NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 AAA Texas 500

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

There was a lot of shuffling at the top on Sunday, but in the end, Martin Truex Jr. had what may be the quietest top 10 of all. Truex wasn’t a contender for the win, but he had a good, solid car, stayed out of trouble, and got a great eighth-place finish when it counted. Can’t argue with that, especially when the driver has scored three straight top-10 results for the first time in two years with Michael Waltrip Racing. Just how long has this drought been for Truex? Longer than you think. The last time he had three straight runs of 10th or better was during the final three season-ending races of 2007.

What… was THAT?

It appears that NASCAR has drawn the line in the sand on their “Boys, Have At It” policy this weekend, ultimately resulting in Kyle Busch watching the Sprint Cup race from his pit box instead of driving in it. Busch was parked for the weekend following an incident Friday night during the Truck Series race. The penalty was justified, and it appears that NASCAR is going to take a much harder line when a driver deliberately turns another one under caution.

Does that mean that green-flag incidents will be overlooked? It’s hard to say, but consider that Carl Edwards was penalized, but not parked, for a green-flag incident at Atlanta last year in which he came back from the garage under green to wreck Brad Keselowski. The incident was especially frightening because Keselowski’s car got airborne and flipped, putting both himself and fans at risk against the stability of the catchfence.

That difference in consequences, certainly makes it look as if the defining line is whether an incident occurs under the green or yellow flag. Whether Edwards should have been parked the following week for that incident (as many, including I, believe he should have been), it doesn’t change the fact that the call on Busch was the right thing to do. Hopefully, from here on out, the sanctioning body will be a bit more consistent in policing the sport.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

2011 just hasn’t been Greg Biffle’s year. A championship favorite in years past, Biffle missed the Chase and hasn’t won a single race all year, making him the only winless driver within the Roush Fenway stable. Sunday was no exception to this rule; despite winning the pole, Biffle quickly fell back with handling woes. He was in and out of the top 10, but never a threat to win, finally ending up a solid fifth at a track he used to contend for victory. For Biffle, 2011 is a bitter pill to swallow.

When… will I be loved?

Texas was about as clean as a stock car race gets. It didn’t come down to fuel mileage. There was no big villain, which left me to contemplate the Chase itself. It’s a strange one, coming down to a driver who has won four races in eight weeks and another who has won just once all season and not at all in nine months. If you don’t like the Chase system, the idea of a champion not winning the title by playing NASCAR’s system has to be appealing. But does it make it harder to wish that when the same driver has stroked his way through most of the Chase, points racing?

The issue just gets more confusing the longer you look at it. On the one hand, it’s hard to argue that the driver with four wins in eight weeks isn’t flat earning a championship under the points system he has to work with. But with five second-place finishes, Edwards is certainly not stroking; however, winning is the end goal. At the same time, should a winless driver as of Richmond, which Stewart was even be in the Chase to begin with? There are no easy answers here. Either way, at least this argument makes the end of the year entertaining in a different way than the last couple of seasons.

Why… is Richard Petty smiling?

A year ago, the future of Richard Petty Motorsports was looking bleak. The team had unpaid bills and Roush Fenway, who supplies their race cars, had threatened to cut them off if the bills weren’t paid. The future for the next week was shaky, let alone 2011. Marcos Ambrose and AJ Allmendinger had contracts, just little guarantee of a job. But Petty went out on a limb and found the investors he needed to keep the team going, earning greater control of the operation as well. In 2011, that’s led to the team showing drastic improvement. Allmendinger contended for a wild card chase berth, Ambrose won his first Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, and both drivers are inside the top 20 in points. Sunday, Allmendinger and Ambrose finished 10th and 11th, respectively, and the organization appears healthy, with solid sponsorship. It’s once again good to be the King.

How… is the championship picture developing with just two races to go?

It’s probably safe to write off anyone not named Edwards or Tony Stewart at this point. And between the two, it’s still almost impossible to call. Based on momentum and his slightly better numbers at Phoenix, along with his previous championship experience, it’s hard to write off Stewart despite the three-point deficit. On the other hand, Edwards is the points leader, has contended before, and his numbers edge Stewart’s at Homestead. What it may come down to is the driver with a mental advantage, and that could be where Stewart has a small edge. Edwards is hungry; he wants to win. But Stewart knows how to win, and winning only makes a driver want to win more. Hang on to your hats; this could be a good one!

Meanwhile, on Sunday Denny Hamlin, Busch and Ryan Newman were quietly and mathematically eliminated from winning this year. In reality, barring disaster for the top two, everyone else might as well have been eliminated with them.

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