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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Irwin Tools Night Race From Bristol

Looking for a different way to look at Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson breaks down what you should remember from 500 laps in Thunder Valley by asking the six basic questions learned in journalism school: Who, What, Where, When, Why And How. Here’s the list from her notebook after a weekend out in Bristol, Tenn.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Not only did Martin Truex Jr. finish second on Saturday night for his best finish of the year, he did it by holding off the best driver of his era for lap after lap in the process. Truex battled with Jeff Gordon for the second spot after getting passed by Brad Keselowski on the final restart, and he put on a clinic, holding Gordon off through every corner. Lapped traffic, clear sailing, it didn’t matter for Truex: his two fresh tires proved just as bit of a match for Gordon’s four. The original Four-Time tried every way he knew to get by Truex, save moving him out of the way, but Truex parried every move perfectly to hold onto the runner-up spot, his first at the Cup level since Michigan in August, 2007. Truex also bested his former best Bristol finish (11th) by nine spots as the result of his driving prowess on Saturday.

What… was THAT?

There are two sides to every story, and this week’s “huh?” actually goes to both sides of the same issue: pit road timing. After Gordon was beaten off pit road by Keselowski on the final stop, he complained that Keselowski had taken advantage of a somewhat antiquated system of timing the cars’ average time between marked segments on pit road rather than by actual speed at any given point.

Because of the location of his pit stall, Keselowski (and several other drivers as well) was able to go much faster than the posted pit road speed limit of 35 mph. The length of his pit stop within that same segment assured that he could not possibly go over the acceptable average – that allowed Keselowski to speed up and gain the advantage. To an extent, Gordon has a legit beef; surely, NASCAR could use a system that clocked a car’s actual speed along the entire length of pit road. That would penalize any car that breaks the speed limit at any point, eliminating the advantage of pit selection within a segment.

Honestly, while I do think NASCAR should go to that method of clocking speed, Gordon’s complaint smacked of sour grapes. Keselowski (and the others who figured out how to work the rule) followed the law as written. That Gordon’s team didn’t make their own pit selection in a way that they could find the same advantage is nobody’s fault but their own. Both sides are wrong on this one: NASCAR for creating a system that’s overcomplicated, and Gordon for complaining that he didn’t use it to his advantage.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

All in all, it was a good night for Ryan Newman. After winning the pole on Friday, Newman followed that performance with a very solid, albeit uneventful night. Newman finished eighth, solidly within the top 10, and more importantly further solidified his place inside the top 10 in points. Newman looks to be his team’s best shot at a championship this year, and Bristol could give the No. 39 team some momentum as the Chase looms.

When… will I be loved?

Note to drivers: when NASCAR told you to police yourselves, I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean that as a free license to take out anyone who you think might have possibly kind of, sort of done you wrong. Letting a guy know he’s on your last nerve because he just ran you over in a corner is OK. Letting a guy know that you didn’t like when he wrecked you is also more or less OK, provided you don’t do it on pit road – that’s never OK. However, please make sure that the guy you’re “policing” is actually in the wrong. Yes, I’m talking to you, Kyle Busch and David Stremme.

Busch was the first to strike in Wednesday’s CWTS race. Despite having video that clearly shows Busch was at fault in the first place after clipping the nose of Elliott Sadler, putting his own No. 18 in the wall, Busch rallied back and drove into Sadler’s truck anyway – causing extensive damage. Where it really got ugly was when Busch, after refusing to view the aforementioned video, accused Sadler of wrecking him intentionally because he drives for Kevin Harvick Inc. (Kevin Harvick and Busch have had a festering feud all year.) He failed to note that Sadler was not running for KHI at Bristol, and that Sadler didn’t wreck him. Perhaps he didn’t realize that Sadler wasn’t racing under the KHI banner and used the incident as a reason to take a shot at Harvick himself?

Then, on Saturday night, when David “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” Reutimann got a little loose under his No. 30, getting a small piece of the side, Stremme retaliated by taking out not only Reutimann, but also Paul Menard and Denny Hamlin. All three were able to continue, but there was no need for retaliation – the rub simply wasn’t intentional and didn’t harm Stremme in any way.

Why… not limit lower series races by Cup wins?

Since NASCAR is unwilling to limit Cup drivers to a certain number of Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series races, here’s a solution that allows a greater number of races for some drivers: simply prohibit any driver who is declared for Cup points from racing in a lower series at any track where he has a Cup win. This allows the Cup drivers who want to improve at a certain track because they haven’t won there to do so, while it allows young drivers who are often rushed into Cup too fast to gain seat time. What is does not do is allow the Cup regulars to cherry-pick their best tracks for Nationwide or Truck races. The better a driver gets, the more limited he is in where he can run. Fans of those drivers would know in advance exactly where they could go to see their favorite race. And face it, if any driver was willing to sandbag a Cup race so he could run Nationwide at a certain track, he doesn’t deserve to be in Cup, anyway. It could be a win-win situation all the way around.

How… is the Chase field shaping up with two races to go?

Not much has changed since last week, except that Clint Bowyer may have written himself out of contention after a miserable race in which he could have capitalized on an equally awful event by 10th-place Tony Stewart. Dale Earnhardt Jr. did capitalize and will make the show barring a major meltdown; he’s ninth in the standings, nearly a full race worth of points up on both Bowyer and Keselowski. Stewart also holds a 20-point advantage over 11th-place Keselowski, who will take a “wild-card” spot. Hamlin currently holds the other wild card.

If Keselowski should make it past Stewart, into the top 10, Hamlin and Menard would hold those spots; but both David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose are within four markers of Menard, so there could be a little heat in that part of the pack. With Atlanta on tap, Greg Biffle also has a shot at an 11th-hour bid. On the other end of the spectrum, both Busch and Jimmie Johnson locked themselves in after Bristol, along with Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. Realistically, so did everyone in the top 10, barring disaster for Stewart.