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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

It’s not often that you see the series champion getting my praise, but this week that’s exactly what’s happening. Jimmie Johnson took home a third place, and while that’s not something that Johnson really needs to write home about, it’s his best finish since he won at Loudon in June. In that seven-race stretch, Johnson earned only one top-10 finish and finished outside of the top 25 three times. He might be the first driver to get my shoutout for simply not blowing it… again.

What… was THAT?

I don’t understand qualifying. I mean, I understand the rules, but I don’t get them. Maybe it’s because I hate the Top-35 rule, but it has to add insult to injury to a guy who qualifies on speed, as Casey Mears did and then have to start behind two guys who not only wouldn’t have made the race on speed, but were both slower than Mears’s lap time? Seriously, if they have to let guys in on points, those guys should start last. Period. Or better yet, they should go home while the guys who got it done this week should race.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

The good news for polesitter Denny Hamlin is he led the second most number of laps Sunday night. The bad news is that a blown engine left Hamlin with a last-place finish and his second DNF of the year. Ouch.

When… will I be loved?

While it might be argued that Ryan Newman got a taste of his own medicine after causing a wreck that took out Greg Biffle and Elliott Sadler, the driver most likely to have this tune stuck in his head for the next few days (and really, wouldn’t that be a bit of poetic justice?) is Kasey Kahne. Kahne led laps early, but late in the race got loose, bounced off the wall and tangled with Kurt Busch, whose fantastic save meant a salvaged finish, no thanks to Kahne. But that wasn’t the incident that wins Kahne this dubious honor. That comes from the closing laps of the race when Kahne, many laps down after spending time in the garage getting damage repaired, raced Newman and others in the lead pack as if he was gunning for position, getting into Newman and forcing the second spectacular save of the night. Face it Kahne, you weren’t a factor and running like that for the TV time when for those guys, the race is on the line is uncalled for. The TV time happened anyway, and it wouldn’t have looked so dirty.

Why… can’t NASCAR do the right thing?

Some fans will argue that the Labor Day weekend race being back in the Southeast is enough, but they’re missing the point. The Southern 500 was about so much more than just location. Tradition, prestige, pride; it was THE race to win, along with the Daytona 500. The crowd at Atlanta was great last year, but this year it’s sparse… while Darlington is, in terms of percent of seats filled, one of the best attended tracks on the circuit. With the big schedule shakeup, NASCAR had the perfect opportunity to do the right thing and bring back what was the sport’s oldest race… and instead did nothing. Winning Atlanta is nice, but once upon a time, winning on this weekend really meant something.

How… are the points shaking down with just one race to go until the Chase?

Kevin Harvick will enjoy one more week as the points leader, but by next Sunday he’ll be third or fourth when the points reset for the Chase after Richmond. The lead will be handed to Johnson, Hamlin, or both; if neither wins Richmond they will start the Chase in a deadlock. Harvick and Kyle Busch, who currently sits third, will tie for third if neither wins next week.

For Johnson and Hamlin, Atlanta couldn’t have been more different. Johnson’s third-place finish gives him a much-needed boost of confidence and two points spots (he’s up to seventh), while Hamlin lost five places with his 43rd-place finish and now sits 10th.

Second-place Jeff Gordon will drop to eighth unless he wins at Richmond, and he hasn’t been close to a win in some time. Tony Stewart grabbed a couple of spots, moving up to fourth, but the momentum gained from his win could prove more valuable than the 10 bonus points which will currently seed him in a tie for sixth. Fifth is currently held by Carl Edwards, down one from last week, but he’ll join Gordon at the bottom of the barrel in a week unless he wins at Richmond.

The final Chase spot didn’t change hands at Atlanta, and it’s all but certain that it won’t change at Richmond, barring disaster for Clint Bowyer and Newman, or Jamie McMurray having the race of his life.