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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

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

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

It’s a tough week to have to choose this one, but I’m going with a driver who, a year ago, was labeled as just another open-wheel convert who couldn’t figure out stock cars. Fast forward to the present, though, and Juan Pablo Montoya seems to have it figured out nicely, thank you very much. Montoya’s 10th-place run was his ninth top 10 of the year, already a career-best, and Montoya also moved up two spots in points, hanging on firmly to a Chase berth with just seven races to go before the championship run begins.

What… was that?

Does anyone understand the penalty handed down to Reed Sorenson after Sorenson passed another car entering pit road? Sorenson failed to comply with the pass-through penalty, and NASCAR put out the black flag, as is standard procedure. When Sorenson still failed to comply, he got the black with white cross-meaning NASCAR would pull his scorecard if he did not comply immediately, which they did. For one lap. I thought it was standard procedure to pull the card until the driver complied, not just as a one-lap penalty. Sorenson did eventually comply, but why the inconsistency with scoring? Oh, wait… it is NASCAR….

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Not where he should have (see below). Brian Vickers certainly had a top-five car on Saturday, if not one capable of winning outright until Denny Hamlin punted him out of the way 15 laps from the finish. Vickers regained control of the car, but it cost him dearly in the form of an eighth-place finish. Vickers can still brag, however; his five poles lead the Sprint Cup circuit so far this year.

When… will I be loved?

It’s Hamlin’s turn to take the mike and turn the karaoke to the Everly Brothers after punting the race leader not once, but twice during the closing laps. Jimmie Johnson was leading and Vickers second and in the low line on lap 251 after a restart on lap 250. Hamlin tried to put his car in a place where he had no business trying to fit, and shoved Johnson out of the way. That might have looked less intentional and more like a racing incident had Hamlin then not turned down to slam into new leader Vickers one lap later, sending him wobbling as well. A bump-and-run for the win on the last lap makes for an exciting finish. Two of them a good 15 laps before the checkers is either dirty or just stupid driving.

Why… are these even rumors?

Given that rumors often turn out to be true… if you were Joe Gibbs, why would you start a fourth team… for David Gilliland? Gilliland is a mediocre driver who had one win in the Nationwide Series. It was a great feel-good story, but it’s long since over, and there are better drivers available; Regan Smith would be crazy not to jump at the chance, and if Brad Keselowski does sign with Penske Racing, Justin Allgaier will be in need of a ride as well. Even without a win, Allgaier impresses me far more in a Nationwide car than Gilliland ever did. He’s not that young, not that good looking, not that talented… yet teams think he’s all that and a bag of chips. Meanwhile, perhaps this bridge has been too well and truly burned, but it’s also rumored that Yates will give both Bobby Labonte and Paul Menard the heave-ho after this season, and frankly, to pass over Labonte for Gilliland is… slightly short-sighted.

How… big will the penalty be for Martin Truex Jr.?

The news that Truex failed post-race inspections should send a warning to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing that they might want to have an interim crew chief on standby for Bono Manion. The car failed for having a quarterpanel too high, and precedent has been set for messing around with the body on the Car of Tomorrow. A quarter too low can be more easily explained away as a part failure, but too high with no on-track incident to blame will be harder to pass off as incidental. Unless the team can prove something happened to cause the infraction, look for Manion to get a long vacation and for both Manion and Teresa Earnhardt to have lighter pockets to go with the lovely matching points penalty.