NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Big 6: 2009 NASCAR Banking 500 at Charlotte

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

This week’s pat on the back goes to a driver who desperately needed to prove something, if only to himself. Casey Mears has been with five different teams in the last five seasons, and all indications are that next year, he’ll be with his sixth. While Mears isn’t in the upper echelon of Sprint Cup drivers, he hasn’t exactly had the consistency to establish himself, either. Mears’s seventh place finish was a well-planned and hard-fought one.

What… was THAT?

This week’s “what were they thinking” moment goes not to NASCAR, but to the selection committee for the new Hall of Fame. I understand that Dale Earnhardt was a sentimental favorite and I certainly respect everything that Bill France Jr. did for the sport, but two of the greatest drivers in the sport, two whose numbers eclipse Earnhardt’s ended up on the outside looking in – 105-time winner David Pearson and nine-time modified champion Richie Evans got the cold shoulder from voters. If you think Jimmie Johnson’s shot a fourth title is something, consider that Evans won an incredible eight in a row in his heyday. Pearson rarely ran a full season, but he is still second on the all-time win list to Richard Petty – and considering the rivalry that Petty and Pearson had, putting them in together would have been fitting. All of the inductees are deserving, but the timing was wrong.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

After leading all of the weekend’s practice sessions and winning the pole with a blistering lap, is it any surprise that Johnson wound up in victory lane? Despite a few early hiccups on pit road early and a car that got tight in the middle laps, Johnson simply outclassed the field, even taking his former mentor, Jeff Gordon, to school in the late laps. If he does win the championship, he can look at this race as a big reason why.

When… will I be loved?

There were really no villains in tonight’s racing-the on-track issues were the result of old-fashioned hard racing and there should be no lingering hard feelings. However, the engines of the No. 11 and No. 99 are probably not very loved by their respective drivers – engine failures gave a hard blow to the title hopes of both Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.

Why… don’t fans want to see history made?

I get the Chase factor-I don’t like the point system either, but the fact is, nobody has won four championships in a row in the Sprint Cup Series under any points system, including the pre-modern-era system that allowed drivers to cherrypick their best racetracks and skip others. I love being a witness to things that have never happened before, whether it’s a driver’s first win or a new piece of history. Perhaps it’s just Johnson. Perhaps another driver would grab their imagination better than the soft-spoken Johnson. Bottom line, this is something nobody has ever seen before. Hang on and enjoy the ride, because you don’t often get to witness history.

How… far out is too far with five races to go?

Once again, nothing is mathematical, and Talladega looms on the horizon as a spoiler, but at this point, anyone from seventh on back (seventh-place Greg Biffle sits 268 points off the lead) needs a miracle. Sixth-place Juan Pablo Montoya hovers on the brink – it would take at least two epic failures apiece for both Johnson and Mark Martin for Montoya to climb back into contention. At 135 to 177 back, Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch will need a race win in the next three weeks to make a charge. Martin needs to put a hurting on Johnson in one race, but so much is uncertain in racing that Martin is certainly a very real title contender.

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