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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

While the Cup drivers were duking it out for the win, a rookie was quietly doing something that no other Truck rookie has done before; taking over the points lead. Cole Whitt ran an outstanding race, running aggressively enough to make passes but cleanly enough to stay out of trouble, and when the smoke cleared on a wild and crazy race with a record-tying 10 cautions, Whitt was the top series regular, top rookie, and new points leader. Not only is he the first rookie to hold the top spot, he’s also the youngest driver to do so. He’s in elite company there: the last rookie to lead the points in a national series was Jimmie Johnson in the Cup series in 2002. If that’s any indication, Whit just might be headed towards quite a career.

What… was THAT?

It was a big battle for the lead… between two Sprint Cup drivers. Again. It looked like a series regular could win early in the race as there were several strong trucks among that group, but once again it came down to the Cup interlopers. It’s not good for the series when races are so predictable that fans don’t even bother to watch. And the sad thing is that the Cup drivers don’t see the damage they’re doing to the series that brought many of them into the spotlight in the first place and helped get them to the level they’re at today. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

After claiming the pole, Timothy Peters led for 30 laps and was running solidly in the top five. It looked like Peters was headed for a surefire top finish, but a lap 62 crash ended his night, relegating Peters to a 32nd-place finish. Peters also dropped one spot in points for a total of four positions lost in the last two weeks.

When… will I be loved?

OK, so it was messy out there. There was lots of hard racing, three- and even four-wide, so it was inevitable that there would be tangles. One wreck might be forgivable. But cause two and it’s a pattern, and it was Brendan Gaughan who had a pattern going, causing a pair of messes, the second of which destroyed championship contender Matt Crafton’s truck and the machine of Max Papis as well as his own truck. Some days are just better than others…

Why… such a small crowd for this race?

Yes, it’s on a cookie-cutter track, but the cookie-cutter in question is in the cradle of racing, and there was Cup qualifying on display before. Unlike in the Cup Series, ticket prices aren’t prohibitive, starting at $20 for all the action. The racing isn’t boring in this series. But face it, short tracks are just made for this series and despite some great racing, including some four-wide moments, Charlotte just isn’t a great venue to showcase this series. Add in that once again, Cup regulars dominated, and that element turns off many fans.

Sure, they should run with Cup more, but perhaps the All-Star weekend isn’t the time or the place to showcase the series as its own entity. And race fans, this series deserves more love. The racing is usually as good, if not better, than Cup action for a fraction of the price (yes, the Cup guys make the finishes predictable, but the rest of the racing is great). This is the best old school racing NASCAR has to offer… it’s a crying shame nobody but the most diehard fan bothers to get acquainted with it.

How… did Formula 1 champ Kimi Raikkonen fare in his NASCAR debut?

Raikkonen has driven rally cars, which are a bit more similar to NASCAR trucks than F1 cars, but not much. Raikkonen showed good car control in his debut, but did have a brush with the wall late in the going. Still, Raikkonen had a solid night. After starting 31st, he used pit strategy to gain track position and run in the top 10 for a bit before fading late. Raikkonen had some struggles to understand things like fuel-mileage racing, which is not a factor in F1, but worked well with veteran crew chief Rick Ren during the race, finishing a respectable 15th.