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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2009 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Most readers know I never give this one to the race winner, because he gets enough shoutouts, but this week I’m going to make an exception. To win a race as a rookie is tough enough, but Brad Keselowski won’t even be a full-time rookie until next year at the earliest. Yet he raced Carl Edwards like a veteran, and had the presence of mind to hold his line when he got it. Edwards made one small mistake, trying to block twice when he only had time and room for once, and Keselowski, in just his fifth Sprint Cup race, remembered the lesson that Regan Smith taught the field last fall, holding his line until Edwards wrecked himself. Joey Logano may be sliced bread; Keselowski proved he’s the whole loaf.

What… was that?

You have to expect the Big One at Talladega, because under the current rules package, there is no throttle response and nowhere to go on the racetrack. But you don’t usually expect one on lap 7. But you got one when Matt Kenseth tried to go low, realized there was no room, and cut back up the track smack into the side of Jeff Gordon, who lost the points lead as a result. Plate racing at its finest.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Shoved by Denny Hamlin into the field, starting the second Big One of the day. Juan Pablo Montoya, a surprisingly good driver at Talladega, saw his luck run out after his pole-winning qualifying run, finishing on the lead lap, but in 20th place.

When… will I be loved?

It could have been either Kenseth or Hamlin singing this tune after causing a Big One apiece, but it is NASCAR who really ought to be ashamed after the last-lap fiasco that ended with eight fans being injured. Had the yellow-line rule been suspended from turn 4 to the checkers, Keselowski and Edwards might have raced safely to the finish. But because the drivers had learned their lesson last fall, Keselowski held his line, painted into a box by a rule that NASCAR has not once enforced correctly. It could have ended worse; a fan or Edwards could have been killed. Is that what it’s going to take for NASCAR to realize the rule is not a good one, at least not from turn 4 to the finish line on the final lap?

Why… did the trucks have to wait until Monday to finish their rained-out race at Kansas?

This week, it was because of the IRL morning practice, but in general, there is really no good reason that a Truck or Nationwide race on a standalone weekend could not be completed early on Sunday morning. A 10 a.m. restart would have seen the race end long before the Sprint Cup race began and not forced on teams the extra expense of staying an extra night as well as lost time in the shop preparing for the next race. Not to mention the fact that fans of that series have to work on Monday, and many will not see it.

How… did NASCAR think making the next race at Talladega later in the Chase was a GOOD idea?

The points leader got wrecked in a mess not of his own doing. The three-time defending champion got wrecked in a mess not of his own doing. So did last week’s race winner. Ditto the 2000 champion, three drivers fighting for their teams’ survival and one of the favorites for this year’s title. Another title contender got wrecked in a mess of his own doing, but still a nasty, scary crash in which fans were also injured. And NASCAR moved this track to just the fourth race from the end of the Chase. The champion should win or lose the title on his own merits, not because some yahoo not even in contention couldn’t hold his line at Talladega and he got caught up in it. But I would bet that at least one contender will have exactly that happen this year. What a shame that would be.

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