NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2009 LifeLock 400 at Michigan

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

I’ve never had a problem with fuel-mileage racing; it’s certainly exciting in its own way. Who would have thought the lead would change twice on the last lap because two different leaders ran out of gas? The mileage issue proved the old adage about better lucky than good, because until he ran out of fuel on the final lap, Jimmie Johnson had the field covered all day long, putting out a dominant performance and showing the field that he’s serious about defending his title yet again this year.

What… was that?

Here’s one thing I just have a hard time understanding. I get that young, good-looking drivers who look good on TV and attract pit lizards like flies to honey have a certain appeal to sponsors. But when did that become more important than winning races and getting airtime during races for doing something notable on the racetrack? What are the sponsors at Red Horse Racing thinking, choosing a driver who is a journeyman at best over a champion in two of NASCAR’s top series? Doesn’t the airtime gained from leading laps and winning races matter to sponsors any more? What happened here?

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Perhaps not where he hoped, but certainly in a respectable spot. Brian Vickers took the top starting spot after nearly winning this race a year ago, only to have the chance taken away by a bad call by NASCAR. This week, Vickers didn’t have a car capable of winning and finished ninth. One of these days Vickers and his team are going to start winning, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who pays attention to the improvement in the No. 83 team this year.

When… will I be loved?

Probably the most disliked words in the garage are fuel-mileage racing, so that dreaded phrase wins the “Most Unloved” award this week. Most fans hate it, because it’s boring, meaning, presumably, not enough crashes. I don’t understand the bad feelings, because to me, it’s exciting; I usually end up pleading with one car to run out and another to just hang on and finish. But, I know that most don’t agree with the sentiment.

Why… do two seemingly identical tracks race differently?

While some fans will lament the lack of cautions at Michigan because the long green-flag runs helped Johnson to lead many laps by a large margin, I was impressed with the racing back in the pack, four-wide at times. Loop data shows a similar number of green-flag passes between Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, a track with nearly identical dimensions, with a slight edge actually going to the Fontana track. But to the naked eye, unarmed with such statistics, MIS always seems to put on a better show. Neither track is, in my opinion, worthy of two race dates, but it’s interesting to me to see the difference in racing. It seems as though MIS has a groove somewhere that ACS lacks, but why, I have never been able to figure.

How… does General Motors scaling back in the Nationwide and Camping World truck Series affect teams?

This is a complex question, but probably the area that will suffer the most is research and development. GM-backed teams enjoyed the benefits of wind-tunnel and 7-post shaker time as well as other technical support. For teams without affiliation to a larger team, losing this access will hinder performance in the coming months, and the real shame is that the larger, Cup owner-backed teams will probably go on with business as usual, while the smaller teams who don’t have 7-post rigs available except at high cost and are unable to afford wind-tunnel time will suffer the most. Considering that these teams are seemingly the only ones who take either young talent or series veterans who are not racing in Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series especially stands to see its identity slip another notch or two. The CWTS will take less of a long-term hit only because there are fewer Chevy teams running to begin with. But there is no denying that the lack of support will hurt as Toyota continues to throw dollars at race teams.

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