The Kansas sun was relentless during Sunday's 400 miles, but Brad Keselowski figured out that spraying mass-produced light beer in victory lane was the ticket to happiness. Here's a bit on everything from NASCAR's Kansas weekend that was:
NEUTRAL: NASCAR announced Monday team owner Richard Childress would be fined $150,000 and placed on NASCAR probation through the end of the 2011 calendar year courtesy of him turning Kyle Busch into his personal punching bag Saturday at Kansas. Was the penalty enough? Was it too far?
I'd like to think it was pretty well appropriate. Lest we forget, $150,000 isn't exactly chump change — even for a team that operates a budget in the tens of millions. Further, Childress is reportedly paying the fine from his own pocket.
But monetary issues aside, I can't help but wonder if NASCAR gaffed in its penalty based on precedent. Jimmy Spencer infamously (or famously, depending on your fandom) punched Kurt Busch square in the jaw after a Michigan race in 2003 and was suspended for the following race.
Would NASCAR have done to same if Saturday's roles were reversed? Certainly, Kyle Busch already being on probation would have a drastic impact on NASCAR's decision had Shrub been the one doling out the swings. Probation aside, I can't help but think that NASCAR would have had to suspend Busch had he gone Mike Tyson on the 65-year-old Childress. Plus, you have to know the overall outcry would have been tenfold against Busch had he been the aggressor.
But Busch wasn't the aggressor, and Childress carries quite the sacred role in nearly every NASCAR circle. He's The Guy who employed The Dale Earnhardt. You'd be hard-pressed to find a fan who's anti-Childress before you found one that was anti-Busch. Knowing that, you have to believe Childress likely got off a bit lighter than Busch would have.
HOT: Brad Keselowski's fuel-saving strategy certainly won him Sunday's race, but the story you don't know is that the Kansas race marked the second straight event in which Keselowski managed his fuel better than most. In fact, you could say Keselowski refined the skill in Charlotte he needed to win with Sunday at Kansas.
Sitting in Turn 1 at last week's Coca-Cola 600, I could easily pick out Keselowski's blue No. 2 as he sailed by in the waning laps because it was nearly silent. Just as he did at Kansas, Keselowski was engaging the clutch just past the Charlotte Motor Speedway start/finish line — dropping his engine speed to idle — before disengaging it as he accelerated off the corner.
Keselowski restarted fourth during the 600's final restart (Harvick, the winner, restarted fifth), but damaged his car when Kasey Kahne ran out of gas in front of him and ultimately finished 19th. Still, that practice of controlling a car that he was essentially jumping in and out of gear undoubtedly helped him conserve those valuable drops of fuel Sunday at Kansas.
HOT: Certainly, most of the Sprint Cup point standings could be considered quite the gaggle right now — likely thanks, in part, to the new points structure announced prior to the 2011 season. That is not the case, however, at the top.
Carl Edwards is starting to pull away from the rest of the pack with a sizable 40-point margin over Jimmie Johnson in second. Looking through the top 20, Edwards' lead over the next closest driver is the largest. The second-largest margin in that group is Matt Kenseth's (7th) 19-point gap over Tony Stewart (8th).
NOT: For the first time, NASCAR will make two visits to Kansas Speedway in 2011 with the Sprint Cup Series. It's a decision that's quizzical at best when a track's style of racing and overall excitement level are the determining factors. But alas, NASCAR didn't choose to race in Kansas twice because fans wrote letters to Daytona Beach headlined "MORE KANSAS! OMG, YES, YES!"
Instead, the Cup gang is in Kansas twice simply because money talks. The entire area around Kansas Speedway has become quite the bustling entertainment sector since the track was built in 2001, and a soon-to-be-opened casino just outside the track was built on the premise that NASCAR would race twice there.
It's certainly a good move for Kansas and those in the area. But it's not for the good of a sport already entirely too top-heavy with 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks. Sunday's race — a mostly green-flag affair with small doses of passing — isn't unusual for Kansas. It's the norm.
HOT: Kansas could have made the fifth straight race for Denny Hamlin to finish outside the top 5 had crew chief Mike Ford not gambled on the fuel-mileage game. Ford brought the No. 11 to pit road during the race's final caution — contrary to the strategy of the other leaders — and played the move into a third-place finish for Hamlin.
While scoring a top 5 is good most any day for a Sprint Cup Series team, you have to wonder if the move helped restore some faith in the driver-crew chief relationship after the huge fuel gaffe for the No. 11 at Phoenix last season. It certainly didn't hurt.
NOT: I'm still trying to figure out why it was a good idea to race the Nationwide Series in a standalone event at Chicagoland Speedway. Don't get me wrong on the issue — I think the Nationwide Series could be well-served racing by itself at some venues not visited by the Cup gang, including relics from the past like Rockingham and South Boston — but I feel it's strange to send them to a market that has shown a decrease in fan attendance the past few seasons.