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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Top Gear 300 at Charlotte

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

When you’re running 29th following an unscheduled pit stop, the top 10 looks a long way off, but Aric Almirola managed to climb back up there, finishing ninth. The finish gained Almirola one spot in the points race, leaving him sixth unofficially, 51 behind leader Elliott Sadler. Almirola came into the 2011 season a favorite to win the Nationwide Series title, but hasn’t posted the expected results. Almirola has six top 10s in 13 races, but hasn’t cracked the top five yet this year. The ninth-place run at Charlotte was his second top 10 in three races; perhaps a turnaround is in the works.

What… was THAT?

Everything was hot pink in the media center at Charlotte on Saturday; pink show cars, pink-and-white checkered flags, even pink cupcakes. Why? CMS announced that the fall Nationwide race will be the Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage in support of the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer awareness. Reed Sorenson will drive a pink car instead of the trademark Dollar General yellow, and will no doubt be joined by several others in various shades. Cancer survivors will be honored at the track. As crazy as the world of racing is, it’s nice to have a good answer to the weekly WTH.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

After winning in Iowa last week, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. probably wasn’t thrilled with a fourth-place run, but Stenhouse has a lot to celebrate. He’s just one point off the series lead, and he was the highest-finishing Nationwide regular in the race. Considering that just a year ago, Stenhouse’s job looked to be in jeopardy after a horrendous start and a string of wrecked racecars, and now he could be putting the pressure on David Ragan for the No. 6 Cup seat, life must be a lot more fun for Stenhouse in 2011.

When… will I be loved?

The race was so tame that nobody needs to go home wondering what happened to the love, but Kasey Kahne might have a short Everly Brothers moment. Kahne got into Kevin Harvick on the last restart of the day, pushing Harvick’s fender in enough to cause a bad tire rub, forcing Harvick to pit road and out of the running. Kahne clearly drove up into Harvick’s door on the replay, but it’s not exactly something to lose sleep over. Nobody else did…

Why… does this series race at the 1.5-mile tracks, again?

In the not-too-distant past, the Nationwide (then Busch) Series was a thriving series with an independent identity which ran a large part of the schedule on short tracks, with a handful of the bigger tracks and a couple of road courses thrown in. But as NASCAR has robbed the series of its identity, the races were scheduled more and more with the Cup races at the bigger, faster tracks. It’s not a service to the series or its fans. Saturday’s race was poorly attended, but it’s hard to convince fans to come out to these races when they’re slightly more exciting than watching cement dry but less amusing than your kid brother’s ant farm. The short tracks were a huge part of the series’ identity, and they provided good racing. As the series dies a slow death, wouldn’t some great racing breathe a new life into it?

How… did former Formula 1 champ Kimi Raikkonen fare in his first Nationwide race?

If anybody expected Raikkonen to set the world on fire in his first race, that person might be sorely disappointed. But realistically, Raikkonen did just fine. He had a hard time getting a feel for the car, scraping the wall a couple of times and running over some debris to end up four laps down, but he stayed out of real trouble and worked on learning how to communicate with a NASCAR crew chief and in the end finished right about where a rookie drivers in his first race is likely to finish. It wasn’t brilliant, but it wasn’t painful to watch, either.