NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Not only did Richard Petty Motorsports come roaring back from the brink of extinction at the end of 2010, the organization just keeps betting better. AJ Allmendinger finished seventh at Richmond, besting Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart in the closing laps, climbing to 11th in points in the process. And that wasn’t even the best news. Allmendinger sported a brand-new sponsor at Richmond in Nautica. It was a single-race deal, but a new-to-the-sport sponsor is a rarity these days, especially for a smaller team. Allmendinger certainly gave them their money’s worth.

What… was THAT?

While it doesn’t have much to do with this weekend’s race, it has everything to do with NASCAR history. It was sad enough to hear that a piece of history, Smokey Yunick’s Daytona Beach garage, was lost in a fire, but it’s heartbreaking to hear that that fire was intentionally set. With one act of selfishness, the Best Damn Garage in Town stands no more. Luckily, its legacy will stand for much longer.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

After a couple of tangles with Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya’s racecar was definitely worse for the wear, and Montoya limped home in 29th place, five laps down. Montoya also drew a warning from NASCAR to stay away from Newman during the race and a comment from Newman that he’d “settle it after the race.” Friday was definitely Montoya’s best day of the weekend.

When… will I be loved?

Sure, you can expect plenty of beating and banging on a short track. If everybody who caused a spin was the villain, there wouldn’t be very many good guys left. Sometimes it’s not simply causing an incident, but causing the most spectacular one that garners that dubious recognition, and that honor this week goes to Clint Bowyer, who got into Matt Kenseth with 100 laps remaining, triggering a multi-car melee that caught Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Mark Martin and others in the fray. Bowyer is usually pretty mild-mannered, but he’s got a lot of fans angry at him after Richmond.

Why… no SAFER barrier on Richmond’s backstretch?

That’s a good question after Gordon slammed into the inside wall, driver’s side first, on Saturday night. There is no grass in front of the wall to slow a car down, leaving a driver vulnerable as Gordon showed. Gordon had the wind knocked out of him, and while it could have been much worse, there’s really no reason to have that wall, or any other, exposed when the technology is available to make it SAFER.

How… many of my preseason top 12 picks are in the top 12 with the “regular season” hitting the 1/3 mark?

After a somewhat surprising start to the season, I’ve got eight of the top 12 right so far, including the top two. I even have those two in the correct order so far. After that, though, it’s a mixed bag. Behind Carl Edwards and Johnson, I also have Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, the Busch brothers, Stewart and perpetual Chaser Kenseth on my list. My other picks… well, they aren’t faring too well. Greg Biffle’s 14th, only a dozen points out of the top 12, but Gordon, Denny Hamlin and McMurray sit 16th, 17th and 24th respectively. Lucky for me there are the wild-card spots, I guess. Seriously, though, there’s so much racing left it’s pretty hard to call anyone a lock, in or out. But next time we see Richmond, it will all be on the line.

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