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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Maybe Steve Letarte should tell Dale Earnhardt Jr. it’s going to rain more often. Before the downpour came, Letarte warned Earnhardt that weather was imminent, and the driver responded by promptly passing four cars and moving inside the top five. Once the race restarted, Earnhardt remained stout, keeping his No. 88 in the top 10 and coming home ninth instead of pulling a patented late-race fade that has characterized his slump as of late. That’s a start, as for Earnhardt consistent good finishes will be critical over the next month as his once seemingly certain Chase berth has become tenuous at best. Without a win, Earnhardt must remain in the top 10 in points, and this week marked progress. Junior gained four points on 11th-place Denny Hamlin and now has a 23-point cushion on the position. It could be dicey (Watkins Glen especially will be rough), but if Earnhardt can pull off more top-10 runs, he can definitely still make the show come Richmond.

What… was THAT?

There wasn’t a lot of drama this weekend, despite the rain wreaking havoc on the schedule at Pocono. In fact, what little there was seemed to happen in Iowa, where the Nationwide Series had a standalone event. First, the Nationwide race had one of the more bizarre finishes of the year, with leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. losing his engine in the final turn. As Stenhouse slowed, it looked like Carl Edwards would easily overtake him for the victory. Instead, Stenhouse, frustrated with the way Edwards had raced him earlier in the event, threw a block. Edwards couldn’t turn out of the oil Stenhouse’s car dropped, and the Cup driver plowed into the back of his teammate, giving Stenhouse enough momentum to slide across the finish line for the win. The funny part comes in where a few observers wondered whether Stenhouse had violated the rule that states a driver can’t receive assistance on the last lap.

Really? First of all, Edwards wasn’t trying to help Stenhouse (who apparently commented to his crew chief that he thinks Edwards hates him) win the race. Frankly, I don’t think Edwards would help his own grandmother with a win on the line. Second, as hard as that hit was, if it was intentional, it was just stupid. Either way, as I see it, no rule was violated, but fans at Iowa sure got their money’s worth.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Joey Logano was so close to victory he could smell it, and it smelled a lot like rain on a humid summer day. Unfortunately for Logano, who had grabbed his third career pole on Saturday, the rains let up, the race ran its complete distance, and the third-year driver faded to a disappointing 26th. For Logano, who is breathing a sigh of relief now that Edwards is no longer a threat for his ride, Silly Season isn’t quite over until other potential replacements like Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers and Mark Martin have contracts somewhere else. Good finishes still have extra importance for the No. 20 right now.

When… will I be loved?

Early in the race, the majority of drivers involved in incidents had nobody to blame but themselves, as both David Ragan and Kyle Busch spun on their own. But as laps wound down, tempers heated up. Juan Pablo Montoya and Kasey Kahne got together, although Montoya’s spotter took blame for that one as he neglected to warn Montoya of Kahne’s presence to his outside. So who’s not feeling the love this week? How about two drivers responsible for six of the last seven Sprint Cup titles and who ought to know better?

Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson just couldn’t leave each other alone on the final laps. Johnson passed Busch. Busch came back on Johnson and rubbed the No. 48, so Johnson threw a block that shoved Busch halfway across the track. Busch took exception and sideswiped Johnson, then popping him in the bumper a couple of times. The two exchanged words post-race, the gist of which appeared to be “you’re a jerk.” “No, you are!” There has been no love lost between Busch and Johnson in recent years, but what is this, third grade?

Why… do people claim that a win in a rain-shortened race is somehow “undeserved?”

During the long red flag, the complaints started to fly on social media: if the race stopped, Logano just got lucky, didn’t deserve the win, and was a “two-hit wonder.” Really? The way I see it is that while nobody likes to see a race cut short, the man in front when the race ends is the winner… fair and square. That the race didn’t go the scheduled distance is irrelevant; the man in front won the race. It’s also silly to hypothesize whether or not so-and-so “would” have won had the event continued. The fact is, anything can happen in a race and the outcome is not written in stone until the checkered flag flies. Once it’s displayed, the man in front is the winner. It’s that simple.

How… did Brad Keselowski fare after fracturing his foot earlier this week?

If a driver wasn’t at his best after slamming a concrete wall at over 100 mph three days ago, it’s likely everybody would understand, right? Especially if that driver had a minor ankle fracture, lingering back pain, and the race was at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit. But Keselowski didn’t care about understanding and instead went out and won at Pocono. Having had a nearly identical fracture to Keselowski’s, I can tell you that’s no small thing. The fracture itself is the least of the problem; it’s a result of a ligament tear, and those things hurt like heck and take longer to heal than the fracture will. So to go out and win with the pain and subsequent weakness that type of injury produces is quite a feat. One that could take Keselowski into the championship hunt in five weeks, to boot.

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