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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Food City 500 at Bristol

Who… can stop Jimmie Johnson?

He didn’t have the best car on Sunday, but somehow Jimmie Johnson was able to get the job done when it mattered most – again. Chasing Kurt Busch for much of the day, Johnson aggressively moved from sixth to first in just three laps on the final restart. Scoring their third win in the first five races, the No. 48 team once again appears to be the team to beat.

“I feel we’re one of the ones to consider,” Johnson said. “But this is racing, and anything can and will happen. We’re off to a great start. But we’ve all seen enough teams rise and fall. You never just hand it to anybody.”

The competition is not ready to hand anything to Johnson, and teammate Jeff Gordon explains the No. 48 team forcing the competition to step up their game.

“Obviously they are an awesome combination and Jimmie is a great driver and they’re just wracking them up right now. And it’s impressive,” Gordon said. “It motivates everybody else to get their act together. So, you can give them credit for a lot of things. They always know how to be in the right position at the right time to take advantage when they’re not having the best day. Just like today. They were good, but I don’t think they were the best car. They took four (tires) and I don’t know what happened but I’m guessing that Jimmie drove the wheels off of it and that he got up there and took the lead and won it.”

What… is up with Denny Hamlin’s luck?

You are not mistaken, this is the same issue addressed in the Atlanta edition of the Big Six, but Denny Hamlin’s poor luck continued Sunday in Bristol. Starting from the 15th spot, Hamlin was good in practice and hopeful of a promising weekend of short track racing.

That all ended when the No. 11 Toyota blew a right front tire exiting the second corner and made hard contact with the wall on lap 117. Taking advantage of a lengthy caution for rain shortly thereafter, Hamlin and his Mike Ford-led crew were able to stay on the lead lap, but the car was never the same.

“When we cut down the tire that definitely put us in a bad situation,” Hamlin said. “We struggled through the race to get better, but never did all afternoon.”

Following the race Hamlin posted on his Twitter page:

The preseason favorite, Hamlin currently finds himself 19th in the standings. Headed to one of his most successful track on the schedule, Hamlin is hoping his luck will turn around in Martinsville next week.

Where… were all the fans on Sunday?

As the pre-race activities wrapped up and the drop of the green flag approached, it became clear Sunday’s race was not going to be a sell-out, ending a 55-race streak.

For years, Bristol was known among fans of the sport as one of the hardest tickets to get. Unless you inherited them or mortgaged the house, you were left watching on television. Yet on Sunday, an estimated crowd of only 138,000 fans attempted to fill the stands that can hold up to 160,000 spectators – and that was a healthy estimate at best.

This leads one to ask if Bristol is such a hot ticket event, why were so few people at the race? A number of factors seem to have played into Sunday’s lackluster attendance, most notably the poor weather forecast and astronomical hotel rates in the surrounding area. Many fans also complain the reconfiguration of the ‘World’s Fastest Half-Mile’ ruined the racing at Bristol and it seems attendance is paying the price.

When… will Jimmie Johnson get the credit he is due?

With his win on Sunday, Johnson earned his 50th career Sprint Cup Series victory, which ties him with Junior Johnson for 11th on the all-time win list. After four straight championships and 50 victories, you would think Johnson would be seen as one of the best to ever drive a racecar. Yet for some reason, many feel Johnson is not given the respect he is due for all his accomplishments. First in line is team owner Rick Hendrick.

“If you look at the stats and you look at the talent and you look at the dedication, just look at his record, I mean, I don’t understand why it’s not written now he’s one of the best that’s ever done this,” Hendrick said. “You look at Jeff [Gordon], and I’ve been around for a long time, I’ve watched a lot of guys from Richard Petty on up to current day. When you look at the level of competition since he’s been in the sport, what he’s done, what he’s accomplished, I mean, I don’t know what he’s got to do, you know.”

Why… did Joe Gibbs Racing let Steve Addington go?

Following his second dominating performance in a row, Kurt Busch called crew chief Steve Addington the “missing link I’ve been missing at Penske for years.” Let go from Joe Gibbs Racing after failing to make the Chase with Kyle Busch in 2009, Addington found a new home with Penske Racing and traded one Busch brother for another.

Now, five races into the season and it appears Roger Penske and Kurt Busch got the better end of the deal. Scoring his second top five and third top 10 at Bristol, Kurt appears to be the biggest threat to dethrone Johnson. He sits sixth in points with an average finish of 13.6 and a total of 441 laps led.

On the other hand, Kyle and crew chief Dave Rogers have struggled out of the gate. Thanks to a ninth-place finish on Sunday, the JGR driver moved to 10th in the standings with an average finish of 15.4 and only 37 laps led.

Beyond the stats, the chemistry between Kurt and Addington seems to be much better. Rogers explained earlier this weekend he was frustrated with the performance of the team early in the season, but that he refused to get rattled. If they keep finishing behind Kurt and Addington, Kyle might just rattle the situation on his own.

How… did Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards race with one another?

The biggest news coming out of Atlanta two weeks ago was all about the incident between Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards. Who was at fault? Should Edwards be suspended? Did NASCAR make the right call? All the attention gave ‘Danica-mania’ a run for its money.

Prior to Nationwide Series qualifying on Saturday morning, NASCAR met with the two drivers and their owners (Jack Roush and Roger Penske) to discuss the situation and how to move forward. The two finally emerged from the truck side-by-side, exchanging smiles before they parted ways.

The real question was how the two would race each other once on the track. On Sunday, the two battled for position but gave each other a lot of room. In the end, Edwards came home sixth, while Keselowski finished 13th – season bests for both drivers.

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