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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

While this spot usually goes to a driver who didn’t win, this week nobody deserves it more than race winner Regan Smith, who took his first career win by flat outdriving Carl Edwards on old tires and on a much smaller budget. Smith got a great restart and then held off Edwards, bouncing off the wall at one point but not losing momentum as he took away Edwards’s line and got the win that was not only a first for the driver, but his entire organization. It’s great to see an underdog take home a trophy, and Smith did it in textbook fashion.

What… was THAT?

OK, I understand that pit-road rules are made mostly for the safety of crewmen who don’t have a roll cage to protect them, but was it really necessary to penalize Matt Kenseth for missing the commitment line when he blew a tire? It seemed like overkill to me; after all, Kenseth was already handicapped by the tire, and the penalty added insult to injury. It wasn’t a situation Kenseth had control over, which sets the incident apart from speeding or even from trying to fake out other competitors and missing the line.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

After setting a new Darlington qualifying record on Friday, Kasey Kahne had the car to beat for a long stretch early on. It was not to be, however, as Kahne finished fourth with his Red Bull team. Speaking of, did anyone catch the on-air mention that the team was throwing everything they have at Kahne, with hopes that a win will make the car more attractive when Kahne moves on after this year? Maybe it’s just me, but that seems a little backwards. How about throwing some of that at the guy who virtually built your team from the ground up?

When… will I be loved?

Darlington is tough enough to race without drivers resorting to blatantly wrecking the competition. Yet that’s exactly what Kyle Busch did in the closing laps, giving Kevin Harvick a shot that was so obviously intentional. Harvick had gotten into Busch half a lap earlier after Busch began the conflict by sideswiping Harvick. In essence, Busch intentionally wrecked Harvick for a problem he started himself. In fact, the only people who did worse than Busch were the NASCAR officials who didn’t park Busch for his actions. It’s nice to be NASCAR’s golden child. Harvick got out of his car on pit road after the race and went to Busch’s car to have a discussion on the incident. Busch then punted Harvick’s empty car into the pit wall and drove away instead of risking a conflict with Harvick out of the car. So much for the “new” Busch. He showed his true colors, and one of them isn’t the color of class.

Why… was there blue foam all over the track?

That was the question Dale Earnhardt Jr. and other drivers were asking after a bizarre crash in which the side of Brian Vickers’s car was peeled back like a can of sardines. Vickers made contact with David Ragan, causing Ragan to spin back across the path of the No. 83. The right-front corner of Ragan’s car peeled back the side of Vickers’s machine like a can opener, throwing pieces of the impact foam in the doorframe all over the track. It also removed Vickers’s window net. The No. 83 team had to retire to the garage as the car must have the foam, window net and door panel. Cars must also display a number on both doors as well as the roof. All needed to be replaced before the No. 83 was again race-worthy.

How… should NASCAR handle the Harvick-Busch situation?

They should have handled it before it got worse and parked Busch for the final laps at Darlington. Had that happened, the pit-road incident would have been avoided. But, since they did the wrong thing, they should follow their own precedent and park Busch for the entire Dover race after Busch punted Harvick’s car on pit road and threatened retaliation on the radio. Ironically, it was Harvick who NASCAR did just that to a few years ago after Harvick threatened another driver in a Truck race. NASCAR sat Harvick out of the next race (a Cup race at Martinsville) to send a message that such actions were unacceptable. “Boys, have at it” or not, a line was crossed on Saturday, and NASCAR needs to send a strong message about what’s hard racing and what crosses a line.

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