Race Weekend Central

Four Burning Questions: How Much Is Denny Showing His Hand? Wild Cards & More

*Regardless of who gets in on the wild card spot, does it really matter?*

Love it or hate it, the wild card race has been the main focus both last year and this year when Richmond rolls around. Introduced to the series at the beginning of 2011, it made wins the most important thing to getting in the Chase for those who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance. Awesome, right?

Sort of. Yes, of course it’s great to have the focus on winning. But have we ever considered there is a reason those drivers aren’t there in the first place?

Four Burning Questions: Wild Cards and Rivalries

*Is it realistic to think that a wild card hopeful will beat a championship contender this week in Atlanta?*

Just look at the variety of drivers who could potentially snag a wild card spot with a win this weekend. While it wouldn’t necessarily be a lock, Atlanta will almost serve as a last ditch effort for drivers like Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards. Sure Richmond is always there, but if Atlanta slips through their hands, a win at Richmond might not even be an option.

In actuality, Edwards and Gordon are probably thrilled that they’re racing in Atlanta this weekend judging by their statistics. With three wins for Edwards and five for Gordon in 14 and 38 races, respectively, it’s not at all unlikely that either of these drivers could find a victory and maybe get inside the Chase.

Four Burning Questions: Bristol Blunders and Walking Away

*Will fans be pleased regardless of how the race plays out at Bristol?*

If you use Bristol’s 40% figure when they decided to reconfigure the track _back_ to where it was before the first one, you’ll see that those fans were in the minority. Yet the track decided to spend millions of dollars to try and reverse time and get fans back in the stands.

Well if Wednesday night’s Truck Series race was any indication, it didn’t do anything like that. There was plenty of side-by-side racing to be found – heck, we even saw three wide on many occasions! At Bristol!

Four Burning Questions: New Standards and Clinch Scenarios

*Has NASCAR inadvertently set a standard for itself?*

The lack of a call on the final lap of last week’s race at Watkins Glen has a debate roaring in the NASCAR community, and as such may have changed expectations. See, even if NASCAR couldn’t see the oil, the fact that they let the race play out on the final lap even though it was pretty obvious that something was going on speaks volumes.

So what happens if, say, someone blows an engine, runs out of gas, or cuts a tire on the final lap this weekend at Michigan? The fans will fully expect NASCAR to leave the race green. Unless there is a very serious wreck, it will just be an expectation simply because of what happened last week.

Four Burning Questions: Stormy Days and Peer Sympathy

*Does Watkins Glen determine the Chase field?*

Up until the wild card shake-up that was Pocono Raceway, I was sure that the 12 that were in “as of now” would stay that way until the points were reset after Richmond. Jeff Gordon seemed too far gone to make it happen and no one else was competitive enough to beat Kyle Busch or Kasey Kahne.

Four Burning Questions: Second Chances and Championship “Favorites”

*What happens now with … Sam Hornish, Jr.?*

I would talk about AJ Allmendinger, but that horse has already been beat to death. Sure it’s possible we’ll see him in NASCAR again, but it’s not likely. Even if he does find a ride after he’s finished with the Road to Recovery program, it likely won’t be with a ride anywhere near the caliber of Penske Racing. Open wheel rumors abound, and that looks to be his best option.

Four Burning Questions: Distractions and Additions

*What happens at Penske Racing from here on out?*

The suspension of AJ Allmendinger due to a failed drug test has been a gigantic distraction for the race team. You can argue with me all day, but you cannot convince me that _two_ negative tests and the waiting around in between the two hasn’t at least provided some uneasiness in the Penske camp.

Sam Hornish Jr. will compete in at least the next two races, though Penske has yet to announce what will happen after that. While Allmendinger has agreed to go through NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program, that process is at least five months in the making and Allmendinger’s contract with Penske was up at the end of the year.

Four Burning Questions: New Crew Chiefs and Old Stereotypes

The thing is, I doubt if Norris can really make a difference. With only seven races left until the Chase is set, unless Norris and Edwards have an instantaneous chemistry tantamount to that of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, we likely won’t see a change.

Here’s the thing. Edwards is already 46 points out of the Chase—basically an entire race—and is continuing to slide. With an already uphill battle to climb, and a glaring goose egg in the “wins” column, without a miracle fuel mileage or rain victory, it’s looking less and less likely that we’ll see the 2011 runner-up to the championship in this year’s playoffs.

Four Burning Questions: Military Sponsorships and Chase Hopefuls

*How big of a distraction will the A.J. Allmendinger debacle be for Penske Racing?*

Now that we’ve had a few days for the shock of Allmendinger’s suspension to wear off, it’s time to start looking ahead. While we don’t know for sure what is going to happen to Allmendinger long term, we do know that Sam Hornish Jr. is once again filling in this weekend in New Hampshire.