NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: All That’s Right & Wrong, Kurt’s the Bigger Busch & Chad’s Unhappy

ONE: Which Busch brother is the greater title threat?

The brothers Busch each put on impressive shows throughout the season’s longest race Sunday, with Kurt scoring a dominating win while Kyle recovered to finish third after he suffered damage in a pit-road collision with Brad Keselowski. Both now have two wins on the year and sit comfortably in the top 10 in points.

While the media continues to harp on “the new Kyle Busch,” both that he, in fact, exists and that he is becoming the driver to beat in 2010 (Don’t believe me? Check out NASCAR Now on ESPN… Kyle Busch was the lead story over his brother actually winning the 600), Kurt’s performance over the past two weekends in Charlotte serve as ample notice to the rest of the field he may well be the most serious title contender he has been since leaving the Roush camp after 2005.

And looking at the two drivers and teams, it’s clear that Kurt has the upper hand. Kurt’s won a title before, and a Chase title at that, while Kyle’s best season ended up with him out of the title hunt only two races into the 2008 Chase. Advantage: Kurt.

Kurt’s got a longtime Cup crew chief atop his pit box, while Kyle’s got a first-year skipper with Nationwide Series credentials to his credit. Advantage: Kurt.

Perhaps most importantly, Kurt’s got Steve Addington leading his team – the same crew chief that dealt with Kyle’s obsession over the 2009 Nationwide Series title, his immaturity, and where Kyle at times led Joe Gibbs Racing to ride out on a rail despite winning 12 races in the No. 18 car between 2008 and 2009. Between Dave Rogers and Steve Addington, which team leader do you think has more to prove this year?

Advantage: Kurt.

TWO: Chad Knaus Sounds a Little Bit Frayed

It’s been a while since Jimmie Johnson seemed, well, mortal. But ugly nights of “four-time’s” own making in both the Southern 500 and now the Coca-Cola 600, two of the sport’s biggest stages, have not made Chad Knaus a happy camper. Knaus’s tendency to use profanity in the face of adversity is nothing new, but in each of these two cases his tirades have taken a new angle… belittling his driver directly.

The month of May was certainly a slap in the face to a No. 48 team that by winning three races early seemed to be on a mission to win title number five with a vengeance. And while many may be tempted to point the finger at the new spoiler on the cars as a reason for Johnson to be cooling off, the fact remains that Knaus’s ire at Darlington and now Charlotte has been, well, justified, because the driver has been at fault both times.

What’s going on? If you ask me, Knaus came into this season on a mission:

  • To put Chase-caliber cars on the track from race one
  • To win everything under the sun and shut even the most vehement critics of the No. 48 team up once and for all.
  • To show that the monster he created was no 10-race stunt.

And maybe, just maybe, the driver isn’t standing up to what one of the sport’s all-time great crew chief’s real “A” game is. Knaus is clearly frustrated with his driver, no matter how much smoothing over is done during the week by Hendrick’s PR monster… and come on, it’s not like the theory that Knaus > Johnson is anything new.

THREE: JR Motorsports Development Going Ad Hoc

As if there was any more proof needed JRM didn’t really seem to think out this whole fire Kelly Bires thing, now there’s two more development drivers getting their respective shots in the No. 7 and No. 88 cars at Nashville; Specialty Racing’s Josh Wise and Coleman Pressley will each make their JRM debuts this coming Saturday.

Before delving into anything, let it be said that both Wise and Pressley are very deserving of an opportunity in top-notch equipment. Wise, who showed promise in his limited races with Fitz Motorsports a few years back, has been a team player and a student of the sport in racing for the cash-strapped Specialty Racing No. 61 team, while Pressley was nothing short of impressive in scoring back-to-back top-20 finishes for R3 Motorsports at Richmond and Darlington earlier this year. That said, though, one can’t help but wonder if this is the shot they were really waiting for.

Between the JRM No. 88 team finding consistent top-20 performances unacceptable for a development driver and the No. 7 car being a make-it-up-as-we-go sort of operation, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the odds of succeeding are stacked higher against these two than usual. And even if either or both of the two run well, that’s no guarantee of future races. Just ask Scott Wimmer.

FOUR: Charlotte Motor Speedway Shows How Unhealthy the Nationwide Series Is

Because regardless of what the stats sheet says, there were not 40,000 people in the stands for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race. Maybe a little over half that were actually in attendance to see a very predictable story unfold. A Cup regular (Brad Keselowski) leads a ton of laps. A debris caution here and there closes up the field. And in the end, Cup regulars take a lot (seven) of the top-10 finishing positions, including the win (which went to Kyle Busch).

It’s gotten to the point that writing Nationwide Series columns could almost be done using a standard template form. The same few drivers are up front and winning every single week. This business model has led to such a disparity between the haves and have nots that the competition has become all but non-existent.

The capital of NASCAR draws 20,000 fans on a Saturday afternoon during a holiday weekend. The Nationwide Series is busted. I rest my case.

FIVE: Charlotte Motor Speedway Shows that All Hope is Not Lost for NASCAR

It was not a sellout, and 140,000 may have been a generous estimate for total attendance, but just like the Labor Day race at Atlanta last September, this weekend’s Memorial Day Sunday show drew one of the healthiest crowds NASCAR has seen all season long. Fortunately, just as last September, the race wasn’t bad either.

NASCAR was in the form that made it such a hallmark tradition in the South this weekend; between a great military tribute, a kickass stunt that saw helicopters chasing makeshift terrorists in a pickup truck around the track, a no-apologies pre-race display of patriotism and prayer and fans whose dedication to stock car racing rivals that of any sport’s anywhere in the world celebrating in their own backyard, all was right with the NASCAR world for 600 miles on Sunday (minus the phantom debris cautions).

The success of NASCAR’s holiday weekends in the South that the sport grew in is just proof positive that for all the dissent, disappointment and anger that has been rightfully directed at NASCAR and their handling of the Cup Series the last decade, fans still want this to work. NASCAR fans from across the country flocked to the South and spent their holidays watching racing, just as they always have because this sport for all its problems still means an awful lot to a bunch of them.

NASCAR would do well to remember it. Big spectacles, respect for tradition and a fan-friendly venue led the fans to turn out in droves. The Coca-Cola 600 was a success this year. There’s no reason that success has to be a one-time thing.

Though cutting ticket prices some would have been nice. Seriously, when are promoters going to learn that an empty seat makes no money?

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