NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2009 Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at Loudon

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

There were a lot of candidates for the shoutout after Sunday’s race, with a variety of strategies that played out – but coming back to finish 11th after getting taken out on a restart trumps gambling on Mother Nature any day. Casey Mears looked to be finished after the eight-car fiasco on lap 176 that brought out the red flag so the carnage could be cleared – but it was a combination of strategy and perseverance that allowed the No. 07 team to claw their way back for a decent finish. Mears was good in practice, faded early, but got it back when it counted… making him shoutout-worthy, to be sure.

What… was that?

I’ll admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised by SMI’s takeover of NHMS. I feared the worst (and am still braced for the very undeserved loss of a race date in the next few years); however, the new owners have done a nice job at the Magic Mile. There is one notable exception to the long list of improvements, though: Milo, the Moose mascot. Nothing against him personally – although he’s a little short for a moose – and as far as moose go, he’s both pretty benevolent and not in the middle of the road (New Hampshire readers will know why that’s a good thing). So, why am I put off by his existence? I’m just not one for this kind of gimmick… because it’s not necessary. NASCAR tracks are about good racing, and NHMS provided that in spades all weekend long. If anyone says the Cup race was boring, they weren’t watching the same race I was.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Watching his old car win. Still, Tony Stewart had plenty to smile about after taking his backup car to a fifth-place finish. The No. 14 Chevrolet was off the pace early, but once again Stewart teamed up with crew chief Darian Grubb to make the right changes capable of bringing the Old Spice Chevy back to the front; and just before the final round of pit stops on lap 235, Stewart had put himself both in the lead and in position to win. In the end, the two-time champ lost a handful of points to Jeff Gordon in the standings, but easily retained his lead over Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards.

When… will I be loved?

If Kyle Busch asked many fans this question, the answer might be never. Busch wasn’t much loved by Martin Truex Jr., either, after the two touched off the lap 176 incident that damaged eight cars. In fact, an angry Truex nearly tossed his helmet at Busch after the wreck that kept him from contending. But although Busch is the one feeling the wrath, he’s only partly at fault and shares the blame with his polar opposite on the popularity scale, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt slowed on the restart, possibly missing a shift, causing Truex to check up and Busch to run into Truex. Busch shares the blame on this one, though, because had he moved to the inside of Truex instead of trying the outside – where there was simply no real estate to be had – the incident might have been avoided. He also gets some dubious extra credit for hitting a crewman on pit road; luckily, the tire changer from the No. 98 ended up OK after the scary incident.

Why… does this race start so late?

Late-afternoon showers are a fact of summer life in New England; but unlike the South, where the showers tend to come earlier in the afternoon, these usually come when a well-planned race could be over before the skies open. I remember when the races here started at 1:00, and there was sound reason for that – they finished dry. And with rain not dropping back until well after 5:00 ET, the past two years’ worth of summer races could likely have been completed had they simply started an hour earlier. Kurt Busch said after the race that a consistent 1 p.m. start time for east coast races would be good for the sport. “If we had a consistent time for our day races and a consistent time for our night races, that would be better for our fans,” said Busch. “I think that would create more viewership, knowing that they knew when to find the race. If we did go back to those one o’clock starts, how many laps would we have gotten in today? We probably could have finished the race; I remember starting the engine at 2:07.” It’s not often that I see eye-to-eye with Busch, but he nailed it this time.

How… cool was it?

It was very cool. The sun was back out, the Sprint Cup champion was on top of the pit box, and there is just something about being a small part of it all. The “it” in question was my experience on Friday, helping to pit the No. 74 car for Jarit Johnson in the Camping World East Series race. If any team in NASCAR deserves a sponsor, it’s this all-volunteer operation that Johnson runs out-of-pocket, hoping to one day match his brother’s success on the Sprint Cup level. For more on Johnson’s grassroots operation and how it did during the race itself, read my column on the website today.

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