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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: 2009 Dickies 500 at Texas Edition

Each week, Frontstretch hosts a live blog during the Sprint Cup race. It’s a great way for readers to interact alongside their favorite Frontstretch writers with videos, live commentary, and live polls. Four of this week’s “Five Points” were polls taken during the Texas live blog.

ONE: Is it now a two driver race for the Chase?

It took just a few minutes into Sunday’s Dickie’s 500 for fans to remember just how unpredictable racing really is. It’s easy to forget sometimes, when Jimmie Johnson puts on a clinic week in and week out – but once Sam Hornish Jr. turned the No. 48 car and sent Johnson into the wall, fans stopped wondering if the three-time defending champion could clinch another title next week and started rooting for Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon to narrow the deficit. Gordon and the No. 24 team failed to step up, finishing 13th, but it was his teammate Martin who played the correct fuel strategy in the final laps to maintain a fourth-place finish, closing the gap to 73 points between he and Johnson. With Gordon 112 points back, it is now a two-man battle for the title, with Martin now heading to Phoenix where he won earlier this season. Martin may need Johnson to slip up again to take the crown, but as we saw Sunday… anything can happen.

TWO: Given Sunday’s events, do you still think Jimmie Johnson will win the championship?

Fan Vote – YES: 83%; NO: 17%

Yes, Martin is just 73 points out of first. Yes, he won at Phoenix this spring. Yes, he has more experience than anybody in the series. But does anybody really expect Johnson and Chad Knaus to let a fourth consecutive championship slip out of their grip? Racing is unpredictable by nature, but it will take either a mechanical failure or another crash for the No. 48 to lose this title. This is the most consistent team of this era, and for them to have two bad races out of the final three and lose a 184-point lead with the championship on the line – it’s just something I don’t see happening.

THREE: Do you like fuel-mileage races?

Fan Vote – YES: 50%; NO: 50%

The fan vote is an accurate representation of the tug of war that goes on in my own mind when races play out the way they did on Sunday. On one hand, I like the unpredictability a fuel-mileage race holds – wondering who can make it on fuel, holding your breath to see if they finish the final laps – but I’d also rather see a race play out on the racetrack. It was truly a shame to see Kyle Busch miss out on the weekend trifecta because he ran out of fuel when he had the best car. In the end, you just have to chalk up fuel-mileage races as a part of racing, and remember – at least there was no phantom debris caution that set up a green-white-checkered.

FOUR: Did the increased coverage of Johnson’s repairs help or hurt ESPN on ABC’s broadcast?

Fan Vote – HELPED: 33%: HURT: 67%

I doubt anybody expected Johnson to run into problems immediately following the drop of the green flag, but the ESPN on ABC crew did a fantastic job calling an audible and delivering updates to fans throughout Johnson’s hour-long stay in the garage. It was true reality TV watching Knaus and the No. 48 team, along with help from other Hendrick crew members, race the clock and completely rebuild a car fast enough to get back on track in time to make up positions. In the end, by repairing the car in just over an hour, Johnson was able to make up a crucial five spots on the track – 15 points that could prove critical come Homestead. I, for one, loved the coverage of the repairs, but could have done without the, “In case you missed it…” and replay every five minutes throughout the day.

FIVE: Will Danica Patrick ever become a full-time Sprint Cup driver?

Fan Vote – YES: 33%; NO: 67%

Before Sunday’s race started, I figured I’d poll fans’ thoughts on one of the bigger news items this week – the Danica Patrick rumor of signing with JR Motorsports for a limited Nationwide schedule in 2010. Some fans were impressed that she’s easing into stock car racing and seems to want to accept the challenge, while others thought she was going for the money and celebrity. But in the end, when asked if she would ever get a chance to be a full-time Sprint Cup driver, 67% of viewers voted “No.” To me, it comes down to one thing: what she decides to do with her IndyCar career. I understand she’s running the full schedule next season no matter what happens in the Nationwide Series, but if she continues to run both IndyCar and Nationwide in 2011, I don’t see it happening. You simply can’t compete in both series, and if she ever wants a legitimate NASCAR Sprint Cup career, she’s going to need to put all of her focus in the stock car racing. It might be a big risk, but it could also reap a big reward.

Notes to Ponder

  • Near triple: Busch may not be the most popular driver in the series, but it was a shame to not see him pull off the triple this weekend when he had the best car Sunday. Running out of fuel with two laps left, Busch went from leading to 11th in the final rundown.
  • Townley: John Wes Townley secured a Nationwide Series ride with RCR in 2010 largely due to his sponsor, Zaxby’s. Let’s hope it allows him to showcase his potential.
  • Buescher’s promotion: 19-year-old James Buescher will run full-time next season for Phoenix Racing in the Nationwide Series. It’s a great opportunity for one of the sport’s bright young talent.

Follow Mike Lovecchio on Twitter HERE

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