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5 Points To Ponder

Five Points to Ponder: Empty Seats And No Bump & Run? Are We In Bristol Anymore?

*ONE: Bristol Goes From Coliseum to Cavern* Estimates that 120,000 fans were in the stands at Bristol Motor Speedway this past Sunday were gross exaggerations. Maybe, between the Nationwide and Cup races combined, there were 120,000-130,000. But any talk of six digit attendance figures for this event are figments of someone's imagination... that, or the usual deliberate attempt to conceal just how many people stayed home. The downturn from just a year ago is shocking. Taking a conservative estimate of 125,000 for last year's spring race, and comparing it to the 80,000 or so that I believed were present on Sunday... that's a one-year decline of 36%. It was depressing to witness in person, especially considering the history of this track, whose waiting list for suites and tickets just a few seasons ago rivaled even the Washington Redskins' season ticket list in their heyday.

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5 Points to Ponder Special: Jennifer Jo Cobb & The Nationwide Race

*1: The Jennifer Jo Cobb situation* To say that Rick Russell and the 2nd Chance Motorsports operation exrienced nothing short of an all-out mutiny at Bristol Saturday is an understatement. To explain the whole messy situation, Cobb was pulled out of the car at Fontana and ten minutes before race-time for Saturday's Scotts E-Z Seed 300, she was told she would be parking the car. This, according to Cobb, breached her contract with the team and she immediately walked away from the team. Not only did Cobb walk away, but her crew, her crew chief, and her PR representative all left the team as well. With no crew, 2nd Chance Motorsports was originally not allowed to run on the track. But after they procured the services of Chris Lawson and a crew that was basically patched together at the last moment, they parked the car after four laps.

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5 Points to Ponder: Underdog Encores For Brian & Kenny? And Why Bristol Holds The Key To 2011

*ONE: Will Brian Keselowski Make Another Cup Race?* This sport has a way of humbling even its greatest stories in a big-time hurry. While Trevor Bayne made headlines in Phoenix by wrecking in Cup practice, suffering a hard crash in Nationwide competition courtesy of a blown tire and then wrecking his Cup car early on Sunday the week after winning the Daytona 500, Speedweeks' other big story was nowhere to be seen... except on the trailer headed home. Brian Keselowski, the Cinderella story of the Gatorade Duels, was the slowest of 44 cars; the lone man to DNQ repeated the feat a week later in Las Vegas, turning a promising rookie start into an ugly dose of underdog reality on the Cup circuit.

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Five Points to Ponder SPECIAL EDITION: Too Tough To Tame 200

*ONE: Old-School Track Exposes New-Fangled Rules Flaws* For no other feasible reason than to ensure that a doubleheader of 125-mile Truck and ARCA races at Pocono could fit into a compressed window for the SPEED channel or doubting the attention span of the average hardcore race fan that actually watches qualifying is capable of handling only one truck being on track at a time on the tricky triangle, NASCAR decided last year to compress qualifying for the trucks, having more than one on track at a given time.

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Five Points to Ponder: Keselowski Crawling, Rising Ratings, And Judging Martin’s Win Total

*ONE: Monetary Woes Are Getting to Robby Gordon* Though the No. 7 car has been painted for each of the first three races of the 2011 season, and Gordon has been reported to have sponsorship through the early spring for his Cup entries, any doubt that finances were very much an issue for the Robby Gordon Motorsports operation were laid to rest this past weekend in Las Vegas, both on the track and off. For the third weekend in a row, the No. 7 car was involved in an on-track incident...and for the second straight time, it was a spin on his own. For all of his aggression, Gordon's car control has never been questioned. But both at Phoenix and now Vegas, Gordon has been involved in spins that seem almost as if the driver is distracted behind the wheel, having a difficult time getting into a groove in the afternoon's event.

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Five Points to Ponder: Angry Vickers, And ESPN Wasn’t Joking Around, Either

Based on the replays, there was some contact between Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers on lap 67, moments before Vickers' Toyota went spinning and triggered a wreck on the backstretch that took out over a dozen cars, including the second for the No. 83 team in as many weeks into Vickers' return to Cup tour. Based on those same plays, there is little, if any, evidence to justify the type of anger that Vickers unleashed towards Kenseth in his post-wreck remarks; Vickers cited the driver of the No. 17 for wrecking him while promising retaliation. No one can blame Vickers for being frustrated that his return to the Red Bull Racing team he helped build from the ground up after a long bout with blood clots has gotten off to such a slow start.

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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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