great run in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Penske Racing hasn’t been competitive this year, but Busch showed that he still has plenty of talent. His younger brother may have grabbed the lion’s share of headlines this year, but Kurt Busch drove the wheels off it this week.

What… do drivers have to do to be liked these days?

It seems like a driver has to be Superman, Jesse James, Bozo the Clown and Santa Claus all rolled into one. If a driver isn’t winning enough, he’s just riding someone’s coattails. If he wins too much, then he’s “bad for the sport.” If a driver shows too much emotion, he’s a jerk; not enough and he’s a robot. If he wrecks others, he’s a menace, if he drives too clean he’s a pansy. If he shows frustration, he’s classless, and if he doesn’t, he’s boring. He’s too dirty, too clean, too tall, too short, too PC, too obnoxious. One guy flips another the bird and it’s cool because he’s being himself. The other guy flips it back and he’s an uncouth ass. No, fans don’t have to like everyone-but how about spending more time on cheering for your guy and less time expounding on why all the other 42 aren’t worthy of winning the race/championship/beauty contest? It seems like some people aren’t satisfied with anything.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Some wanted to declare a jinx on the Phoenix pole after the last two polesitters wound up having engine failures that relegated them to the bottom of the scoring pylon. The jinx was broken this time out, though, as Jimmie Johnson drove the pole-winning car all the way to victory lane, and the cusp of a record-tying third consecutive championship.

When… will I be loved?

This week, Juan Pablo Montoya is the one singing this song. One week after being the victim himself, Montoya got into Casey Mears, spinning Mears into traffic and causing a melee that ended with David Gilliland’s car sitting squarely on top of Scott Speed’s machine. Nothing like looking out your windshield on a Sunday afternoon and seeing the rear-end mechanism of a Ford Fusion a foot from your face…

Why… does the Cup championship battle rarely measure up to the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series?

While the story of Johnson attempting to tie a 30-year-old record and join his boyhood hero Cale Yarborough as the only three-time consecutive Cup champions is compelling, the points battle really isn’t. All Johnson needs to do to assume his place beside Yarborough is finish 36th or better at Homestead. Johnson’s team, and several others have learned to work this system just the way Matt Kenseth learned to work the old one in 2003. Meanwhile, both the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series have battles raging down to the wire. Just 56 points separate Carl Edwards from points leader Clint Bowyer in the Nationwide Series, and Johnny Benson carries a mere three-point cushion to Homestead on the truck side. For a system devised to manufacture more excitement, the Chase has turned into just another tepid gimmick.

How… should NASCAR deal with a last-lap retaliatory wreck?

Obviously, NASCAR couldn’t park Kenseth for intentionally turning AJ Allmendinger on the final lap of the race, but one week after parking Gilliland for a large chunk of race, they shouldn’t just let it slide. There should be consequences for a last lap retaliation just like one that takes place mid-race. I’d vote for parking Kenseth for the first five laps at Homestead, but at the very least, there needs to be a hefty enough monetary fine to get the point across.

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