NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Sprint Showdown at Charlotte

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

If there had been a few more laps, Brad Keselowski might have watched the All-Star Race on TV, because Marcos Ambrose was driving it like he stole it in the closing laps, gaining like a freight train overtaking a tortoise. He ran out of time, finishing third, but Ambrose showed that once again, his Richard Petty Motorsports team could indeed be there at the end. Teammate AJ Allmendinger finished fourth to cap off a great night for the organization.

What… was THAT?

Not that it’s obvious or anything, but NASACR Really, really wanted Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the All-Star Race. So much so, in fact that there was a last-minute rules change making the fan-vote winner have to finish the race only with a car in “raceable condition” when formerly that driver also had to be on the lead lap. This rule came about after Junior had a mid-pack run in practice. We have the Petty Rule in the past champion’s provisional. Call this one the Junior Rule.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Everywhere he wanted to be: in victory lane and in the All-Star Race. David Ragan stalked Keselowski in the closing laps to take over the top spot and then run away with it on the white-flag lap. It was Ragan’s first win in a Cup car, and much needed; his sponsor’s contract is up after this year, and any positive runs are vital, even in a non-points event.

When… will I be loved?

It was partly the product of unfortunate timing, tires given up just when there was a pair of late-race restarts, but whatever the reason, Paul Menard just could not get going on the restarts with 13 laps left. The field stacked up behind, and ended up with Brian Vickers turned around. The second time Menard was a moving chicane, forcing several drivers to make evasive maneuvers to avoid him. It clearly wasn’t intentional, but it sure wasn’t pretty, either.

Why… was Bobby Labonte even in this race?

Cup champions used to have a lifetime pass into the All-Star event, until NASCAR made another rule change that makes little sense. It’s understandable that NASCAR didn’t want the main event filled with part-time past champs, but what should have happened was a rule to make only full-time past champs eligible, which would have put Labonte in the field. It’s not like you’re adding a lot of cars to the feature here. There are just six active champions running full-time in the series (the other five are already in the All-Star event).

How… the heck does the burnout contest work?

Beats me. Also beats the competitors and judges, though, so at least I have company. Oh well, it’s a bit of good, clean fun for the fans, and most of the drivers, with the notable exception of Kurt Busch, did not disappoint. Personally, I was a bigger fan of the crew chief race; now that was entertaining!

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