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The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

The best Hendrick Motorsports car at Martinsville wasn’t the one that most fans probably thought of first, but Mark Martin and his team overcame a crunched-up racecar to finish second with the fastest car on the racetrack. Martin missed the Chase this year, but today’s race is a bright spot in the season for the No. 5 team, the best of the Hendrick cars this week, though teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 90 laps and scored a top-10 finish, also a bright spot in an otherwise bleak season.

What… was THAT?

While it’s true that sometimes a driver needs to stand up for himself on the track, there is a place and time where it isn’t a smart move. Like when you’re running second and the other driver is your teammate. Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick got into a spitting match with just over 100 laps to go, with Burton voicing his displeasure with Harvick on the radio and racing him perhaps more aggressively than was necessary. While it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of racing, there it a championship on the line, especially for Harvick who entered the day just 77 points put of the lead. Harvick initiated the spat, nearly wrecking Burton before the caution flew for Greg Biffle, and perhaps he should have given Burton some space given what the cost could have been.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

In victory lane, but more importantly within six points of the points lead. And given that Denny Hamlin is better than defending champion Jimmie Johnson at three of the four tracks left, Hamlin is likely to be celebrating a much bigger victory next month at Homestead as the No. 48 continues to flounder, looking nothing like the team that won the last four titles. Looks like they’ll have to get used to the view from a different garage stall next year.

When… will I be loved?

It was Martinsville, so almost nobody goes home with a clean racecar, but Kurt Busch drove like the Kurt Busch of his truck days for a lap or so on Sunday. When Jeff Gordon got into his quarterpanel, Busch dumped Gordon squarely into the inside wall on the frontstretch, effectively ending Gordon’s title hopes. Martinsville is a game of give and take, and Busch definitely gave worse than he took, earning him this week’s villain award.

Why… were there so many empty seats at Martinsville?

It was a beautiful fall day in southern Virginia, with a tight points battle on the line, but still there were empty seats at Martinsville, which also offers the lowest ticket prices on the circuit. It’s just another sign of the times in which fans don’t care about the Chase and many can’t afford to come to the racetrack. They missed a great race, though. This is what the racing should be like far more often.

How… many contenders are still in it to win it with four races to go?

Because anything can happen at Talladega, three, but the title is now Hamlin’s to lose. Right now, the No. 11 team is the only organization that looks to be championship caliber from top to bottom, while the No. 48 can’t quite seem to get it done when it counts most. Watch for Hamlin to take the points lead from Johnson at Texas and if it’s close at Homestead, Hamlin will have a huge advantage, having won there last year while Johnson has just one top-five finish since finishing second in 2004.

Still, anything can happen next week at Talladega, and should Hamlin become a victim, Johnson or Harvick could have something big handed to them. Harvick is by far the best plate racer of the three contenders, and could also come out looking like a million bucks next week. Johnson is the weakest of the three on plate tracks, but he does have a Talladega win, so he could certainly gain back some of what he lost at Martinsville.

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