Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Yellow Flags, Timely Contracts and Lost Enthusiasm

*ONE: Debris Will Decide This Championship*

The Jimmie Johnson/Brad Keselowski finish this past Sunday was a battle well worth watching, and an example of strategies battling it out. Paul Wolfe’s decision to trust his driver’s intuition and go with two tires late even as the rest of the field took four would have panned out sans the rash of cautions to close the event. But there’s no doubting that Chad Knaus considered that in choosing to put four tires on the No. 48 car. And that extra rubber allowed Johnson to build his biggest lead of the Chase at the track that nearly cost him title number five two years ago.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: O’Reilly Challenge

Although Kyle Busch showed flashes of his past dominance in NNS competition early at Texas, Kevin Harvick cruised to a relatively easy win in his final start of the season on Saturday, leading 127 of the 200 laps run. Ryan Blaney trimmed the margin of victory by more than two seconds during the final green-flag run but was unable to catch the No. 33, settling for a career-best runner-up finish. Polesitter Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 5 in this event dominated by Sprint Cup regulars.

Consistent Inconsistency: NASCAR’s Latest Licensing Episode

While the usual suspects will be battling for the win at Texas come Saturday’s Nationwide Series event, one driver that will not be there is Nur Ali. The driver who two weeks ago made history as the first Pakistani to start a Nationwide Series race was not approved to run Texas, with NASCAR sending Ali back to shorter tracks to garner more experience. A replacement for Rick Ware Racing’s No. 41 car remains to be named.

Of course, what else would one expect from NASCAR, the sanctioning body whose only consistency is inconsistency? If there’s one element of their governance that has proven the definition of subjective and impulsive, it’s with regard to competitors’ licenses.

5 Points to Ponder: Haloes, Half-a-Ride and an Historical Ending?

*ONE: ESPN’s “Miracle” Grasping at Straws*

Considering Martinsville was the hardest track left on the schedule for Brad Keselowski, given both his limited experience at the speedway and the strength of fellow title contender Jimmie Johnson’s setup at the paperclip oval, there was definitely a reason to celebrate finishing sixth on Sunday. Keselowski scored his career-best result there, kept heavyweight Johnson within two points despite giving up a win this late in the Chase, and even survived a late-race gamble to stay out that nearly backfired when all but two cars opted to take tires during the final cycle of pit stops.

Having said that, ESPN’s post-race interview was certainly making Keselowski’s performance out to be a bit more…dramatic…than it was. It was called the “Miracle At Martinsville,” all because Keselowski climbed from 32nd to finish sixth.

The No. 7 and the Risk of Backwards Development

My first visit to the Daytona International Speedway came as a writer in 2010. Though the weekend would eventually be defined by a pothole and the Daytona 500 going from day to night, entering Speedweeks the story was one Danica Patrick. Danica-mania was coming to NASCAR, to an extent that the ESPN broadcast booth and execs took questions in the media center regarding their coverage of her debut race.

Five Points to Ponder: Paving Potholes, Danica’s Dustup and Spec Cars

*ONE: Shutdown for Repaves*

Yes, it would pose an extreme economic hardship. Yes, it would require NASCAR to have a rotating schedule (shudder). But after watching the Midwest’s best impression of “Levigation 2005” render the Chase’s sixth race a never-ending train of blown tires, unassisted spin-outs and another fuel mileage race, I’d rather watch ISC’s facilities leave their racing surfaces alone until they crumble to powder than have them repave another oval. Goodyear’s tires were hard as rocks, yet they kept blowing out. Side-by-side racing caused spin-outs, the cars spun out by themselves, the yellow flags would not stop flying.

40 Cars to Freedom: Change is Coming for the 2013 Nationwide Series

It’d take an act of God to get this writer to declare that NASCAR has left the state of denial, but they did take a step in the right direction on the Nationwide Series front this week with the announcement that the field will be cut from 43 to 40 cars for the 2013 season. It’s been a change long overdue; though NASCAR’s AAA series has largely dodged short fields over the last eight months, the start-and-park entries filling the starting grids week after week have accounted for nearly 30% of those “full” fields.

Coupled with the return of testing, this week’s announced competition changes are absolutely radical alterations for the Nationwide Series, as 43-car fields have been the norm for a decade-plus. And even at only a three-car reduction, it will have an impact across the series. While it’s impossible to tell just how much of an impact this will have until the entry list for Daytona is released in February, it’s never too early to play a little fact or fiction.

For Once, It’s Jeff Gordon Who Needs to Bite His Tongue

When one thinks of NASCAR racers making stupid comments in press conferences, there’s no shortage of names that come to mind: Harvick, the Busches, Stewart, these names easily roll off the tongue. Then there’s the heat of the moment stupids such as Kevin Lepage insisting he did nothing wrong by merging into traffic at Talladega or Todd Bodine abdicating all responsibility for his actions at Daytona.

Enough of the Petulant Kurt Busch

So here’s a question. If Furniture Row Racing asks nicely, can they get Regan Smith back for a few more weeks? After all, the rumor mill is swirling that one Kurt Busch may be facing his second suspension of the 2012 season after the weekend’s race at Talladega. Busch, who got dumped in traffic after running out of fuel in the draft, ended up driving his wrecked car away from first responders, who not only had their equipment stashed on the roof of the wrecked machine, but were also visibly working and communicating inside the race car.

The Chase Favorite After Dover…Is Still Jimmie Johnson

The way things are being written, one would think Brad Keselowski was Miles the Monster himself after this weekend at Dover, a giant who smashed all before him in a decisive victory that left nothing in its wake. For those living under a rock on Sunday (and Monday), here’s a quick reminder; Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 was not the best car this race day. Brad did indeed blow by Jimmie Johnson for the lead…when the No. 48 was running at 80% throttle and the dominant JGR Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin fell victim to TRD’s awful fuel mileage. And yes, Brad did score his second win of the Chase, and in doing so built a mammoth five-point lead over Jimmie Johnson. Give that man the trophy.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: OneMain Financial 200

Just like the spring, Joey Logano emerged victorious in Nationwide competition at Dover. The only difference was this race was devoid of the close battle to the finish between he and teammate Ryan Truex. This one was never in doubt, with the No. 18 team leading 184 of the 200 laps run en route to his seventh victory of the 2012 season. Paul Menard, Michael Annett, Elliott Sadler, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 5.

Title Fight Better the Second Time Between Stenhouse, Sadler

Last year’s battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler was about as much entertainment as Nationwide Series fans had gotten in a decade. After five consecutive years of having the trophy bestowed upon a double dipping all-star with premier equipment, Cup pit crews and talent that had long proven ready to graduate to the Sprint Cup Series, finally the points battle had some suspense…and some fresh blood to boot.

This year, it’s only gotten better. With Cup involvement down, leading title contenders Stenhouse and Sadler have combined for nine race wins and proven among the class of the field for the vast majority of the season’s 27 events thus far. Not only is the battle for top of the charts close, it’s among drivers that are viable threats to win every weekend.