NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Four Burning Questions: Stenhouse’s Debut, Danica’s Jump, and Sunday’s Favorites

*Is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Cup debut a sign of things to come?*

Much has been written in this space this year regarding the friendly competition between Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse, and how much Bayne’s time away from the track benefits Stenhouse and his career. This week, Stenhouse gets the ultimate break as Bayne will not compete in the Coca-Cola 600, allowing the Mississippi native to make his Sprint Cup debut one week after winning his first Nationwide race. While I’ve talked up the rivalry (if you can call it that) in the past I will admit – and all signs point to this being the direction – Bayne will retain his status as top prospect in the Roush Fenway organization when he returns. It’s more of a 1A/1B type situation, but Bayne is the more experienced (albeit slightly) and marketable of the two…and that Daytona 500 win doesn’t hurt either.

None of this is a knock on Stenhouse. What he has done thus far in 2011 (and this is a way the new points system really works) has really put his name on people’s radar. Just eight points behind Elliott Sadler for the top spot, he has been nearly flawless this season. The opportunity to pilot the No. 21 this weekend is a sign that Jack Roush is becoming more and more confident in the youngster. It’s a great situation for the Roush Fenway organization to be in, and it seems that whoever steps up and wins the job outright whenever a position does open up at the Cup level, they’ll be able to compete right away.

*Will Danica Patrick go to NASCAR full-time in 2012?*

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With her Indy Car career fizzling and a solid spring in stock cars under her belt, NASCAR does seem to be in the immediate future for Danica Patrick, no matter what her PR machine says.

Reports began circulating this week that Danica Patrick would indeed make the jump to NASCAR full-time in 2012, and that her management team was finalizing a course of action when the crossover is made. Patrick has since rebuffed the report and Tony Stewart, who was reportedly interested in signing Patrick, has said he has not talked to the open-wheel star about a ride. So what’s Patrick going to do? If you look at her IndyCar stats it’s safe to say she is having her toughest season to date with a season-best finish of 12th – and currently sits 15th in points. She’s struggled so much so that at a track she has run well at in the past, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she barely made the field of 33 at the Brickyard one week ago. Compound that with some promising Nationwide starts this season and the smoke from these “reports”, and I’d say something is cooking.

*Will Carl Edwards earn the Charlotte sweep this weekend?*

Carl Edwards and the entire Roush Fenway brigade looked especially strong in last weekend’s All-Star festivities, with Edwards ultimately winning the $1,000,000 bonus. Edwards is having one of his strongest seasons to date and for the first time since 2008 has shown that he can be competitive at all types of tracks, especially the 1.5-mile ovals. Edwards has been especially strong on the intermediate tracks in his career, earning 17 of his 19 wins and averaging a 12th place finish. It’s been a while since he’s been strong at CMS, but if there ever was a weekend to turn that around it would be now. He will be the favorite Sunday night, but during an unpredictable 600 mile race anything can, and will happen.

*Could we see a first time winner Sunday night?*

Lowe’s Motor Speedway has been known to produce some surprise winners, particularly during its Memorial Day event and this weekend may be no different. Given Roush Fenway’s speed this weekend, and Ford as a whole, David Ragan and A.J. Allmendinger could both be surprise winners in a race where anything can happen, while Marcos Ambrose and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are some other names to keep an eye on. Ambrose looked strong last weekend and Stenhouse is behind the wheel of a car that’s already had some magic in another crown jewel event this year. If a first-time winner were to grace victory lane Sunday night I’d have to favor Ragan, but the ‘600’ doesn’t have the same attrition rate it once did and the likes of Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson will be tough to beat.

“Contact Mike Lovecchio”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14358/

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