NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Carfax 400 at Michigan

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

For a driver and team equally uncertain of their future, a top 10 was a much-needed shot of confidence. Elliott Sadler used a combination of pit strategy and plain old speed to bring his Richard Petty Motorsports No. 19 home in ninth place, their first top 10 of 2010. Sadler had to race hard in the closing laps to hold off David Ragan, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson, but he made it look easy. Sadler announced earlier this year that he would not return to the No. 19 next season, and the team’s future is in doubt without sponsorship for the 2011 season, so running the way they did at MIS had to be a real pick-me-up for them.

What… was THAT?

I don’t know, but it wasn’t singing. Saving Abel’s rendition of the National Anthem was the worst of the year, and possibly the worst ever. Were they sober? Either way, it was a disgrace to our Anthem. Tracks should stick to military bands or vocal ensembles (and the drivers’ kids, which is hands down the best version every year!) and leave the “celebrity interpretations” for oh, I don’t know… the local Little League manages to get better than that, so I don’t think they’d want them either.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

While his teammate Sadler was climbing into the top 10, Kasey Kahne was falling back. After winning the pole in fine fashion on Friday, Kahne, another of the three drivers who will leave RPM at the end of they year, never led a single lap during the race, finishing 14th with barely a whimper.

When… will I be loved?

Most of the drivers were on their best behavior all day long, but their insidious and often invisible nemesis, Jaques Debris caused a couple of cautions’ worth of havoc. Especially interesting was his magical appearance in turn 2 late in the going, just when a few of the leaders (among them a sentimental favorite Roush car or two) were a few laps short on fuel to finish. For causing the black helicopters to circle, Mr. Debris gets the day’s villain award, hands down… and while we’re at it, any reason NASCAR can’t ask an official to point out the debris to the cameras before picking it up? That might save the Everly Brothers being played in the front office come Monday. Maybe.

Why… were the Cup drivers “excused” from the Nationwide drivers’ meeting at MIS?

In short, because NASCAR scheduled it in conflict with a Sprint Cup practice, which is ridiculous on every level. Seriously, the meeting couldn’t have been held at a different time? And in either case, my take is that those drivers should not have been excused; they need to prioritize. If the Nationwide championship is that important, they need to have someone practice the Cup car for a few laps and show up. If it’s not, then start in the back. I’m sure that some of the real Nationwide drivers had things they would have rather been doing, too, but they weren’t “excused” even though some of them are more experienced at Michigan International Speedway than many of the double-duty drivers. The sanctioning body’s job is to schedule things fairly to be sure, but also to treat competitors fairly, and that means making sure the rules apply to everyone.

How… is the points picture shaping up with three races until the Chase?

Kevin Harvick is sitting pretty in the Chase picture after clinching his spot three weeks ahead of schedule. Harvick extended his points lead to 293 over Jeff Gordon, but more importantly, he took sole possession of third place in the Chase as of now. Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart were the big gainers of the week. Hamlin gained three sports with his second-place run to move into third, and Stewart grabbed fourth spot, moving up four positions on the strength of his sixth-place run at MIS.

Johnson held steady in fifth despite another lackluster performance (finished 12th) that hardly makes him look like a threat for a fifth title. Carl Edwards grabbed three spots, moving up to sixth after finishing third on his 31st birthday, but Jeff Burton went the other way, plummeting four spots to seventh after contact with Gordon sent him to pit road for repairs (Edwards and Burton are actually tied for sixth, but Edwards gets it via a tiebreaker). Kyle Busch also lost a spot, slipping to eighth. Ninth-place Matt Kenseth moved up one position while Kurt Busch, the week’s biggest loser, fell six spots to 10th after a blown engine relegated him to 40th on the day. Greg Biffle remains 11th, and the final cutoff swapped hands once again with Clint Bowyer taking over the final Chase berth (for now) from Mark Martin. Realistically, the Chase is set with the exception of 12th, which is still up for grabs among Bowyer, Martin, Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray, all of whom sit within 105 points of 12th place with three races left to settle it once and for all.

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