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5 Points To Ponder

5 Points to Ponder: Pit Problems, Waltrip Must Go, And Ethics Run Amok?

*ONE: Take a Breath, It's the Morning After* It was impossible not to be excited after Trevor Bayne scored one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history, charging towards the first Daytona 500 victory for the Wood Brothers since 1976 in only his second Cup start. A rip-roaring opening act to the 2011 season, the questions were soon flying: would Bayne move to Cup full-time after declaring for the Nationwide title? Would a $1.5 million payday move the Wood Brothers back to full-time racing? Let's all take a collective breath. Yes, Bayne effectively served notice that NASCAR has a new superstar in the making on Sunday. But talk of Cup championships, full-time campaigns and the like are all premature... as is any real discussion that Sunday marked a new era in NASCAR.

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5 Points to Ponder: Where Have All The Cars Gone? Hamlin Slowing?, More

*ONE: This Isn't 2010's Denny Hamlin* Just as he finished second to Jimmie Johnson in last year's Chase, the second most prevalent question this offseason behind 'Can Johnson win six titles in a row?' was 'Can Hamlin recreate the magic of 2010?' that saw him lead the Cup Series in race wins even after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery midseason. If the start to the very young 2011 season is any indication, the answer to the second question is no. Exhibit one was seen coming to the checkered flag on Saturday night. Hamlin, no stranger to taking care of business in this event (he won the Shootout as a rookie back in 2006), was in perfect position to steal a win from Ryan Newman...until he chose to make his final pass to the low side instead of going high. With the double yellow line leaving Hamlin's Toyota no room for error, all Newman had to do was pinch down, sending the No. 11 down onto the apron and out of contention for the win.

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5 Points to Ponder: Gordon Regroups, Two’s Trouble for Penske, Red Bull, And Nationwide’s Winless Champ?

*ONE: Jeff Gordon Will Return to Form in 2011* After trying since 2001, Hendrick Motorsports and even the No. 24 team made the “Drive For Five” a reality. Well, most of the No. 24 team anyway. Jeff Gordon may have gotten credit for an owner's championship, but it was instead protege Jimmie Johnson who scored driver's title number five at Homestead this past November, thanks to some timely help from Gordon's pit crew. 2010 was another solid if unspectacular year for Gordon, who despite making the Chase for the fifth consecutive season ended a disappointing campaign towards the back of the point standings and riding a winless streak stretching back to April of 2009, a span of some 65 races.

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Five Points to Ponder: Have At It, Boys … They Certainly Did

As someone who follows the Sprint Cup series with a pretty serious level of devotion -- it’s nigh on impossible to write a coherent weekly column if you don’t keep up, after all -- the final checkered flag of the season always comes as something of a rude shock. You see, after ten months of racing, the off-season, however short, feels just a smidgeon empty. Of course, those nearest and dearest to me won’t mind so much, as I’ll actually be able to plan my weekends around something else other than 43 like-minded maniacs driving three and a half ton cars to the limit of their capacities. But before we put to bed the 2010 season, it’s time for one final iteration of Five Points to Ponder: Championship style.

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5 Points to Ponder: Hamlin The Hunted, Pastrana/Patrick Peril, And To The Aggressor Go the Spoils

*ONE: I Was Wrong About Denny Hamlin* Fresh off what was admittedly an incredible performance at Martinsville in the spring that landed him a grandfather clock, I penned a column that Denny Hamlin - as impressive as his effort was the race prior to having knee surgery - had effectively ended his year by deciding to undergo such an invasive procedure midseason. To say Hamlin proved me wrong with his performance was an understatement. Only two races into his post-surgery run, he won at Texas. And despite having an injury that medical experts and writers alike concluded should have left the No. 11 team looking to 2011 as their next shot at a Cup title, the preseason favorite to unseat Jimmie Johnson now sits 400 miles from doing just that.

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Five Points To Ponder: It’s On, A Crew Chief’s Plea, And Dr. NASCAR Evil’s Biggest Mistake

_In the past decade or so, the preponderance of mile-and-a-half, “cookie-cutter” circuits added to the NASCAR docket has been the subject of much controversy and hand-wringing angst amongst the rank and file that fill the stands week-in, week-out. The argument goes that these races are little more than 500-mile processions, more dependent on aerodynamic factors than the actual innate ability of the wheelman to navigate the track. From time to time, that's certainly been the case, although let’s be fair; I don’t care what sport you like, not every game, match, race, etc. is going to be epic. Sport doesn’t work that way and frankly, nor should it. But give credit where credit is due because Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 was an absolute barnstormer of a race – an instant classic - some of the best competition we’ve had all year, without question. So let’s start this Tuesday’s edition of “Five Points to Ponder” with the big winner of the weekend: Chesterfield, Virginia’s very own Denny Hamlin and what his victory has meant in the 2010 championship Chase._

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5 Points to Ponder: EGR Keeps The Bowtie, The Not-So-Wild Card, and the Yellow Line Club

*ONE: Count on Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to Stick with Chevrolet* You can't blame Ford for trying. With the blood of Richard Petty Motorsports still floating in the water, the Blue Oval brigade has made an offer to the EGR camp that in terms of finances trumps the organization's current deal with Chevrolet. According to a "report":http://www.sirius-speedway.com/2010/11/ganassi-decision-on-ford-move-expected.html by Sirius Speedway, a spokesperson for the Ford Motor Company said, “the offer is on the table, and it's up to them whether or not to take it.”

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Five Points to Ponder: Ageless Wonders Join With Earnhardt For Martinsville Magic – Now Can It Last?

_There was plenty of chatter in the week leading up to Martinsville that even though the No. 11 and the No. 29 teams were mathematically close to the No. 48 in points, the season was already careening inevitably to a fifth straight Jimmie Johnson title triumph. Even with five races left, the thought was J.J. would do what he's done so often at the paperclip oval Sunday: dominate and pick up another maximum points day._ _Instead, Sunday afternoon on NASCAR’s smallest track restored matters some, Denny Hamlin closing ground while Johnson himself rightly pointed out on pit road during post-race interviews: “There’s a lot of racing left. And Talladega.” He's absolutely right. The three primary protagonists are now separated by a scant 62 points, with the 36-degree banks of the Alabama lottery madness looming large next Sunday afternoon, part of a Russian Roulette game that makes the 2010 Sprint Cup championship still oh so very definitely up for grabs. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise... and that’s where we’ll start this week’s Five Points To Ponder:_

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Five Points to Ponder: Labonte Parks Again, Hornish vs. Allgaier, And Bowyer’s Meaningless Win

*ONE: Clint Bowyer and RCR Have Done This Before* Clint Bowyer lived a Cup driver's dream that used to only be possible in the first week or two after Daytona -- win a race and go from 12th to second in points over the course of one dominant Sunday afternoon. But that's what happened at Loudon, where Bowyer had just enough fuel left in his tank to hold off Denny Hamlin and score a victory that saw him lead 177 laps en route to his second career win on the Magic Mile. Now, merely eight days after taking the green flag at Richmond, driving for his playoff life, Bowyer is a few positions on the race track away from taking the point lead. It's a great underdog story, the kind NASCAR wants to trumpet for its floundering playoff system.

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5 Points to Ponder: No Chase Drama? No Problem, Four Too Many for Hendrick, and Conway’s S&P

*ONE: No Chase Drama, No Problem* As the Sprint Cup Series headed to Richmond this past weekend for the final race to set the Chase field, ESPN and company were stretching every which way they could to make it sound like 12th-place Clint Bowyer was vulnerable. It was a cute storyline, for sure; but most everyone with a shade of common sense knew better. The reality is, as was demonstrated on Saturday night, none of his challengers ever had a ghost of a chance. Bowyer easily made the Chase, with 13th and 14th-place Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray never even factors throughout the 400-lap event.

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