5 Questions After ... Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400

Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kyle Busch is only the second driver with multiple wins this season, continuing a season with amazing competition and unpredictability. Oh sure, predicting Kyle Busch would win Richmond wasn’t exactly difficult but there are many reasons for fans to have enjoyed 2011. Richmond created even more highlight reels, some of which can’t be played on cable television!

Here are some questions on my mind heading into the weekend…

Is Denny Hamlin “back”? … After enjoying an incredible season in 2010 - winning eight races and finishing second in points to none other than Jimmie Johnson - Hamlin was undoubtedly the championship favorite heading into 2011.

Only he didn’t live up to those expectations. Heading into Richmond - Hamlin's home track - he was 17th in points with only one top-10 finish through eight races. While he was strong at Martinsville, Hamlin had remained largely unnoticed and flown under the radar which was something unexpected from such a championship caliber team last season.

However, Saturday night’s race in Richmond showed a changing of the tides with Hamlin falling short of the victory to teammate Kyle Busch by less than two seconds. He also led the second most amount of laps (Hamlin led 38, Busch led 235) and almost pulled off the weekend sweep.  He won his charity event the “Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown” on Thursday night and the Nationwide Series race on Friday night.

“We know when we come to these racetracks we're going to be contenders for a win,” said Hamlin. “I never even thought about one struggle that we had earlier in the year when we come here to Richmond. It's like, Okay, we should win, regardless of what's happened, how bad we ran up until this point. You forget about all that when you go to a racetrack that you have a lot of success. Hopefully this is the point in which we turn it around.”

Time will only tell.

What should NASCAR do about the Ryan Newman/Juan Pablo Montoya scuffle? … Nothing. At the most, a warning to Montoya since putting drivers at risk isn’t exactly something NASCAR should encourage.

However, there’s no reason “Boys, have at it” shouldn’t continue just as it did in 2010 with NASCAR allowing the drivers to self-police the action on the track and only stepping in when absolutely necessary (phantom debris cautions notwithstanding).

In case you missed it, approximately 200 laps, Newman attempted to pass Montoya on the high side heading into turn one, hooked his right rear bumper and sent Montoya into the wall. Montoya was obviously none too happy after the damage ruined what was already a promising night after the former F1 driver put it on the pole for the evening. On Lap 238, Montoya mimicked the incident between him and Newman before hooking Newman’s right rear fender in Turns 3 and 4 sending him spinning back through the field. Kurt Busch was an innocent victim in the incident, suffering some nose damage in what was already a miserable night for him.

Over the scanner, Newman told his team, “I’ll take care of it after the race.” Apparently “taking care of it” means running to NASCAR as Newman walked right by the No. 42 hauler and went to the NASCAR hauler to discuss the incident. Montoya left the garage area in a golf cart faster than you can say, “Hello Newman!” - leaving without saying a word to anyone.

It was honestly a disappointing ending to what was shaping up to be a very heated “discussion” (though some hoped it would be more than that). It’s been a while since we’ve had a truly enjoyable “have at it” moment and Richmond would have been the perfect place to see it happen.

Hey, there’s always Darlington!

Why were drivers so hard on their teams on Saturday night? … Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch were the biggest offenders of some of the best (or worst - depending on whether or not you are a member of the team) scanner communications at Richmond with Truex firing his entire pit crew after a problem with the lug nut forced him back onto pit road during a green flag stop and THEN getting nabbed with a speeding penalty.

I have to say that had to have been a major kick in the gut after Truex had spent a large portion of the race running with the leaders. I’m putting this nicely but Truex came over the radio after the penalty and said, “You’re fired! Everyone (bleepity bleep) one of you!”

It was much more colorful than that but you get the gist.

Kurt Busch’s scanner made Truex’s ranting and raving sound like an innocent nursery rhyme, though. Saying Busch and his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil team struggled mightily would be putting it nicely.

Busch put it not-so-nicely and I’m going to tone it down as much as possible:

“We look like a monkey _______ a coconut out here!”

You fill in the blank.

My goodness. Short track races make drivers so moody!

Should Busch skip more Nationwide Series races? … Aside from those that don’t like Sprint Cup Series drivers in the Nationwide Series who basically say things like this all the time - those who have analyzed Busch’s career usually seem to agree on one thing: he needs to focus more on the Cup Series.

I haven’t always been a huge advocate of this since Busch has been dominant across all three series at any given time in the past with no problem. However, when push comes to shove during the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Busch usually fades on the Cup side while continuing to knock out wins in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

Busch’s second win of the season came on Saturday night, skipping out on the Nationwide Series race after Kelly Bires took over his ride with a special sponsor deal between Bires and Joe Gibbs Racing.

 “It was killer, man,” said Busch on skipping the Nationwide Series race. “It was painful. I'm telling you. I didn't have anything to do. I was kind of lost. I kept looking around. Man, what's next on my schedule? Where am I supposed to be right now? I swore I was forgetting something.”

Busch currently has eight wins across all three series, not skipping a beat on any given weekend. Saturday’s win was Busch’s third spring Richmond race win in a row - continually giving himself awesome birthday presents every year (Busch turned 26 on Monday).

Busch’s previous Sprint Cup Series win came in Bristol, where he has won the past five national series races.

I’m more convinced that Busch’s dominance (or lack thereof) is more track specific rather than a focus issue, but I’d be curious to see how well Busch could do in Cup with that being his only focus.

Why are there still racetracks without S.A.F.E.R. barriers on parts of the track? … Poor Jeff Gordon. He always finds the spots on the track without SAFER barriers, usually hitting the wall with tremendous force.

What frustrates me the most about this issue is that the tracks actually wait for something to happen before they react to it. For instance, Gordon hit the inside retaining wall on the backstretch extremely hard last Saturday - on the driver’s side no less. He walked away unscathed but admitted later that the hit knocked the wind out of him. Thank God NASCAR has worked so hard on the safety of the cockpit of the car or we may have had another major injury or worse.

Parts of the track are apparently not equipped with the SAFER (Steal and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers because they aren’t considered danger spots, it’s inconvenient or too expensive.

I just don’t see how you can put a price on safety in this sport, hopefully in the near future some of these track owners will get their head out of the sand and make sure the entire racetrack is safe.

Bonus Questions: Is a “bored” Kyle Busch really a good thing? … How fast was Montoya’s getaway speed? … Has Truex rehired his pit crew yet?
5 Questions After ... Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 5 Questions After ... Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 Reviewed by Summer Dreyer on Tuesday, May 03, 2011 Rating: 5