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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2009 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Tony Stewart‘s pit crew: Smoke came down pit road seven times and on each and every occasion, his pit crew’s speed and efficiency saw him drive across the exit line in position Numero Uno. Sure, he had the favored first pit box thanks to a rain-out of qualifying and yes, track position isn’t as vital as it will be next week at Chicagoland – or indeed at other circuits on the schedule; but however you slice it up, it was a mighty fine day’s work for the No. 14’s over-the-wall crew. Darian Grubb must be relishing his role at Stewart-Haas and the seemingly symbiotic relationship he’s already helped mold with his not-so-very irascible anymore driver and crew. The only issue now is whether or not this will change as we get down to crunch time because, make no mistake, Smoke can win a championship this year.

What… was that?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that was TNT’s Wide Open Coverage. I’m going to expand on this in my regular column on Tuesday, but can I just say this is the way forward for TV coverage of NASCAR? Into the third year of the grand experiment, TNT’s race broadcast of the Coke Zero 400 lays down a marker for how races should be shown on TV. Not having to fast-forward through endless three-minute long commercial pods infinitely enhanced my viewing pleasure, as they say. This should be the norm and not the exception to the rule – no question.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Stewart sat on the pole after qualifying was rained out and he made his early advantage tell, wheeling his Burger King Chevy all the way to victory lane. Stewart’s second win in five races – not to mention his seventh top-10 run in the last eight – sees Smoke sitting pretty atop the standings, 180 markers up on the second-place Jeff Gordon and 194 points ahead of back-to-back-to-back champion Jimmie Johnson. Some 618 points up on the 13th-place driver (Mark Martin), Smoke can afford to take a couple of races off and still be safely ensconced in the Chase. That’s not going to happen, obviously, but it does indicate just how dominant the Indiana native has been this year.

When… will I be loved?

Denny Hamlin: The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Camry led a bunch of laps once again (63 to be precise) at a restrictor-plate track and finally came away with a finish (third) that matched his efforts. So why do you ask should I be wondering about love for Denny? Well, after winning the Bud Shootout in his rookie year, Hamlin has not managed a return to victory lane at either Daytona or Talladega and despite looking as if he had the “horse to beat” on the night, he still couldn’t translate his run into being the first car to take the checkered flag. Hamlin has suffered some bad luck these last couple years and although many other drivers could say they had similar poor luck, the Chesterfield, Va. born Hamlin is due a win in the worst possible way.

Why… do people complain about restrictor-plate racing?

You’ve probably read some columns on the subject already, but it beats me why people continue to complain about this form of racing. Two simple phrases spring to mind: It is what it is and plate racing is going nowhere. It’s almost certainly going to end up in carnage on the final lap and you only have to rewind back to the shenanigans at Talladega to confirm this very fact. I understand why people don’t like the concept of plate racing, but there is little use writing 1,000-word articles complaining about it because everyone from fans to crews to drivers to broadcasters all know what’s likely to happen. Simply put: 43 cars running two- and three-wide at essentially the same speed for 160 laps will inevitably end in chaos.

How… safe is the Car of Tomorrow?

Worth mentioning, following Kyle Busch’s last-lap tangle with first the wall, then Kasey Kahne’s Budweiser Dodge before getting t-boned by rookie and teammate Joey Logano after the start-finish line. The fact that Busch walked away, with a curious mixture of arrogance, disgust and annoyance on his face from what was a horrific wreck tells you everything you need to know about how safe the new car actually is. Granted, there’s no absolute guarantee of safety, but in a contact sport that plays out at super-high speed and under the narrowest margins for error, the CoT provides a level of safety not previously seen in Sprint Cup and that can only be a good thing – a very good thing indeed.

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