News & Media

Menzer: Breaking down fact vs. opinion in 2011 season

May 17, 2011, Joe Menzer,

Sometimes in NASCAR, as in life, it becomes necessary to separate fact from fiction -- or at least fact vs. opinion.

Here are five scenarios that require a little more scrutiny heading into a big two weeks of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

FACT: Matt Kenseth won Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway because he suggested to crew chief Jimmy Fennig taking two tires instead of four on his final pit stop with 37 laps remaining. Mark Martin finished second by staying out of the pits altogether as others who had dominated the race to that point -- namely Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer -- elected not only to pit but also to take the valuable extra time to put on the full complement of four fresh tires.

OPINION: Track position is everything these days, so why should anyone be surprised? While Edwards, Johnson and Bowyer figured they had time to move forward, there were too many cars between them and the new leaders. Kyle Busch, who also took four tires and lined up 12th for the final restart, said it best after passing six cars on the first green-flag lap en route to a fourth-place finish.

"We took four tires on that last [pit] stop and then we kind of worked our way up and passed most of those guys on the restart," Busch said. "You just had to get as much as you could right then and there on the first two laps of the restart because after that you were pretty much single-file."

FACT: Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick stayed far, far away from each other at Dover, despite their heated post-race confrontation a week earlier at Darlington -- when Harvick tried to punch Busch through the driver's side window of Busch's car and Busch responded by punching the gas and knocking Harvick's car out of the way on pit road. So in the short term, it looks like the penalties doled out to them by NASCAR ($25,000 fine apiece and probation for both until June 15, including this Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race) produced the intended good behavior.

"This isn't over. Drivers have long memories, and it's going to be a long, hot summer -- well after June 15. "


OPINION: This isn't over. Drivers have long memories, and it's going to be a long, hot summer -- well after June 15. The first time after probation when Harvick is a few laps down and Busch is running well, and close to him, look out. Of course, they're both good enough -- part of teams that are plenty good enough -- that they're rarely multiple laps down at any time. This spat still could cost one or the other a championship if the circumstances late in the season are ripe for reprisal, and Harvick still believes he owes Busch one. Plus if they tangle again, NASCAR very well might pull out the stops and dock them some points next time, which under this new system could critically injure their championship hopes. If one or the other already is out of the championship picture late, though, what's to stop them then?

FACT: Elliott Sadler's blue-collar sixth-place finish in Saturday's 5-Hour Energy 200 at Dover vaulted him to the top of the standings in the Nationwide Series. With six top-five finishes, he now has twice as many top-fives in the first 11 races than his nearest full-time Nationwide competitor.

OPINION: Sadler isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He was the preseason favorite to win the Nationwide championship, and he remains the top candidate to buck the trend and finally beat the Sprint Cup regulars to Victory Lane in the series. Remember also that he drives the Nationwide car for Kevin Harvick Inc., and Busch, although he isn't eligible for points in this championship battle, is closing in on the all-time record for wins in the junior series. Can you imagine what might happen if Busch finally has a bad day on the Nationwide side and, intentional or not, takes out Sadler and affects his and KHI's shot at a Nationwide championship? That could make the post-race Darlington scene look like a family picnic.

FACT: Johnny Sauter still leads the Camping World Truck Series standings, and remains the only points-collecting driver in either the Truck Series or the Nationwide circuit to visit Victory Lane this season.

OPINION: Some of the summer's best racing, as usual, is bound to occur between Truck regulars once the weather heats up. You think Ron Hornaday or Todd Bodine won't win a couple of races each before this is over? The fact that fewer Cup regulars invade the Truck Series helps, of course, but this championship battle and the fight for these non-Cuppers to get to Victory Lane is going to make this mighty interesting before it's over.

FACT: For the first time in a decade, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not guaranteed a spot in this Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race. His 10-year exemption for winning the event in 2000 is up, and the only other way to automatically qualify prior to Saturday is to win a points race sometime in the last season or the first 11 races of this one. He hasn't won since June of 2008 -- a stretch of 105 races.

OPINION: So what? The fans will vote him in. It will be a huge shock if anyone else gets voted in by them -- although Earnhardt said he plans to go all-out to qualify by excelling in the Sprint Showdown preliminary event. The top two finishers in that race advance to compete in the All-Star Race, so if Earnhardt can get in that way, someone else could get in on the fan vote. Otherwise, fuhgettaboutit ... the fans surely will take care of the winner of the Most Popular Driver award eight years running.