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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

With crunch time fast approaching for the Chase, a quiet fourth-place run was just what the doctor ordered for Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 team. Bowyer moves into the last Chase spot for now, making car owner Richard Childress the only owner to have each one of his teams in the top dozen. That’s a huge turnaround for an organization that missed the Chase entirely not quite a year ago.

What… was THAT?

When Bill Elliott spun the No. 21, it looked to be a one-car incident as the field came by unscathed until Robby Gordon piled on, seemingly out of nowhere. It certainly looked as if Gordon had plenty of time to slow down and avoid the accident, which destroyed the nose of his own car. Which begs the question: Where was Gordon’s spotter? Lunch break? Naptime? Distracted by the obligatory checkered-flag bikini in the crowd?

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Not where he’d hoped, perhaps, but Jamie McMurray ran in the front of the pack all night long and brought the No. 1 home in a very respectable fifth. With just half the season under the bride, Jamie Mac already has more wins and top-five finishes than in all of 2009, and as many top-10 runs as he saw all year last year as well. Returning to owner Chip Ganassi has so far been the smartest off-track move of McMurray’s career.

When… will I be loved?

Since Gordon already got recognition for his bonehead move, the one left to hum this tune after Chicago was Martin Truex Jr. who made defending series champion Jimmie Johnson’s night a long and miserable one after he spun Johnson on lap 137. It was the slightest of touches; Johnson didn’t hit anything then and restarted 24th, but subsequent handling issues cost Johnson two laps on the field. Johnson was able to bounce back for a lead-lap finish in 25th place, but after having the best car in the field early, was never able to recover from the spin.

Why… do fans consider a rain victory “undeserved?”

After dominating in the late going, Chicago winner David Reutimann commented after his second career win that some people have said his first win was underserved because it came in a rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600. Reutimann was in front when it counted. Any team could have used the same strategy to their advantage, but the No. 00 played it best and won the race under the rules in place. That’s as deserved and as legitimate as any victory won by pit strategy, by fuel mileage, by running a smart race. The only “underserved” wins in my book come from illegal cars or from dirty driving. If you play by the rules and make the best call under the circumstances at hand, you deserve everything you get.

How… is the Chase shaping up with just eight races to go?

Although Reutimann gained two points positions with his win at Chicagoland, the Chase picture didn’t change much. Dale Earnhardt Jr. drops to 13th after a lackluster 23rd-place run, and Bowyer vaults into the 12th spot with a fourth-place run. That’s about how I see things shaking down after Richmond in September. Earnhardt’s recent momentum could earn him a spot if Chicago was merely a blip on the radar, and if that happens, it will likely be at the expense of Carl Edwards, Mark Martin or Bowyer. But I’d say that the field is just about set.