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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: 2009 Checker Auto Parts 500 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 writers with videos, live commentary and live polls. Two of this week’s “Five Points” were polls taken during the Phoenix live blog.

ONE: Does Jimmie Johnson’s points lead determine whether or not you watch the race next week at Homestead?

Fan Vote – YES: 30%; NO: 70%

What seems like a pretty simple question to any die hard sports fan: “Are you going to watch your favorite sports’ championship?” really isn’t all that simple for NASCAR fans. Unlike stick and ball sports, where the championship is often unpredictable and fans don’t know who the eventual champion will be until the final whistle, buzzer or pitch, when the Cup Series travels down south to Miami next weekend fans have already conceded that it will take a near miracle for Mark Martin to make up 108 points and pass Jimmie Johnson for the title. Couple that with the fact that it’s been a rather lackluster year for the sport as a whole, and you can’t blame fans for prematurely beginning their offseason routine and recharging their batteries before Daytona in February. Will Johnson win the championship? Probably. But the unpredictability that racing holds makes Sunday’s Ford 400 must-see TV for NASCAR purists. Heck, even if you can’t stomach seeing Johnson, Knaus and Co. hold a fourth consecutive Sprint Cup, grab a cold one and at least switch over from NFL football one last time to witness history.

TWO: Is the Brad Keselowski/Denny Hamlin feud good for NASCAR?

Fan Vote – YES: 100%; NO: 0%

Like any great feud in NASCAR over the past handful of years, the ongoing rivalry between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide Series has provided a spark to rather dull racing. Ask any NASCAR fan – as evidenced by the poll numbers – and they’ll tell you drivers should show more emotion. Although a good percentage of fans can’t stand Kyle Busch’s antics, even they’ll admit that he’s a character who’s good for the sport. Keselowski is from the Lil’ Busch mold, and for NASCAR to sit him down and tell him to throttle back on his on-track aggressiveness is absurd. This feud may have reared its head in the Nationwide Series, but what makes it great is that it has the potential to expand to the Cup Series in 2010 and beyond.

THREE: Should NASCAR step in and prevent any retaliation from Denny Hamlin next week?

I may be contradicting my previous point, but there is a difference between showing emotion on the track and off the track. A good ol’ shoving match is alright, but to blatantly put somebody in the wall – especially at a high-speed track like Homestead – is crossing the line. Hamlin was obviously frustrated when interviewed Saturday after the race, but nonetheless warned about a future retaliation and NASCAR should do all they can to see that it doesn’t happen. If Hamlin clearly goes out of his way to put Keselowski in the wall (a la Scott Speed v. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) NASCAR should sit him for the Cup race on Sunday.

FOUR: The re-emergence of AJ Allmendinger

Has anybody else noticed that Richard Petty Motorsports’ decision to put AJ Allmendinger in a Ford for the remainder of the season has lit a fire under both the team and driver? A 10th-place finish last week at Texas and subsequent 13th this weekend is the best two-race average of the season for the No. 44 team, and there is no reason to think the top-15 streak won’t continue next weekend in Miami. With RPM set to sport Fords in 2010 next season, Allmendinger has an opportunity to be a shot in the arm not just for the No. 44 team, but for all of RPM as well.

FIVE: Does anyone really care that Kyle Busch will be your Nationwide champion?

With a 190-point lead going to Homestead, all Busch needs to do is start the Ford 300 to win the Nationwide championship. Sure, that was his goal when he decided to run the series full-time at the beginning of the year, but is it worth it to not make the Chase on the Cup side? Listen, I’m happy for the No. 18 team on the Nationwide side, but if you had to grade Lil’ Busch’s year across NASCAR’s three national series together – even with the championship and Truck Series dominance – the lack of a Chase berth has to drop that grade to at best a “B” and leaning more towards a “C.”

Notes to Ponder

  • Danica in/Danica out: Is anyone else sick and tired of these Danica Patrick’s going to sign, Danica’s not going to sign reports?
  • Crew accident: Six members of Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Cup Series team were T-boned at an intersection on the way to the track Sunday morning. Props go out to those individuals for continuing to work during the race.
  • Bayne signs: An atta-boy to Michael Waltrip Racing for keeping Trevor Bayne under contract – one of the bright young talents in the sport.

Follow Mike Lovecchio on Twitter HERE