Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Points racing. No fan really seems to like it, yet every driver has a tendency to do it. The NASCAR points system emphasizes consistency and leaves drivers feeling the need to sandbag in order to salvage a top 5 finish instead of going for the win. Last Saturday night, though, all points racing went away. A 100 lap shootout of intangible intensity distributed through a field of 21 All-Star drivers with insatiable appetites showcased some of NASCAR’s greatest talents. At the end of the night, only one driver would surge through as the victor while all other competitors were left to walk away with nothing but the agony of defeat.
Here are some questions after an All-Star weekend…
How did the transfer drivers fare in the big race? … In a field of 29 drivers, only two drivers could transfer from the Sprint Showdown to the Sprint All-Star Race. Many big name drivers were in the Showdown trying to redeem themselves of a lackluster past year in racing that left them on the outside looking in of one of the biggest races of the season. At the end of the 40 lap sprint, Martin Truex Jr. and Greg Biffle prevailed as the transfer drivers finishing 1st and 2nd, respectively. Both drivers finished well in the big race, with Truex finishing 2nd and Biffle finishing 9th. Meanwhile, fan vote winner Carl Edwards failed to pull through as he finished last in the 21-car All-Star field. A crash with 10 laps to go kept him from a higher finish and from the $1 million paycheck that would go to the winner at the end of the night.
Is Kurt Busch sick of being overshadowed by his younger brother? … Older brother, Kurt, may have won the All-Star Race but younger brother Kyle was the one who stole the show. It wasn’t for leading laps or a stellar finishing, but a temper tantrum afterwards. While racing for the lead with 9 laps to go, Busch got a run on Hamlin on the outside. Hamlin moved up the track to block and Busch ended up in the wall. Busch dropped all the way back to 9th place before his right front tire gave out on lap 8 of the final 10 lap shootout. Busch smacked the wall hard and collected Kasey Kahne as an innocent victim of the incident. Busch came on the team radio after the wreck and said, “Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race … I had this race won!” After pulling into the garage, instead of going to his No. 18 hauler, Busch parked behind Hamlin’s No. 11 hauler and promptly went inside. Team owner Joe Gibbs was right behind him. After the race, Hamlin was escorted by his team to the hauler where Gibbs, Busch, and Hamlin had a lengthy discussion about the incident. Busch refused to speak with the media afterwards, though Gibbs and Hamlin insisted they had worked everything out. Meanwhile, older brother Kurt was celebrating an All-Star win in Victory Lane. Yet, everybody seemed to be more interested in Kyle’s antics. At the end of the night, though, it was Kurt with the paycheck and Kyle with a battered racecar.
Why can’t we see racing like this more often? … Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch were clearly the cars to beat on Saturday night. Even with all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars at the front of the field, and drivers like Greg Biffle and Mark Martin thrown in for good measure, Johnson and Busch were still the class of the field. In fact, both of them combined to win all four segments (two apiece). While Busch forged ahead for the victory, Johnson found himself racing Denny Hamlin for the 2nd position with three laps to go. While racing underneath Hamlin, Johnson lost control of his racecar and spun through the infield grass. After the race Johnson said: “I knew I had to clear the No. 11 on the outside of me so I just kept my foot in it and I could feel them outside of me kind of pulling the back end of my car around but I said the hell with it, it's the All Star race. Kept my foot to the floor and hoped that I made it off the turn and I didn't.” In other words, Johnson let it all hang out and didn’t worry about anything but the win. Johnson can be one of the worst culprits of points racing, using some of that strategy to win the last four championships. It was extremely refreshing to see drivers race for nothing but the trophy and the emotions of losing were apparent in every competitor’s face. Racing at its finest!
Did the All-Star Race seem tame in comparison to years past? … On Saturday night there were six cautions but only three were for actual incidents. The other three were competition cautions to end segments. The last three cautions came in the last 10 races of the race. There were only six lead changes among four leaders. Though some of the low numbers might be indicative to the fact that it was the shortest race of the season, the All-Star race is known to be more of a demolition derby than a “sit back and wait” mentality. However, three cautions in 10 laps and the battle for the win more than made up for a seemingly quiet All-Star event. Still, who would have thought it would take 90 laps before we had an 8-car pileup?
Did the rain make the racing more exciting? … Qualifying isn’t normally very exciting, but All-Star weekend makes everything fun to watch. In All-Star qualifying, the pit crew members get involved with a mandatory four-tire pit stop before the three lap qualifying attempt is complete! Unfortunately, qualifying for both the Showdown and All-Star races had to be cancelled due to rain. Instead of setting the field by points as is normally done in the event of a rainout, the starting lineup was decided by a random qualifying draw. Therefore fast cars may have been at the back, slow cars at the front, and everything else in between. The Showdown had lots of shuffling of racecars throughout the entire event most likely due to the draw, and we saw a few drivers come from the back in the All-Star race (though race winner Kurt Busch won from the pole). Normally the rain puts a damper on things and while it was disappointing that the most exciting qualifying session of the year got rained out, mixing up the competitors was fun to watch too.
Bonus questions: How cute was Taylor Gibbs’s prayer Saturday night? … What was your favorite All-Star paint scheme of the weekend? … Will you miss the sponsafier commercials?
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author.