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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2012 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky

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

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

After an unscheduled pit stop on lap 53, it looked like Kentucky was going to be one hot headache for Kasey Kahne as the No. 5 was thrown off pit sequence. Kahne was in the process of moving forward from his 19th-place starting spot when the stop put him in the back of the pack; he was recorded in 34th place on lap 60. But the driver never once rolled over, able to get back on the lead lap through some timely caution flags. By lap 195, he had driven all the way up to 11th and suddenly, Kahne was a man on a mission. 30 laps later, he was eighth, the fastest car on the track and seemingly running on rails. As the laps wound down, this car only got better, and by the time the last green-flag run came along, it was mowing down competitors at the front of the field — Kahne was second by the checkered flag.

Kahne’s recent results are a far cry from the beginning of 2012, when he was in danger of falling out of the top 35 in owner points after four races. In fact, after Saturday night’s statement, one in which Kahne led a Hendrick Motorsports charge that saw all four HMS cars in the top six on the final results sheet, Kahne also finds himself in another sweet spot — the second “wild-card” spot in the Chase. While that could certainly change in the next nine weeks, it’s a far cry from the Kahne for whom it looked like the 2012 Chase was an impossibility.

What… was THAT?

The big double take of the weekend came after Friday night’s Nationwide Series race. The winner’s interview with rookie Austin Dillon, who dominated the event, was over and all seemed well for Richard Childress Racing and his iconic No. 3 car. That is, of course, until a NASCAR spokesperson picked up the microphone a few moments later. Usually, that speaker is just a formality – the sanctioning body assures the media that everyone has cleared postrace inspection. But Friday night, NASCAR announced a major issue: Dillon’s No. 3 was found too low in the rear. Penalties are likely.

Except, perhaps, the one penalty that should come down.

Dillon will almost certainly lose his newly-gained points lead, and there will probably be monetary fines, which are standard in these cases. But then it gets difficult to understand. Early reports from the media center suggested that there will be no suspension of crew chief Danny Stockman, even though Stockman is currently on probation for an earlier violation in which the factory-specified upper nose of the car was altered (a giant no-no in the NASCAR rulebook). Huh? There’s no penalty for Stockman after Dillon’s car failed post-race tech on probation? What explanation is there for that? Bob Pockrass tried to provide one, posting the following shortly after the penalty was announced:

Wait, what? Apparently because the technical violation was not in the same area of the car, Stockman may be off the hook? Hang on there. Kurt Busch just served a one-race suspension for breaking a NASCAR rule while on probation… for an incident totally different than the one that got him the probation. And while I stood squarely in NASCAR’s court on that one precisely because Busch was on probation, well, aren’t technical violations found on the racecar, which could have given the team an advantage on the track, worse than what Busch did to earn his week off?

Hopefully after taking a stand with Busch, NASCAR will change their past actions and stay consistent. Stockman should receive a suspension for his actions because NASCAR drew the line in the sand themselves on probation. Hopefully, the sanctioning body won’t back off that stance now. If they don’t… then they’re practicing a double standard.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

For awhile, it looked like typical Jimmie Johnson on an intermediate track: stalk the leaders from within the top five and then make a move to the front in the second half, never looking back en route to yet another win. But it didn’t quite turn out that way. On the final restart of the night, Johnson didn’t get his tires clean enough and twice slid up the track as cars poured past. Five-Time recovered, though and was able to drive back to sixth place by the time the checkers fell.

Despite his bad luck and those scary moments, Johnson also gained a spot in points, moving around Greg Biffle into third place. With Matt Kenseth’s “lame-duck” status, Johnson and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. are putting themselves in place as the favorites for a possible title battle this fall.

When… will I be loved?

Sometimes, Karma just bites. This week saw Ryan Newman drive into the villain’s role when he pile-drove the right rear corner of the No. 20 on lap 161. Newman’s shot turned Joey Logano into the right-front wheel of the No. 15 of Clint Bowyer. Logano was able to right his car without wrecking Bowyer, but it wasn’t pretty, and as Sliced Bread said on his team radio, “that doesn’t do me any good.” Logano has certainly been the villain in his own right lately, but Saturday night he and Bowyer were giving each other plenty of racing room as they came off turn 4. Unfortunately, the pair was holding Newman up, and the Stewart-Haas driver appeared to take umbrage. The hit to Logano’s bumper certainly looked to be intentional, plus completely unnecessary for that point in the race.

But that was when Newman’s luck changed. 49 laps later, his night ended with an engine failure, relegating him to a 34th-place finish. Logano went on to finish 22nd and Bowyer came home 16th. Newman also lost two spots in the standings, falling to 15th and 74 points behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski. That’s the biggest blow to Newman, who also now sits behind Kasey Kahne for the second “wild-card” Chase berth. Sometimes, crime doesn’t pay…

Why… does Bruton Smith want to see mandatory cautions in every race?

Bruton Smith, who owns Speedway Motorsports Inc., the umbrella company that operates several of the tracks on NASCAR’s national touring schedules, says that he wants NASCAR to throw mandatory cautions, also known as competition cautions, during races. First reported by ESPN, Smith claims the cautions would make the racing more exciting for fans by tightening up the field and giving drivers more chances to pass (and, let’s face it, more chances to crash). Smith claims that if there are no cautions, “it ruins the event.”

Um, not exactly. If there’s anything worse than having to suffer through a broadcast where a driver is running away with the race, paired with the network not taking the cameras off him long enough to show the rest of the field, it’s the “debris” cautions that NASCAR throws when that’s happening, when fans can clearly see that the debris is non-existent or non-threatening. At best, those cautions are an attempt to manipulate the race. At worst, they rob a team that clearly deserved to win (and would have if the race had stayed green) of that victory.

Does NASCAR really need to provide scheduled cautions to make the racing more exciting? The sanctioning body didn’t resort to fakery in the years when it was common for the race winner to be on his own lap – and to do so now would be nothing but a cheap attempt to draw back fans that have drifted away for reasons that have nothing to do with NASCAR not manipulating the races to their liking. In fact, it’s probably the opposite, in many cases. The root of the problem is the Chase, not the lack of pseudo-cautions. Even the bonus points for winning don’t override the need to make the playoffs for many teams. If NASCAR needs to make the racing better for fans, they need to get rid of the ways in which they already manipulate racing and the championship, such as the Chase and the Top-35 rule. The last thing the sport needs is more manufactured gimmicks.

How… did the little guys do in Kentucky?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the lack of coverage of the smaller one- and two-car teams. I can’t do anything about the networks, but I can make sure some of the smaller teams get a mention here. Here are the best of them, in the order of the team’s highest finisher. Race fans, let me know if you’d like this feature to become a regular part of this column!

BK Racing (Burger King Toyotas): Travis Kvapil finished 17th, on the lead lap; Landon Cassill finished 25th, one lap down. Kvapil’s result was his best on an unrestricted track this season.
Germain Racing (Valvoline Ford): Casey Mears finished 18th, on the lead lap. This single-car team has now posted three straight top-20 finishes after having just one in the season’s first 14 races.
Phoenix Racing (Phoenix Construction Chevy): Kurt Busch finished 19th, posting back-to-back lead-lap finishes for the first time driving the No. 51.
Tommy Baldwin Racing (TMone Chevy): David Reutimann finished 23rd, one lap down in one of his better runs driving the No. 10. Dave Blaney (SealWrap Chevy) finished 35th with a blown engine.
JTG Daugherty Racing (Scott Products Toyota): Bobby Labonte finished 27th, two laps down and remains without a top-15 finish since February’s Daytona 500 (14th).
Front Row Motorsports (Taco Bell Ford): David Gilliland finished 28th, two laps down; David Ragan (Front Row Ford) finished 29th, four laps down. Neither team has run inside the top 20 this season outside of Talladega.
FAS Lane Racing (Federated Auto Parts Ford): Ken Schrader finished 31st, five laps down continuing the slump for the No. 32. Frank Stoddard’s team, using a “round robin” of different drivers hasn’t run better than 28th since Phoenix in February.
Furniture Row Racing (Furniture Row Chevy): Regan Smith finished 33rd after getting caught up in a wreck; it’s his third straight finish outside the top 25. Remember, Smith is in a contract year…