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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Falling just a few laps short of the win, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was vintage Earnhardt on Sunday, passing Kyle Busch for the lead on lap 480 with a perfectly executed bump-and-run and holding on until lap 496, when Kevin Harvick passed for the win. Earnhardt nearly came back, laying a bumper to Harvick on a crossover move, but not quite in the right location to move Harvick up the track. It was the most like a driver hungry for a win that Earnhardt has looked in a very long time.

What… was THAT?

Luckily it ended well, but the vicious, fiery crash that sent Martin Truex Jr. into Kasey Kahne and both of them hard into the turn 3 wall was the result of a hung throttle. It’s not a common issue, thank goodness, because it is a nasty one to have (a stuck throttle was responsible for the deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin in 2000), but today’s issue highlighted again just how far the sport had come. A shaken Truex said afterwards that if it hadn’t been for the SAFER barrier (which he hit so hard it required a 24-minute red flag to fix) that the outcome might have been totally different. Both Truex and Kahne were unhurt in the crash. It wasn’t even the only stuck throttle of the weekend. Parker Kligerman crashed his No. 29 truck and Dennis Setzer crashed his K-Automotive No. 92 hard in separate crashes due to stuck throttles.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

After looking like he’d be a factor in the early going, Jamie McMurray was able to hang onto a car which never quite handled the way he wanted it to and bring it home seventh. For McMurray, whose 2011 luck hasn’t been pretty, it was an encouraging sign, and it showed that he can run up front at any type of track on the circuit. It was also a great day for McMurray’s owner, Chip Ganassi, who saw both McMurray and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya take home top-10 finishes as Montoya came home fourth.

When… will I be loved?

Martinsville is the type of track where it’s next to impossible to escape at least a tire donut, but there were several drivers who had enough of Michael McDowell on Sunday. McDowell, running the full distance for the first time in 2011, first tangled with Marcos Ambrose when Ambrose, who had a clearly faster car, tried to complete a pass a little too early for McDowell’s liking. McDowell responded by putting Ambrose in the wall, saying afterward on his radio, “I’m not going to take that,” adding that this was one of the only full races he’ll run. Matt Kenseth also expressed concern with McDowell, saying that the driver of the No. 66 had also hit him and Regan Smith for no reason he could ascertain. While you have to feel for McDowell wanting to prove something in one race he’s allowed to run, there’s a right way to go about that, and McDowell didn’t choose that route.

Why… aren’t there more short tracks on the schedule, again?

Note to NASCAR: This is the kind of racing that the sport needs. The 1.5-2-mile tracks that the sanctioning body is so fond of rarely produce the kind of racing found at the oldest track of them all. This race had a little of everything-a track record number of lead changes, an epic battle in the closing laps between a hero and a villain, the bump-and-run. It was everything that NASCAR should be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Better racing is what will attract fans and keep them around. Tracks like Martinsville give that in spades, every race, every series.

How… long had it been since Richard Childress Racing visited Victory Lane in Martinsville?

The last RCR driver to take home the famous grandfather clock trophy was Dale Earnhardt in 1995, 16 years ago. To put that in perspective, Harvick was 20 years old and dabbling in the then-NASCAR SuperTruck Series by Craftsman, Jimmie Johnson was racing off-road trucks, and Jeff Gordon was still Wonderboy, making a milk toast at his first championship banquet. Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne was four. In short, it’s been a long time, and RCR leaves looking like the early favorite to bring RCR a seventh Cup championship. If anyone’s counting, it’s been 17 years.

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