NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

One major hole in NASCAR broadcasts is the failure to give due coverage to drivers who do not fall into a select group, even if they’re having a top-10 run. Saturday’s race was no exception, as Marcos Ambrose ran solidly in the top 10 all night long, but was mostly mentioned in passing as he raced with those deemed more worthy of coverage. That’s a shame because Ambrose ran as well as anybody all night, flat beating the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch on the racetrack. Ambrose may be widely regarded as a road-course specialist, but he’s been quietly improving on the ovals. Maybe someday we’ll actually get to see it.

What… was THAT?

All rookie drivers have a learning curve to follow, even the Daytona 500 champion. But Trevor Bayne had an added challenge this weekend, one that landed him in the hospital once he got home.

Bayne reportedly started feeling ill on Tuesday but gutted it out for the race weekend with help from the infield care center at Texas. He went to the emergency room after getting back to North Carolina, where he was admitted for testing. Bayne, whose quest for All-Star Race sponsorship has been fruitful (the team will likely add the All-Star event as well as next week’s race at Talladega to the schedule), is currently undergoing tests to find the cause of his illness.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

It’s no surprise there was a Roush Fenway Ford on the pole at Texas (see below), but it was somewhat of a surprise that it was David Ragan, who usually takes a backseat to his three teammates. Ragan showed that he could run with the big boys on Saturday night as well, leading several laps and racing for a top-five finish before winding up seventh. With UPS’s contract up at the end of the year, finishes like that are critical for Ragan.

When… will I be loved?

Usually the villain of the race earns the title on the track. Usually that guy is left wondering when he’ll be loved because he caused something he may or may not regret later. But this week’s winner wasn’t even in the race. Carl Edwards’s mom, it seems, inadvertently gave her son a mild case of food poisoning with Friday night’s dinner, and the driver was feeling the effects during the race on Saturday. Teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was on standby, but Edwards finished the race, ending up third and taking over the points lead to boot. Maybe he needs to have her cook that again at Homestead…

Why… the sudden resurgence for Roush Fenway Racing?

Here’s one with a simple answer. Roush’s stable of drivers, which includes one champion from each of NASCAR’s three national touring series, didn’t suddenly remember how to drive. This has never been a question of talent. What happened was a little help from their friends at Ford in the form of the FR9 engine. The FR9 adds horsepower to the Ford stable to be sure, but the real advantage may be in its superior cooling system (one which was not allowed at the time Chevrolet, Toyota and Dodge developed their current engines) which allows those teams to run with more tape on the grille. This adds downforce, and hence the real advantage of the FR9. Until the other makes develop an engine with technology in line with Ford’s, it may not matter who’s driving them anyway.

How… competitive is the Sprint Cup Series so far this year?

If lots of race leaders are any indication, it’s more competitive than ever. Through six races this year, the series is averaging 13 different leaders per race, the most ever at this point in the year. Sure, that number is slightly exaggerated by drivers leading laps under caution, but it still points to a more competitive season than we’ve seen in a while, and that’s something NASCAR sorely needs. The more different leaders there are, the more fans get to see their favorite on TV, and that’s important as the sport tries to redefine itself following a sharp decline in fan interest.

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