Updated: August 20, 2012, 1:50 PM ET

A weekend to remember in NASCAR

Newton By David Newton
ESPN.com
Archive
Alex TaglianiRobert Laberge/Getty ImagesMontreal again provided the kind of action any fan would like to see ... even in the Chase to the Cup.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As Jimmie Johnson exited his car in the Sprint Cup garage and bypassed the door to his hauler, heading straight to his motor coach and then to an SUV out of Michigan International Speedway, comparisons to Kyle Busch began.

If Busch was wrong for leaving the track without talking to reporters at Watkins Glen, critics cried, then so was Johnson.

Wrong.

Not that Busch deserved criticism a week earlier at The Glen. He was under no obligation by NASCAR to discuss how oil on the track allowed Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose to catch him on the last lap, or what he thought about Keselowski spinning him out.

But to compare Johnson's post-race demeanor to Busch's borders on ridiculous. Johnson has given the media more time over the years than most. During a recent test at Martinsville, when not required to come into the media center, he gave four reporters almost 10 minutes to critique the 2013 car and whatever else they wanted to discuss.

Yes, he was frustrated that a blown engine with six laps remaining cost him a bid to knock Michigan off the list of four tracks where he hasn't won. Watkins Glen, Chicagoland and Homestead-Miami Speedway are the others.

Yes, there were reporters who wanted to ask about that frustration and fans that wanted to read about it.

But there were a lot bigger stories on Sunday than Johnson not talking. Perhaps the biggest is the competitive advantage Johnson and the Hendrick cars have found that allowed the No. 48 to drive from the back of the field to the front.

Keselowski hinted about it last month at Indianapolis and stayed on that soap box on Sunday. It is a competitive advantage that will make Johnson the odds-on favorite to win the Chase unless the rest of the field catches up.

"I just think there's big discrepancies in the cars now," Keselowski told reporters after finishing second. "There's certain parts and pieces on the cars that are making them quite a bit different to where we're seeing different paces throughout the field.

"There's probably half a dozen to a dozen cars that are drastically faster than the rest of the field. That's disrupted the parity, created a lot of sidebyside action that is maybe good, maybe bad, depends on who you are. Right now in the sport the cars are probably the most separated we've ever seen."

But as we saw with the four HMS engine failures -- Johnson in practice and the race; Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon in the race -- advantages can be wiped out quickly.

The competition has to be smiling that HMS, particularly Johnson, showed some vulnerability with the engine woes at a time when many were ready to hand Johnson his sixth title.

Winner Greg Biffle certainly doesn't seem intimidated by whatever Johnson and HMS have found.

"I know that a lot of people don't expect us to win the championship, but I don't care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they want to talk about," he said after the race. "We will be a factor when it comes down to [the season finale]. I promise you that."

Keselowski doesn't seem intimidated after finishing second for the second straight week and recording his seventh straight top-10.

"I can taste the legitimacy of being a championship contender," he said.

HMS' engine issues are what people should be talking about around the water cooler when recapping the race on Monday. Those are issues that could decide the title.

People also should be talking about the need for SAFER (steel and foam energy reduction) barriers on the openings on pit road to assure a driver's life isn't put at risk the way Mark Martin's was on Lap 64 when the wall went behind the driver's seat like a knife through butter.

Not just at Michigan, but all tracks.

But for some reason people get fixated more on what people don't say -- or say as was the case with Johnson teammates Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Gordon felt NASCAR's most popular driver was a bit aggressive in creating a four-wide situation that could have taken him out during an early restart. Maybe Earnhardt was. But Gordon was more at fault for criticizing the driver of the No. 88 when there really was nothing to criticize.

"He can thank me for not wrecking him," Gordon radioed to his crew after the incident. "That was stupid."

Let's be real. Gordon's critique came more out of frustration than anger toward Earnhardt. He was a week removed from a last-lap spin in the oil at Watkins Glen that knocked him out of a top-10 finish and temporary ownership of the second wild-card spot. He's in a bit of a desperate situation now, needing another win to have a realistic shot at the 10-race playoff after a 28th-place finish that dropped him to 16th in points.

Earnhardt simply was in the way.

"At the moment I was [mad]," Gordon told reporters after seeing his day end with an engine issue. "I get mad. That happens. I didn't think it was very smart what he did. He took me four-wide and then he slid up in front of me. If I hadn't checked up, I would have wrecked him and a bunch of us. So it happened and we move on."

Don't look for this one to linger. Team owner Rick Hendrick didn't seem concerned, telling Earnhardt over the radio, "Man, you didn't do anything. Just drive that thing to the front."

Don't look for Johnson to let the frustration from Sunday linger, either. He broke his silence on Twitter on Sunday night and will be ready to face the media again on Friday at Bristol. He didn't win five consecutive titles by hanging on to the past.

"Today was a tough one," he wrote on Twitter. "We blew up and I'm disappointed, not much else to say. Now it's on to Bristol."

Terry Blount column | Live! rewind | Recap | Results | Highlights

Nationwide Series: Montreal proves to be a thriler again

On the Saturday night before the April 22nd Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway -- with the help of a couple of other sports writers -- a mock dream Chase schedule was written on a bar napkin.

We put the second race at Montreal.

Saturday's Nationwide Series race won by Justin Allgaier reaffirmed why the Cup series needs to consider the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course not only for the schedule, but the 10-race playoff.

As has been the case almost every year since the Nationwide series began racing there in 2007, there was high drama and excitement. It's time to bring that drama and excitement to the top series.

Saturday's race had everything to keep you on the edge of your seat. It had Danica Patrick leading before a (insert your own adjective) fan tossed a shoe onto the track that led to a broken axle. It had hometown favorite Jacques Villeneuve getting bumped from the lead by Allgaier on the final lap of the second green-white-checkered finish after half a dozen excruciating laps for Villeneuve of wondering if he had enough fuel to hang on.

It had Sam Hornish Jr. coming from way back after getting punted late in regulation to finish second and moving into a tie with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for second in points, 22 behind Elliott Sadler.

It had so much strategy that you needed a degree in physics to keep up.

And it had a surprise winner.

It also raised the question of whether road-course specialists should be allowed in a race where they have nothing to lose and often cost those who are racing for a title a good finish. Just think about Montreal native Alex Tagliani going for broke several times.

Road-course racing gives NASCAR fans a taste of the beating and banging they once got at Bristol. It's time for a road course in the Chase, and it's time to go international by going to Montreal.

Recap | Results | Highlights

Camping World Truck Series: Piquet Jr. looks like he has the right stuff

Perhaps it's time to add Nelson Piquet Jr. to the list of hot prospects in NASCAR.

The son of a three-time Formula One champion, Piquet won Saturday's race at Michigan two weeks after finishing third at Pocono. He also won the Nationwide Series race at Road America in June and a K&N Pro East Series race at Bristol in the spring.

Toss in he's only 57 points behind Timothy Peters in the Truck standings and the Brazilian driver could land on the fast track to the Cup series.

What made this win really special was Piquet had "Piket" on his car in honor of his father, who used his mother's maiden name as a kid running go-karts to keep his identity secret from his father, who wanted him to become a professional tennis player.

"This victory is for my team as much as my father, who has been helping me throughout my whole career," Piquet told reporters after the win.

Keep an eye on this one.

Recap | Results

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?