NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta

Who… would have thought Paul Menard, AJ Allmendinger and Scott Speed would have all finished in the top 10?

No they didn’t luck into it, these three teams fought hard all day to put themselves in a great spot at the end of the race. All three started outside the top 20 and worked their way into contention throughout the event. Richard Petty Motorsports was strong with Kasey Kahne leading the most laps on the day, but Menard and Allmendinger ran in the top 15 most of the afternoon while Speed quietly worked his way to the front.

Using a bit of strategy late in the race gave Menard the opportunity to restart on the front row with two tires. As racing got underway for the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Menard’s two tires gave way to the four tires behind him. When the checkered flag finally fell, Menard ended up fifth, Allmendinger sixth and Speed 10th.

These finishes are not flukes by any stretch of the imagination either. Menard has finishes of 13th, 18th, 17th and now a fifth that have put him ninth in points.

Allmendinger led 11 laps in Daytona, was a contender in that race until he spun on the backstretch and has show serious signs of improvement. Speed has finished 19th, 11th, 22nd and now 10th in the first four races and finds himself 12th in points.

What… is up with Denny Hamlin’s luck?

If Jimmie Johnson has the best luck in the Sprint Cup Series, perhaps it is Hamlin who has the worst. Throughout his career, Hamlin has felt the evil hand of ‘Lady Luck’ a number of times. Sunday’s race was no different as Hamlin was in contention most of the day, leading five times for 32 laps. Racing for the lead with less than 50 laps remaining, Hamlin was forced to pit road after cutting a left-front tire. The preseason favorite going into 2010, in the first four races Hamlin is dealing with an off-track injury, his best finish is 17th in Daytona and he sits 22nd in the standings.

Where… will the new spoiler come into use?

With another car flying through the air today the question of the new spoiler was once again brought up. If rumors are correct, we can expect to see the return of the rear spoiler by as early as Martinsville on March 28th.

When… was the last time no Hendrick car finished in the top-10?

You’ll have to go back to the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen last August to find the last time the Hendrick Motorsports cars finished outside the top-10. While none of the four HMS cars were in the top 10 that day, Tony Stewart won the race in Hendrick equipment. The rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 also had no HMS car in the top 10, but Ryan Newman was a runner-up for Stewart-Haas Racing. Last year’s Daytona 500 did not see a HMS car in the top 10, but once again Stewart gave Hendrick equipment a top 10. To find the last time no Hendrick equipment finished in the top 10 you have to go back to the 3M Performance 400 Presented by Bondo at Michigan International Raceway in August 2008.

Making matters even more troubling, not a single Hendrick car – HMS or SHR – led a lap in Sunday’s race, despite having the pole and being fast all weekend in practice.

Why… did Carl Edwards do what he did?

A classy guy in the garage, many were surprised when Edwards turned Brad Keselowski late in Sunday’s race. The two were involved in an incident early in the going, which left Edwards out of contention.

“I know Brad has made his career on being super-aggressive,” Edwards said after the lap 41 incident. “We both had a part in it and it’s not his fault, but it’s just a little too aggressive overall, I think, for that early in the race and caused us to wreck.”

Rejoining the race over 150 laps down to the leader, Edwards found Keselowski on the track and had a change of heart. Following a near miss the previous lap, the two came off the fourth turn and Edwards turned Keselowski – who was running sixth at the time. The No. 12 car lifted into the air and hit the outside wall with the driver’s side window, in similar fashion to Edwards’s flip last April in Talladega.

NASCAR ordered Edwards to the garage to sit out the remainder of the event. Upset with the situation, Edwards drove the No. 99 backwards down pit road on his way to the NASCAR hauler.

“Brad knows the deal between him and I,” Edwards said before talking with NASCAR officials. “The scary part was his car went airborne, which was not at all what I expected. At the end of the day, we’re out here to race and people have to have respect for one another and I have a lot of respect for people’s safety.  I wish it wouldn’t have gone like it did, but I’m glad he’s OK and we’ll just go on and race some more and maybe him and I won’t get in anymore incidents together. That would be the best thing.”

While Edwards has been seen by many as the ‘nice guy’ in the garage, he has shown aggressiveness in the past. He faked a punch at teammate Matt Kenseth after a race in Martinsville and was in an altercation with Kevin Harvick in Charlotte. Seems as if Edwards’s temper got the best of him and Keselowski’s road to respect in the Sprint Cup Series got a lot bumpier.

How… will NASCAR react to the Edwards-Keselowski incident?

Following Sunday’s race, NASCAR President Mike Helton declined to comment on the incident that send Keselowski’s car flying in the air. NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition briefly spoke with members of the media, but revealed little other than NASCAR would make a decision by Tuesday.

This puts the sanctioning body in a sticky situation because of their new “Have at it boys” mentality. The question that arises is whether or not the calls for penalties and suspensions would be raised had Keselowski’s car not gone airborne. The young driver has a reputation in the garage for being aggressive and many have voiced their displeasure vocally.

NASCAR may look at this situation and say this was just a self-policing incident and leave it at that. Given the severity of the wreck – coupled with the fact Edwards drove down pit road backwards – it is hard to imagine Edwards will not receive a fine, probation, loss of points or a combination of the three.

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