NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2008 Ford 400 at Homestead

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

It’s not every day you get this prestigious honor for finishing 15th, but Jimmie Johnson earns it by way of becoming the second driver in history to win three consecutive Cup championships, tying the mark set three decades ago by his boyhood hero, Cale Yarborough. The title is also the eighth for car owner Rick Hendrick and third as a car owner for team co-owner Jeff Gordon. Dynasty, anyone?

What… more could Carl Edwards have done to try and take the Cup from Johnson?

Nothing. Edwards maximized his points take at Homestead, leading the most laps and winning the race, but once Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped out with a broken wheel, it was all over but the shouting. Johnson only had to finish 36th coming into the race, and his 15th-place finish meant that Edwards’s stellar performance was for naught when it came to the Cup.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

In the end, David Reutimann ended up 20th, one lap down. Still his pole run was a bright spot for his Michael Waltrip Racing team, which has quietly improved this year. Are better things on the horizon for the No. 44?

When… will I be loved?

This week it’s Joe Nemechek humming that tune after sending Jeff Burton sliding through the grass. Burton was able to continue, but finished 40th, well off the pace. Nemechek might be singing a little louder next year; he doesn’t have a contract with Furniture Row Racing, who also announced that they will cut to a partial schedule in 2009.

Why… do race fans try to minimize Johnson’s accomplishment?

Yes, Johnson had the benefit of the Chase (though that’s dubious, it’s easier to coast home with a big lead than to make one after the reset), but it’s not his fault that that was the point system in place when he won his titles. If fans want to speculate about the Chase not existing, what about if the Chase DID exist through the modern era? For starters, Dale Earnhardt would have only five championships. Jeff Gordon would have just two. And Bobby Allison, Alan Kulwicki and Matt Kenseth would never have had a trophy at all. Then again, Harry Gant and Kyle Petty would. But it didn’t happen, and the current system stands. Yarborough and Johnson may be the best of their respective generations. It’s not their fault the sport has changed.

How… bittersweet was it to see Tony Stewart walk away from the No. 20?

After 10 years, Stewart was at a loss for words. Leaving the only team and crew chief he’s ever run a Cup race for was the end of a chapter of Stewart’s brilliant racing career, but also marks the beginning of a new dream; next year Stewart will drive his own racecar at Stewart-Haas Racing with new teammate Ryan Newman. If anyone can buck a trend and make it as an owner-driver on sheer determination, it’s Stewart.

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