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?
The late-race focus might have been on Tony Stewart and his battle with Jimmie Johnson for the win, but Stewart has to be extra happy after this one since teammate Ryan Newman managed to quietly move through the late fracas and grab a fourth-place finish with his own Stewart-Haas Racing car. Newman flew in under the radar, weaving among the Roush Fenway triumvirate who had been fighting amongst themselves and stole the show – along with a top-five finish in the process.
What… was THAT?
There are lots of ridiculous things in NASCAR, but this week, how about two of the Nationwide Series’ Most Popular Drivers facing sitting at home through lack of funding? It’s hard to figure what drives companies to get into the sport anymore, and even harder to figure why they choose the teams they back sometimes. Both Trevor Bayne and Kenny Wallace are winning drivers with large fanbases, yet both face the reality of sitting out because the sponsors just aren’t signing on the dotted line. Both are winners, and Wallace is a three-time NNS Most Popular Driver to boot. Wallace finished in the top 10 in points last year with an underfunded team, and Bayne battled back from Lyme Disease to win at Texas last fall… not to mention capturing a little race called the Daytona 500 somewhere along the line. While the economy is somewhat to blame, there are lesser teams and drivers with backing. That begs the question: what gives?
Where… did the polesitter wind up?
Kasey Kahne had a fast machine all weekend, sitting on the pole for Sunday’s race, but the No. 5 was never quite good enough when it counted. Kahne never led a lap despite starting on point, plus, a late-race dust-up with Matt Kenseth while jockeying for position on the final restart cost Kahne some spots, relegating the newest member of the Hendrick Motorsports clan to a 19th-place finish. It’s the third “wreck” Kahne has been involved in this season, relegating him to well outside the top 20 in Sprint Cup points.
When… will I be loved?
For the third straight week, the electronic fuel injection system caused teams fits. This week, fuel pressure issues ruined Brad Keselowski’s and AJ Allmendinger’s chances for a good finish, coming on the heels of Stewart’s issues trying to restart the car under caution at Phoenix and several cars having pick-up issues at Daytona. Sure, bugs are to be expected with the new system, but NASCAR needs to be more proactive now that there are known issues. Part of the solution should be allowing the teams some test sessions. A multiple-day open test could easily be held at Charlotte, creating the least expense for the teams as most are located in the immediate vicinity, and Charlotte is a logical choice anyway as a high-speed intermediate. In addition, giving each owner one test session at any track would allow all teams some leeway to figure out major concerns. There is a known, recurrent issue… it’s NASCAR’s responsibility to help teams find the fix.
Why… was Las Vegas possibly the most important race so far in 2012?
With the Daytona 500 being the one points race where going all out for the win supersedes the points battle (not to mention a typical restrictor plate crapshoot), and Phoenix being a totally unique racetrack that teams will visit only one more time this year, it’s Las Vegas that gives the first real hint at which teams might have what it takes for a title. With the plethora of 1.5-2-mile speedways on the schedule, the way to the Chase is paved with good finishes on the intermediate tracks. In addition, these are the races that separate the teams who will run strong and stay in the coveted Top 35 in owner points from those whose programs are still weak. It may be a cookie-cutter, but Vegas will give the first clues to how the cookies will crumble this year. Game on.
How… many tracks hasn’t Stewart won at?
As of now… just two. Stewart enjoyed his first Las Vegas victory on Sunday, leaving unfinished business at just two of the tracks currently on the Sprint Cup schedule. One of those is Kentucky Speedway, which as hosted just one Cup race to date, but the other is a bit of a surprise. Despite being one of the most talented drivers in the sport, Stewart has yet to hoist a trophy in salute of the Lady in Black, Darlington Raceway. It’s a track that suits Stewart and his aggressive driving style, yet the three-time champion is 0-for-19 in his starts. It’s called the Track Too Tough to Tame… but it’s hard to believe that Stewart hasn’t been able to at least appease the Lady for one weekend. Stewart also never won an event at the then-North Carolina Speedway, but that track is no longer on the Sprint Cup schedule. That leaves Stewart and Jeff Gordon as the only two full-time drivers with no more than a pair of tracks left to conquer in their careers.