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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2009 Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Usually this goes to a driver, but this week’s shoutout goes to the entire No. 83 crew. A broken axle could have ruined driver Brian Vickers’s night and killed his Chase chances – instead, the team changed the axle on pit road and Vickers finished seventh, just 20 points outside the Chase. The ability to overcome adversity can separate good teams from great ones; it has been the trademark of Jimmie Johnson’s three championship seasons. If Vickers makes the Chase, he should look at this race as the reason why. And remember that what his team did is what makes champions.

What… was THAT?

I know the basics of measuring pit-road speed, but a few things I saw from the stands in Atlanta made me wonder exactly how it’s done. There are lines on pit road about every two boxes, but I thought NASCAR had about five zones, not the ten or more that the lines seemed to create. Add to that that a few cars, most notably the No. 18, were flying on pit road, seeming to go much faster than the rest. Kyle Busch looked as though he was mashing the gas pedal every time another car pulled out next to him (and had to be reminded by his spotter several times to watch his speed), but no penalty was issued. I’ve never noticed anyone looking that much faster then the rest before, and it made me wonder where the timing lines are – and what you can do between them and not get caught.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Despite leading the most laps of any driver, Martin Truex Jr. faded badly late and ended up finishing 26th, a lap down to race winner Kasey Kahne. Truex, who will leave the No. 1 ride after the season, dominated early, looking like the car to beat, but got too loose as the track changed to keep it up.

When… will I be loved?

While none of Sunday night’s wrecks were caused by out-of-hand behavior on the track, I was treated to a view from the stands, which was wonderful and unmarred save for the guy in front of me and his girlfriend, who collectively managed to spill an entire beer over my feet on the first lap. My jeans leg soaked up whatever wasn’t in my shoes. Not cool.

Why… didn’t people like the race?

Perhaps it was the broadcast, but I’m not sure, because fans at the track also said the race was boring. I was wondering which race they were watching, because, other than one period of green-flag racing that looked like it might set up a mileage race, it was a very good race, especially on a cookie-cutter track. For the first time in a long time, cars were able to chase the leader down and pass him on long runs. Kevin Harvick and Kahne swapped the lead for several laps mid-race. Things got three- and even four-wide at times. Now, if people are expecting side-by-side racing every lap for 500 miles, they are going to be disappointed every time, as are those who want to see 38 of 43 cars wreck and the other five have serious damage. But this was one of the better races of the season in my book. Although if I was a fan of a certain driver, well, um… he had a lousy night.

How… cool was it to see a crowd that big at a cookie cutter?

I was very pleasantly surprised at the size of the crowd at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday. AMS hasn’t exactly been filling up recently, and is in danger of losing a race date to Kentucky. However, this was the biggest crowd I remember seeing at Atlanta in a long time. The long weekend might have helped, and the RV and camping lots were packed. Perhaps NASCAR hit this one right in catering to a market at the right time. I wonder how many of the fans at AMS once went to the Labor Day weekend show a few hours north in Darlington?

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