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The Big 6: Questions Answered After the AAA Texas 500

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

He has to be frustrated with what should have been, but he didn’t show it, driving flat out in the final laps and even scraping the wall trying to get all he could. That brush with the wall could have been the kiss of death for Kevin Harvick, but he kept his cool, gathered himself and even gained a spot in the closing laps, salvaging a sixth-place finish and a slim title hope. Harvick has driven like a champion all season long. It’s too bad he likely won’t actually be one.

What… was THAT?

It was almost a fight. It might have been one if NASCAR officials hadn’t stepped in. The real surprise was the participants. Jeff Gordon is a bit of a hothead, but Jeff Burton is usually as mild mannered as they come. Burton got into Gordon under green and when Gordon pulled alongside under caution to voice his opinion, Burton took exception, hooking Gordon in the left rear and slamming the No. 24 into the backstretch wall under caution, ending Gordon’s day. Gordon climbed out of his car, ducked the ambulance, and confronted Burton, taking a swing at the Richard Childress Racing driver before officials could separate the two. In reality, it was probably the frustration of coming up short yet again in the title hunt that had two of the sport’s most respected drivers up in arms.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

After winning his first pole in three seasons, Elliott Sadler found reality to be tough on Sunday as his Richard Petty Motorsports car couldn’t compete with the well funded teams or even his RPM teammates who will be with the team next year. Sadler finished a disappointing 23rd on Sunday, a finish which may take some of the sting out of Sadler having to take a step back in 2011, when he’ll run the Nationwide Series full time for Kevin Harvick Inc. and should be a weekly contender for top-10 finishes.

When… will I be loved?

Between the fist fight, some on-track shenanigans, and Kyle Busch flipping off an official (That fine he narrowly avoided on Saturday thanks to a well timed tape delay fix? Yeah, he just earned another one, instead), there were a lot of people singing this sad tune after Texas, but nobody felt the love less than the No. 48 pit crew, who were replaced by the No. 24 crew after several terrible pit stops and Gordon’s untimely exit provided the opportunity. Did it hurt morale in the No. 48 pit? Probably. Was it deserved? Absolutely. Anyone who thinks that Jimmie Johnson’s success is due to his car and pit crew needs to take a look at this year’s Chase, where Johnson has carried the team on his back for eight weeks. Pit stops have hurt Johnson since early summer, and the team flat hasn’t gotten the job done. They’ve likely cost Johnson any hope of a fifth straight title. Frankly, Gordon’s crew got it done, ripping off stops that actually gained Johnson positions on pit road, something that Johnson hasn’t had in a very long time. Hopefully, this will light a fire under the No. 48 crew. Honestly, the only real question is, “what took so long?”

Why… can’t this kid get a break?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy for Justin Allgaier, who announced that he will race in the Nationwide Series full time in 2011 and 2012 for Turner Motorsports (formerly Braun Racing). Turner may well be the best Nationwide-only team, and is certainly in the top two, along with Rusty Wallace Inc. The problem is, driving for the best Nationwide-only team is like having the best Shetland pony in the Kentucky Derby. Allgaier deserves better. The problem is, there is a Cup driver everywhere he turns, taking a seat from a talented youngster.

How… many drivers are left in the championship hunt with two races left?

While the number suggests it’s still three, unless something catastrophic happens – like Johnson gets to keep Gordon’s pit crew – in reality it’s down to one. I said it in January and I’ll say it again now: Denny Hamlin is your 2010 Sprint Cup champion.

For Johnson or Harvick (who is, in reality, the only driver deserving of the title, and who would have carried a 288-point lead into Texas over Johnson if NASCAR hadn’t handed all those points to the rest of the field. Hamlin would be mathematically eliminated from contention following Texas provided Harvick made the last two starts), to win a title would require Hamlin to have a major meltdown. Hamlin, the same guy who didn’t finish outside the top two in the final two races of 2009.

Unless somebody else pulls a Hornish in the final two, it’s over.

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