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Big 6: 2009 Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Sometimes having something to prove is a powerful motivator. Casey Mears had a top-10 run at Charlotte last week, and this week it was the still unsigned-for-2010 Jamie McMurray who grabbed his best finish of the year with his sixth place at Martinsville. McMurray is expected to ink a deal to replace the departing Martin Truex Jr. at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing next year, but has no contract yet.

What… was THAT?

I know NASCAR is trying to appease fans with better racing, but not throwing a caution flag on the final lap when John Andretti was sitting smack in the middle of the track at the start-finish line was just ridiculous. Barring catastrophic failure to the No. 11, Denny Hamlin was going to win, and the caution would not have changed that. Sure, great racing is important, but putting a driver’s health in danger to ensure a green-flag finish isn’t good racing at all – it’s foolhardy.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Ryan Newman grabbed the pole this week and had a solid finish to back it up. Newman brought his Army-backed Chevrolet home in seventh place, a finish good enough to gain a spot in the points standings as well – Newman climbed past Greg Biffle to the seventh spot in points, 312 out of the top spot with four races remaining in 2009.

When… will I be loved?

David Stemme might have made a point by spinning Truex Jr. in what certainly looked like a deliberate move on lap 308, but Truex had the last laugh, righting his car after a perfect 360 and continuing before the yellow flag could even fly and finishing five spots ahead of Stremme, who might be humming this tune after the tussle.

Why… is NASCAR so reluctant to reward winning?

On one hand, the system looks right – Jimmie Johnson has the points lead with a series-leading six wins. But while Martinsville winner Hamlin gained two points positions this week, Johnson extended his points lead to an almost-safe 118 with a second-place run. At the very least, why not continue to give the extra 10-point bonus that winners enjoy during the first 26 races in the final 10?

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

Ask that question a week from now. The great equalizer looms on the horizon in the form of Talladega Superspeedway, and while Johnson’s 118-point lead is a decent pad, it could be erased in an instant should Johnson get tangled in the Big One – and Mark Martin could pounce if he can avoid the wrecks himself. Still, everyone from fourth-place Tony Stewart on back have their work cut out for them if they want to win the title – all of them have more than a full race worth of points to make up on Johnson to make a title bid. It would take an epic winning streak on their part and an epic fall on Johnson’s for the title to be decided anywhere but between the top three at this point.

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