NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

There were a few guys who deserve mention, but to turn a 28th-place start into a top-10 finish is difficult anywhere, especially at Pocono in a race with long green-flag runs. But Martin Truex Jr. gained 19 spots between the green and checkered flags, finishing ninth, his fifth top 10 of 2010. Only one other driver in the top 20 in Sunday’s race (Clint Bowyer, finished 15th) started behind Truex.

What… was THAT?

When all was said and done, it was one of the worst wrecks I have ever seen. The wreck started well ahead of Elliott Sadler (Jimmie Johnson loosened Kurt Busch’s car up and Busch slid into Bowyer) but Sadler got the worst of it when AJ Allmendinger got into him in the smoke from Busch’s car. Sadler’s car slammed the inside retaining wall so hard the engine was torn out. Sadler was able to get out under his own power, but barely. The wall visibly moved on impact, probably one of the factors (along with the new car and the HANS device) that left Sadler relatively unhurt when all was said and done. Some commented on the lack of SAFER barriers in that location, but I’m not sure the old-school version didn’t do just as good a job, maybe even better. In any case, when a driver walks away from one like that, it’s hard not to think about what might have been, and that makes you doubly glad that it wasn’t.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Tony Stewart grabbed his second pole of the season this week, but he needed a late-race caution, or a miracle, to finish where he started. Stewart finished second to Greg Biffle for his third runner-up finish of 2010. Stewart also finished second at Bristol and Loudon. This is generally Stewart’s best time of year, and given his record at Watkins Glen (five wins and nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts), Stewart might not be settling for second next week.

When… will I be loved?

It’s hard to give the villain of the race award to someone so repentant, but nonetheless, the drivers were on their best behavior and that means even an accidental move can make you the least loved guy in the garage, as Jimmie Johnson found out. It was a weird wreck; Johnson was trying to bump-draft with Busch, a common practice on Pocono’s long straights, and barely got into him. The hit was dead square, and didn’t look like enough to turn a car around, but combined with a side draft from the No. 33 of Bowyer, it was all it took to send Busch across the track and into the wall. Johnson took the blame and apologized throughout the ensuing red flag, although it’s hard to blame anyone for what was truly just hard racing.

Why… doesn’t anyone ever do the right thing?

It seems like a trend in NASCAR these days from the top of the organization on down, and it’s a far cry from the days where a handshake was as good as law. I’m glad Richard Childress Racing is looking at adding a fourth team; in this economy that’s pretty impressive, but lack of sponsorship was what forced Childress to close that same fourth team down after last season, leaving driver Casey Mears high and dry. The right thing to do would be to call Mears first but with the possibility of Paul Menard bringing his family money to the team, that’s unlikely. Still, it’s sad to see that the high road is, more often than not, the road not taken these days.

How… is the Chase shaking down with five races to go?

The Chase picture looks significantly different than 2009, with four faces in the top 12 that were nowhere to be seen last year. Points leader Kevin Harvick was 22nd in points after this race one year ago. Neither of his RCR teammates were in Chase contention last year, and with five races left, all three RCR cars are in the show, though it looks as though Bowyer will battle it out with Mark Martin for 12th; Martin is currently 13th, just four points behind Bowyer. Kyle Busch also missed the show a year ago, and is currently sixth in points. That means four Chasers from last year are mostly out of contention. Martin is currently 13th and can certainly make his way in. Ryan Newman is the next highest placed of these, currently 15th, 138 points out of 12th. Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya find themselves in 16th and 21st respectively. It’s shaping up to have a slightly different look, but with fewer owners with dogs in the fight.

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