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From the Marbles

Hot/Not: Stewart, Vickers can ill afford more demolition derby

Kurt Busch picked up his first win on a road course, winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. Here's what is on my mind as the circuit left wine country:

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NOT: Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers evened out their apparent on-track beef during Sunday's race, and now all is well in paradise, right?

Not so fast.

Stewart and Vickers both seemed to have top-10 cars at Infineon Raceway, but instead wound up 39th and 36th, respectively, courtesy of each other's vindictive behavior. As a result, Stewart slipped to 12th in the point standings and now rides the razor-thin edge of qualifying for NASCAR's championship battle.

Vickers, meanwhile, is doing little to make himself a marketable commodity in the sport. The North Carolina driver's contract at Red Bull expires after this year, and just last week the team announced it was considering closure at the end of the 2011 season. After Sunday's race, Vickers stands 26th in points with five top 10s in 16 races — numbers certainly not aligning him for one of the very few open seats at an elite team.

Certainly, one race isn't why both drivers are going to seemingly struggle to qualify for the Chase. Still, after emerging from tehir battle-ravaged machines Sunday, both indicated — Stewart more vociferously — that they were essentially done not retaliating to bad driving on track.

Contact on the track is the easiest way for positions to be lost and races to not be finished, and both seem headed for more of that in the future. As a result, you've got to expect both Stewart's and Vickers' standing in the Sprint Cup points will only continue one way: down.

HOT: At the very least, I'm going to give high regards to both Stewart and Vickers for coming clean about the wrecks, acknowledging that they were intentional. Also: wasn't it refreshing to have the old, snappy Stewart back?

NOT: If you clamored, as a fan, for NASCAR to just "let 'em race" or otherwise turn a blind eye to over-aggressive racing and are now complaining about the 'Boys, have at it' mentality, I'd suggest you're in a losing battle. If you're going to have your cake, then eat it, too. {ysp:more}

HOT: It's officially way past time to put a road course in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. There's no ifs about it. A road course event would throw a wrench in the Chase without being a true wildcard like Talladega. Plus, it'd be a change no one could accuse as Jimmie-proofing NASCAR's championship fight.

Putting a road race in the Chase, however, shouldn't happen by moving a race at Infineon or Watkins Glen. Instead, choose from the plethora of great left-and-rights already in the states — including Laguna Seca, Road America, Mid-Ohio and more — or even look at the great track that is Montreal (and even better fans!) for an international foray. The road courses at Daytona and Homestead wouldn't be ill-advised choices, either.

Whatever it is, get more road courses on the schedule and get one in the Chase. They seem to have become what many short tracks aren't anymore — lightning rods for driver drama.

NOT: I feel bad for Max Papis because Jacques Villenueve totally hosed him during closing laps of Saturday's Nationwide race at Road America. Papis made comments later insinuating that many drivers experienced across the pond come to NASCAR while leaving any dose of humility or respect back home. Certainly it's not an all-encompassing statement, but it's not hard to reach Papis' same conclusion about many who have tried their NASCAR hand.

HOT: Reed Sorenson may have led but one lap Sunday (and Ron Fellows may contend that wasn't true) but he did officially score his first Nationwide Series win since a 2007 victory at Gateway International. Sorenson may be exhibit 1A in drivers who were pulled to the Sprint Cup Series long before they were ready. Sorenson has 161 Cup starts — mainly with Chip Ganassi — and managed just 15 top 10s and only 69 lead-lap finishes.

Why, then, is Sorenson hot after getting his first win in four years? Easy: I like comeback stories. Plenty of drivers will reach NASCAR's mountaintop, fall off, and then suddenly never be heard from again. Sorenson, however, might be starting to buck that trend.

NOT: The Jeff Burton Top-10 Watch continued to a new high this week, as Burton placed 21st, marking the 16th straight race in which he's finished out of the top 10. Is change coming soon for his No. 31 RCR team?

HOT: Jeff Gordon's drive at the end of the race may have been the single-best comeback of the 2011 season so far. On a track notorious for premium track position, Gordon wallowed for at the least the first 80 laps with a car no better than 15th. Then, suddenly, Gordon was closing in on leader Kurt Busch as the laps expired, finishing second.

Sure, it wasn't a win, and Gordon isn't exactly a championship favorite quite yet due to some handling issues that his team has yet to solve on the 1.5-mile tracks. But Gordon is suddenly in the top 10 in points (9th) for the first time since February. If Gordon can stay there, it's an added bonus as his pair of wins this season would then count as bonus points come Chase time.

NEUTRAL: TNT's broadcast at Sonoma had several miserable moments and, at times, left viewers without the assistance of social media completely unaware what was happening. Follow-ups happened sporadically and the commercials to start the event likely caused more than one fan to lose interest within the race's first 20 minutes.

But TNT did do well at the end, going to break just once in the race's final half-hour and then continuing with a decent amount of post-race coverage. The result? We had Kasey Kahne essentially calling Juan Pablo Montoya an untalented hack in NASCAR.

That, friends, is gold.

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