NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2009 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Looking at the numbers, two top-10 finishes since 2004 is hardly anything to write home about. In fact, Brian Vickers has yet to score a top five at Richmond, and his average finish is somewhere worse than 25th. But Vickers put together his career-best run at Richmond on Saturday night, and it was enough to put Vickers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup over bad boy Kyle Busch and ultra-consistent Matt Kenseth. Vickers’s team is the first ever to make the Chase with Toyota’s TRD engine (Joe Gibbs Racing’s cars run in-house engines) and puts Vickers in the position of contending for his second major NASCAR title; he’s the 2003 Nationwide Series champion as well, the youngest driver ever to hold that title, which he took home just after his 20th birthday. It’s Vickers’s first Chase appearance and the first for his team. Vickers’s spot wasn’t assured until the final lap, and he finished a scant eight points ahead of 13th-place Busch. He made the race one of the most exciting of the year with his never-give-up attitude.

What… was THAT?

Nothing weird here, but a funny observation. I was listening to Jimmie Johnson’s radio during the race, and at one point, his spotter came on to tell Johnson, “Caution, debris.” It wouldn’t have been funny except for the fact that the very next moment, the TV broadcast showed the debris-in the form of an entire racecar! And for the Understatement of the Year Award….

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Solidly in the Chase with a fourth-place finish. Mark Martin will attempt to shed the title of “best driver without a championship” when he makes a title run this year. He’ll start in the top spot, taking the position from Tony Stewart on the strength of his four wins, despite a lower average finish and lower regular season points position.

When… will I be loved?

Despite not having caused anything controversial, Denny Hamlin is singing this tune after winning the race in dominant fashion. Hamlin won the race but his first win at his home track (Hamlin grew up in nearby Chesterfield, Va.) was overshadowed by the battle between Vickers and Busch for the final Chase spot. Hamlin drove a fine race and had already clinched his Chase berth in Atlanta, but the spotlight wasn’t as bright as it might have been.

Why… can’t NASCAR get the points system right?

First, NASCAR created the Chase to manufacture an artificial sense of excitement late in the season and make sure that the driver who deserves a title most will not win one approximately half the time. Next, they tweaked the Chase system to seed the whole deal based solely on race wins, another way to stiff the real points leader. But in the same breath that NASCAR said that winning is everything, they allow four drivers with no wins at all into the title hunt while excluding three top-15 drivers with race wins. So is it about winning, or about consistency? Come on, NASCAR, you can’t have it both ways. The word “hypocrite” comes to mind.

How… many drivers have made every Chase since 2004?

Just one. Kenseth’s fade makes Johnson the only driver in his sixth Chase this year. While Kenseth has always had the reputation of being ultra-consistent, Johnson has never finished lower than fifth in final points in his nearly eight-year Cup career. Now that’s consistency.

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