NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

While Kyle Busch ran away with the race at the end, there was a trio of drivers right behind him quietly impressing the masses. David Reutimann gave Busch fits on the final restart of the night, and while Busch’s superior equipment eventually prevailed, Reutimann brought his Michael Waltrip Racing car home in second. And he did this while battling a case of food poisoning that kept him out of the car for part of Friday’s practice sessions. Jamie McMurray was the only driver who looked to have something for Busch late in the going, and faded to third, but has shown his hand in a late-season Chase bid, taking over the 13th spot. Finally, Clint Bowyer finished fourth, though you barely saw him on the broadcast. Bowyer started 24th, and at Bristol, that doesn’t make it easy to move forward. Busch may have taken the checkers, but the three most impressive runs of the night took place in his rearview mirror.

What… was THAT?

Okay, so ABC bleeped it, but that was possibly the best driver introduction ever. The drivers introduced themselves at Bristol, and Brad Keselowski, apparently still steamed at Busch for dumping him in the Nationwide race, made his count. “I’m Brad Keselowski, driver of the number 12 Penske Dodge,” Keselowski said, then added, “and Kyle Busch is an ass.” Keselowski, on probation for no real reason other than preventative measures, couldn’t retaliate on the track, but wasn’t going to take the incident lying down. Busch, roundly booed during his own introduction, used his introduction to sarcastically mock the fans. “Aww, you’re so loving,” Busch said sarcastically as he walked down the ramp toward the track.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

In a word: frustrated. Jimmie Johnson looked as though he could easily cover the field in the early going on Saturday night, but wound up a victim of Juan Pablo Montoya’s mistake and lost dozens of laps making repairs to a car with a crumpled fender and a cracked oil pan and radiator. Johnson did make it back out on the track, but was unable to gain back a single spot, finishing 35th and once again looking like anything but the most dominating driver of the last decade.

When… will I be loved?

Bristol brought a lot of side-by-side racing, but not a lot of mayhem. There were scrapes and slaps, but Montoya added a punt to the list when he sent Johnson hard into the retaining wall. Montoya went on to finish seventh, but he’s not going to be feeling the love from Johnson anytime soon. Johnson’s team was trying desperately to find a shred of momentum heading into the Chase, and got shredded instead.

Why… is NASCAR waffling on making changes to the Nationwide Series?

According to a recent wire report, NASCAR may be reconsidering rules changes that would have kept any driver in the top 35 in Sprint Cup points from competing for the Nationwide Series title. Apparently, the sanctioning body still doesn’t get it; the Nationwide Series is dying a slow death while NASCAR stands idly by. I suppose all Nationwide faithful can do is hope that Carl Edwards, Busch and Keselowski all win a Cup title soon, and that that curbs their need to prove they can beat inexperienced youngsters and veterans in far inferior equipment. Pretty sad that poor sportsmanship is such an ego boost for some people.

On that note, color me unimpressed about Busch “making history” with the weekend sweep. It would be unprecedented if the Yankees won the Little League World Series, the Texas League title and the World Series in the same year, too, but that doesn’t make it right, and that’s why there are rules against it. Impressive and historic are adjectives I’d avoid on this one. Arrogant, unsportsmanlike and shameful fit the bill much better.

How… is the points race shaking down after a visit to the Bristol bullring?

Little changed at the top, where Kevin Harvick still holds a commanding lead over Jeff Gordon. Gordon did clinch his Chase berth, but without a win this season, he will drop to the bottom of the barrel when the Chase begins. Busch was the big mover of the week, moving up five spots to third with his win. Edwards also gained a couple of spots and sits fourth, while Denny Hamlin dropped two to fifth after a mechanical issue relegated him to a 34th-place finish.

Tony Stewart also lost a couple of spots this week, falling to sixth, while Jeff Burton holds steady in seventh. Matt Kenseth moves up to second as Johnson’s free-fall continues. Johnson fell to ninth after getting wrecked on Saturday, and looks worse every week in his bid for a fifth championship. There was no movement between 10th and 12th, and Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Bowyer remain in those spots.

Perhaps the biggest Chase bid this summer has come from McMurray, who finds himself in 13th place, 100 points out of contention with two races to go. Should Bowyer falter, the Daytona 500 champion is now in position to capitalize, and if he does get in, he’d have to be a darkhorse favorite to win it all given his newfound penchant for winning the big races. They’re all big in the Chase.

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