NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Yeah, I know, I’m supposed to give this to a driver. But since this is an exhibition race, I’m going to give an exhibition award… to NASCAR for making the first solidly correct yellow-line call I’ve seen since the rule was instituted. Denny Hamlin had room to hold his line when his wheels crossed over; it was only afterwards that Ryan Newman dropped lower on the track. Whether this was a one time thing is certainly debatable, but for the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to a restrictor-plate race. The Daytona 500 is looking like one exciting event.

What… was THAT?!

Oh, it was just Kevin Conway being a moving chicane. Nothing unusual there. What was unusual was that Conway was in the race at all. In fact, he only got in by default when Rookie of the Year award winners for the past 10 years were included in the field, and Conway won the award last year solely because he was the only rookie in the field. Add Regan Smith to the list of questionables as well, and the most popular driver in the universe winds up wrecked in the garage (more on that in a minute) and several other contenders were damaged as well. Why was the rule necessary? Did NASCAR feel that they needed Kasey Kahne in the field that badly? If they feel they must have an expanded rule, how about adding at least one career win to that ROTY requirement?

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

In the garage, courtesy a driver whose presence in the field was questionable to start with (see above and below). You could almost hear the collective cheer when Dale Earnhardt Jr. drew the pole on Friday after solidly pacing the first practice session-and the collective groan when he became the innocent victim of a questionable racing move. There’s a bright spot, though: Earnhardt is looking very good for next week. 10 years after NASCAR’s darkest day, what a storybook ending that would be.

When… will I be loved?

One thing is certain in NASCAR; if you cause the wreck that takes out Junior, you are going to be the most unloved man in the garage. Which means that Smith may be left to sit alone in his garage stall singing the Everly Brothers after getting into the front of Carl Edwards‘s car, sending Edwards into Earnhardt and Earnhardt to the garage. Even Smith’s crew admonished the driver on the radio, telling him, “you weren’t clear yet.”

Why… still watch?

In an era without a hero that has seen fans turning their backs on a deteriorating sport, it’s easy to ask, “why watch?” But after a long cold winter, I’ll admit I felt that old familiar feeling of anticipation and caught myself saying “There’s a RACE tonight!” No matter how I long for what NASCAR once was, there’s still that thrill when the engines fire for the first time. As long as I feel that, there’s hope. I still watch because at the heart of it all, I still love racing.

How… did Daytona’s new surface change the face of this race?

I’ll admit, I was a whole lot of skeptical about the new surface after the January test session. The last thing I want to watch is another Talladega, and the resurfacing had the potential to take handling out of the picture, which is the main difference between the two superspeedways. But that’s not the way it played out. The two-car drafts all over the track were fun to watch and made avoiding a wreck at least possible. It may just have been the best plate race since NASCAR changed the aero package 10 years ago and took the roof spoilers and wickers off.

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