NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Big 6: 2009 Price Chopper 400 at Kansas

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Nine of the top-10 finishers at Kansas were chase drivers-and then there was David Reutimann. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver showed that he can hang with the big boys, finishing eighth. Reutimann is 15th in points and racing only for wins for the last 10 races. He wasn’t good enough to win this week, but he was good enough to break up the Chase party in the top 10.

What… was THAT?

This week’s headline that the teams of Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson were warned that their cars were very, very close to the margin of error on one of NASCAR’s measurements has to be the biggest non-story all year-possibly ever. Sure both cars were less than one one hundredth of an inch of failing post-race inspection, but the fact is both cars were within the tolerance, and NASCAR, as they often do when a team is very close to stepping over the line, simply let them know about it. They never told the teams not to bring the cars back as was originally reported-Johnson has said he’ll bring that car to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in two weeks. Why is anyone even talking about this? Wait a second… why am I?

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

With the points lead intact, but not with the finish he had in mind. Martin is good at Kansas, and after grabbing the pole looked to be the favorite to win the funky tornado-shaped trophy. But Martin faded to finish a still-plenty-respectable seventh, stretching his points lead to 18 over teammate Johnson.

When… will I be loved?

The field of drivers was a well-behaved one this week, but one driver had plenty of reason to be fed up with his crew chief after a bad tire call took away his chance to win the race. Chad Knaus called for four tires under a caution period. Standard procedure for the No. 48, perhaps, but the caution came when most cars had just 17 laps on their tires and many of them took two tires on the stop. The four-tire call mired Johnson in traffic and frustrated the driver, who finally had to tell Knaus to tone down the cheerleading that the crew chief undertook after the stop. A ninth-place finish isn’t terrible, but it’s hardly championship-caliber.

Why… does NASCAR race on a track in the condition Kansas Speedway is in?

That’s a good question. The track is in terrible shape, and while its easy to blame the harsh winters in Kansas, this is International Speedway Corporation’s problem. Both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway, for example, have to weather winters that range from nasty to brutal in any given year, and neither is in such a deplorable condition. Bottom line, if cars are wrecking because they are driving over a second-rate patch job, you need to fix your track. Thank goodness this track didn’t get a second race. If ISC can’t improve it, they don’t deserve a race there at all.

How… far out of the points lead is too far with seven races to go?

After Knaus’s pit blunder and the No. 5’s late-race fade, several teams are back in contention on a Sunday which could have seen Johnson and Martin leave town with a nearly insurmountable points lead. Still, three races in, it looks to be an eight-man race, if that. Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers all excel on the cookie-cutter tracks like Kansas, and all were inconsequential in the race. They all sit more than 160 points behind leader Martin, and unless one of them reels off a winning streak while the frontrunners all stumble, there is no Cup trophy in the immediate future for any of them. Greg Biffle is 114 points out but has not shown the consistency he’ll need to be a player. Despite being just 18 points out, Johnson showed anything but championship form on Sunday – one more mistake like this one and fans won’t see a four-time consecutive champion this year. Meanwhile, Tony Stewart made some noise and moves back into striking range, while Juan Pablo Montoya continues to impress. He’s possibly the best prepared for this Chase with new cars and equipment at his disposal, and he’s a very real threat. Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin are still in it, but will have to outshine Martin heavily in at least one race to really get back in the hunt.

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