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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

10 Points to Ponder… After the 2008 Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix

1. Monkey See… Monkey Do – The nip and tuck championship battle between Ron Hornaday and Johnny Benson Jr. continues after the two squared off at Phoenix Friday night in the Lucas Oil 150. The fact the two Craftsman Truck Series drivers continued their points fight was made more remarkable after Hornaday incurred significant damage to his Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet on the first lap of the race. Repairs to Hornaday’s truck took 29 laps to complete, and he wound up finishing 25th, 34 laps down. However, a lap 87 wreck with TJ Bell sent Benson behind the pit wall for extensive work on his Bill Davis Racing Toyota. The current points leader did return to the track to salvage a 26th-place finish in the final running order – winding up one position behind Hornaday.

It’s like the two championship contenders seem to almost be joined at the hip. After 24 races and a combined 7,145 drivers points earned between them, the two warriors will settle the issue at Homestead-Miami next Friday with, amazingly… only three points separating the two.

2. War Buddies – Curiously, the Hornaday team received much needed assistance in repairing their KHI Chevrolet Silverado from a contingent of Roush Fenway crewmen. Of course, head honcho at Roush Fenway Racing and a Ford Motor Company front man declared war on Toyota following their entry into the Sprint Cup Series last year. Team owner Bill Davis observed after the race that, “I didn’t see anyone helping us,” referring to driver Benson’s behind the wall repairs to his Toyota.

However, Jack Roush explained his decision to help the KHI organization. “…he [Hornaday] definitely was the lesser of the evils that I was confronted with,” Roush said. “You need to pick your friends as carefully as you need to pick your enemies, and I had a chance to define some space there. I think I made the right call.”

Perhaps President-elect Obama ought to consider Jack Roush for Secretary of State or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should he ever decide to declare war against Japan.

3. Hard To Ignore – Like the points leader in the CTS, Clint Bowyer, on top of the championship standings in the Nationwide Series, also suffered a setback in his march to the title when he was involved in a lap 79 accident Saturday during the Hefty Odor Block 200 at Phoenix. However, Bowyer was able to repair his damage during numerous visits to pit road, while staying on the lead lap and restarting the race in 24th position. Bowyer was then able to wrestle his battered Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish in the final race results, minimizing what could have been a catastrophic day. Meanwhile, championship challenger Carl Edwards took the win in a green-white-checkered finish to shave 35 points from Bowyer’s lead; he is now only trailing the Richard Childress Racing chauffeur by 56 with one race remaining.

KEITH: NATIONWIDE SERIES BREAKDOWN AFTER PHOENIX

With such a suspenseful points battle, aren’t these two making it difficult to ignore the Cup Lite Series?

4. Horse With No Name – NASCAR Sprint Cup regular Kevin Harvick won the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway driving the second KHI entry, the No. 2 Chevy Silverado. The triumph was the third career victory in the CTS in 94 starts for the driver of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Sprint Cup team. Harvick’s only other wins in the series came at Phoenix in 2002 and… Phoenix in 2003.

Must be something about the Arizona desert air that gets the Bakersfield, Calif. native fired up!

5. Madison Avenue Trickery – All three NASCAR series racing at Phoenix ran the exact same Goodyear tires last weekend. However, the special-purpose racing tires were branded with “Goodyear Eagle” in the Sprint and Nationwide series, while the CTS tires were emblazoned with the name of the tire manufacturer’s popular name for their truck tire line, “Goodyear Wrangler.”

Sure, the tires are not anything like the ones you buy in the showroom, and the company is calling them by those name brands just for advertisement purposes. It’s actually kind of like calling NASCAR’s special-purpose built racecars Chevrolets, Dodges or Fords.

6. A Cinch? – Dale Earnhardt Inc. part-time employee Mark Martin finished 14th in the Sprint Cup Series Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The highly respected veteran battled back from a lap down after a lap 99 pit-road miscue (lugnut) to finish on the lead lap. At 49 years old, the future Hall of Fame driver thus ended his stint with DEI by recording his 31st top-15 finish in 48 starts, while driving on a limited schedule the past two seasons for both this organization the now-defunct Ginn Racing team.

Any bets against the slick Batesville, Ark. native not qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports next season?

7. How Is TIVO Supposed To Know? – The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) made the decision to resume its regularly scheduled broadcasting due to the length of the rain delayed Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Sunday, switching the broadcast to its affiliate ESPN2. As a result, East Coast race fans without access to the premium sports channel or recording the event were left to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Are NASCAR ratings that bad?

8. Growing Up – Roush Fenway Racing’s David Ragan continues to make believers out of doubters with another strong run Sunday at Phoenix, bringing his No. 6 AAA Ford home in 10th place. For the season, the 22-year-old Unadilla, Ga. native has now posted 14 top-10 finishes, and has the first non-Chase position in the standings (13th) all wrapped up. Kasey Kahne, currently 14th in the standings, trails Ragan by 273 points.

It appears that the dart has begun to grow feathers.

9. Going For The Jugular – Following a disappointing 15th-place finish last week at Texas, Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team showed some vulnerability that gave rise to the thought that the Chase for the Sprint Cup may still be up for grabs at the season finale next week at Homestead-Miami. However, Johnson all but dashed any hopes that Edwards or Greg Biffle had of picking his pocket of the championship by winning the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Sunday at Phoenix.

Perhaps “dashed” is not a descriptive enough description of Johnson’s performance at PIR. Let’s try crushed! Johnson increased his lead over Edwards from 106 to 141 points with one race to go by not only qualifying on the pole, but leading 217 of the 313 laps, collecting the maximum 195 points possible in an event.

10. Backfired – Though the Sprint Cup championship appears to be all but wrapped up by Johnson, who needs to only finish no worse than 36th to clinch his third Cup championship in a row, next weekend’s racing at Homestead-Miami still promises to have exciting storylines in the CTS, where Benson leads three-time champion Hornaday by only three points. Likewise, Edwards, though seemingly improbable that he will win the Cup title, is trailing fellow Cup regular Bowyer by only 56 points in the Nationwide Series.

Ironic, isn’t it. The one series with a format (the Chase) designed to keep the championship race exciting is the only one that won’t be particularly… well, exciting at Homestead-Miami?

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