Five things we learned at Sears Point

DAYTONA BEACH FL - FEBRUARY 17: Kurt Busch driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the first race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Gatorade Duel at Daytona International Speedway on February 17 2011 in Daytona Beach Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

I guess Kurt Busch knew all along what he was doing at Richmond in calling out his crew and team. There was also something about a monkey and a football but we digress.

We're forgetting the past because whatever Penske Racing has done since their driver's profanity-laced tirade has certainly helped. Penske has now picked up two wins and four poles since the rant and subsequent team restructuring with Busch picking up his first win on Sunday at Sonoma.

Here is five things we learned at Infineon:

1.) The Sprint Cup Series needs a third road course, ideally in the Chase in for the Championship. Talladega once provided a wild card element, shaking up the standings with multi-car accidents and surprise winners, but love bug-style racing has stymied both plate races. Sunday proved that a third twisty (perhaps at Montréal) at the expense of an intermediate track could be the missing link in NASCAR's continued effort to perfect its playoff format.

2.) Cautions benefit racing and shakes things up.  We need more of them even at the cost of being just for track debris. NASCAR learned a long time ago that the benefit of the show sometimes has to outweigh the perceived integrity of the sport.  And let's face it, there's a lot worse in terms of gimmicks than cautions and restarts - they've always been part of NASCAR race strategy.

With double-file restarts and ‘have at it boys' adding a new elements to the sport, cautions right in the middle of what used to be boring follow-the-leader affairs could be exactly what the doctor ordered for sagging television ratings.

3.) With just ten races left until the 26-race cutoff, the Chase for the Championship is starting to take form. Drivers currently in the top ten and with several victories (Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch) as well as championship leader Carl Edwards (one win) are virtual locks while Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle (no wins) are becoming combatants for the final several spots.

The wild card has added a new element to the Chase giving drivers throughout the Top-25 a reasonable chance at competing for a berth. This very well could come down to a Hail Mary at Bristol and Richmond, with teams making several gambles in an effort to get to victory lane or the Top 20.

4.) Not all is well in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. camp especially after a punctured radiator doomed the fan-favorite to a 41st finishing position. The finish dropped the resurgent Earnhardt from third to seventh in the Sprint Cup standings, just 33 points ahead of tenth place Ryan Newman. More concerning is the fact that the team is still without a win and back on the bubble heading into Daytona where his fortunes could turn from bad to worse.

Junior and new crew chief Steve Letarte have been consistent all season but have to pick up a win between now and Richmond or seriously risk missing the Chase. Remember that Earnhardt is now driving the same cars that led Jeff Gordon to a consistent 2010 but with no victories. That team, now equipped with Earnhardt, is starting to adopt the same personality.

Much like Gordon late in his partnership with Letarte, Earnhardt has to break through or risk falling apart during the final ten races.

5.) With just one week until "wide open coverage" at Daytona, TNT has some work to do. Sunday's broadcast almost felt as if there was too much going on for the cameras and broadcasters to catch. Several restarts were missed during a commercial break with one series of pit stops going completely unchecked and uncovered.

If the typically steadfast guys at Turner felt overwhelmed at Sonoma, it's likely not a good time to remind them about all the stories that surround flag-to-flag coverage on plate tracks.

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