Amy Henderson · Monday May 20, 2013
Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Saturday night’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six.
Who…gets my shoutout of the race?
Sprint Showdown How about some props to Travis Kvapil for his top-10 finish? Even in a diminished field, Kvapil was the only driver in the top 10 who drives for a small team. He outraced Danica Patrick when push came to shove, passing her in the late going to grab an eighth-place result for his effort. The finish will give his BK Racing team something they don’t often have: bragging rights among their true peers. This team needed a boost, after a flurry of DNFs to start 2013 and they got one this weekend as best in their own class.
All-Star Race If there was a trophy for driving your heart out, Kurt Busch would have a shelf full of them, and Saturday night was no exception. Busch won two segments and was the first onto pit road for the money stop. Unfortunately for Busch, his crew wasn’t as fast as their driver, and their slow tire change cost Busch more spots than he could make up on the track. He came home fifth, a good night most of the time but not when a victory seemed so close. Races can be won and lost on pit road… and this one was both won and lost in the pits.
What… was THAT?
Sprint Showdown Was anyone really surprised to learn that Danica Patrick won the Fan Vote? NASCAR bent over backwards to make sure she did, even going so far as to waive a previous requirement of finishing on the lead lap in the Sprint Showdown in order to transfer.
I hate to say it, but I’m a bit skeptical of this one. Sure, Patrick has a huge fan base, and props to them for voting for her as often as they could. But she’s a polarizing figure, and also has a large number of detractors who were voting for others. That could have worked against her. In the end, the totals appear irrelevant to me because NASCAR had to want her in the big race badly — she gets coverage for the sport no matter where she finishes. Thinking back to a few years ago, when one car was called to inspection (usually signifying they’re going to transfer) only to have another one, driven by a bigger-name driver, rolled out when all was said and done, I do have to wonder. (That was before NASCAR got wise to fans listening on the radio to the officials and started calling the top 3 in). Perhaps Brian France really is his sport’s biggest fan.
All-Star Race Whether you like Jimmie Johnson or loathe him, he made history on Saturday night with his fourth All-Star win. No other driver has won that many in the more than 25 years the event has been held. Johnson is an incredibly consistent driver, and that’s how he got by Kasey Kahne in the closing laps. But what should have the competition worried was the pit stop that got Johnson out for the final segment in second place. After a couple of botched stops at Darlington cost Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus made a pair of changes that worked beautifully. Their money stop on Saturday night was lightning fast, under 12 seconds and ultimately, the race was decided from the front row, where Johnson’s penchant for running the bottom while Kahne preferred the top made the difference. In a nutshell, Johnson’s pit crew gave him the chance, and he went out and won in a way they haven’t since his run of five championships. Uh-oh.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
Sprint Showdown Last year’s winner is smiling, because this year he didn’t have to race his way into the main event, where he finished seventh. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. broke his long winless streak last year, last June at Michigan and that got him an automatic pass into this 2013 edition. While winning the hooligan race is nice, nothing beats coming into the weekend knowing you’re an All-Star already.
All-Star Race Jimmie Johnson admitted that he “played the game” last year with the race rules, running far behind and out of trouble for three segments after winning the first. As a result of him and others doing that, NASCAR changed the rules for 2013. So Johnson simply stepped up his game this year, and as a result, made the winning pass on Kasey Kahne with eight to go and never looked back until he reached Victory Lane for the second year in a row, making him only the second driver to win consecutive All-Star races and the first in two decades (Davey Allison went back-to-back in the early 1990s).
Was it just me, though, or did the camera angle in Victory Lane make it look like the confetti gun was aimed directly at the back of Johnson’s head, a la Chick Hicks in the Disney movie Cars? Perhaps the confetti man, like many fans, was fed up with Johnson’s seemingly effortless winning?
When…will I be loved?
Sprint Showdown One unwelcome part of the Showdown, possibly resulting from that fan vote lead-lap rule change, was that nobody even raced particularly hard once the top two opened up a lead in the final segment. Other than Casey Mears’ no-tire gamble (which killed his chances) nobody really bothered to mix it up. Once race winner Jamie McMurray checked out and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. laid claim to second, the wind was taken out of the other teams’ sails, and most of them simply logged laps, not wanting to tear up their racecars. Perhaps the final segment needs to be shorter in this race, just five laps, which would encourage more teams to gamble either in the pits or on the track. The racing with 15 to go was pretty exciting — imagine if that had been for the transfer?
All-Star Race For a million-dollar, non-points race, it sure was quiet in Charlotte on Saturday night. Nobody did anything particularly untoward, though Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. may have driven over his head a little, which resulted in him bouncing off the wall into Mark Martin and sending Martin on a wild ride, and in angry radio comments from Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer. Still, Stenhouse was no villain, and perhaps that’s why the race was enjoyable — there was plenty of hard racing after the first segment, but nobody got dirty or ran out of talent… they just raced. Imagine if they “just raced” each and every week?
Why…can’t they qualify like that every week?
Many fans were captivated by the qualifying procedure for the All-Star Race: three laps, including a mandatory four-tire pit stop where there’s no speed limit on pit road. While I’ll be the first to say they should have used the same procedure for Sprint Showdown qualifying, it would simply be too dangerous at many tracks. NASCAR completely cleared pit road for the session, except for the pit crews for each team. There are a lot of people on pit road at every track these days, and at some tracks, like Bristol and Martinsville, the remnants of the old two-pit road system would make it a real risk.
The time it would take to complete a qualifying session would also be significantly lengthened. Besides, it wouldn’t be All-Star special if they did it every week. It was a great format for this race, though. NASCAR needs to keep it for the All-Star event – and the last-chance race — each year going forward.
How…could All-Star weekend be made even better?
As noted above, step one is to change the format of the Sprint Showdown to a much shorter final segment in order to really let teams race for the transfer spots. Clean air is too big a factor anymore to let them run 20 laps. The top cars are too easily able to pull away, and because many of the teams in that race are smaller teams to begin with, they don’t take any chances on tearing up equipment… and that doesn’t make for compelling racing.
NASCAR also needs to change the Fan Vote rule back to the way it was prior to 2013. If a driver can’t stay on the lead lap for 40 circuits, they aren’t going to be remotely competitive against the best drivers and richest teams in the sport. Patrick, for the record finished 20th, the last car on the lead lap in the All-Star Race.
For the night’s biggest event, the rule changes after drivers took advantage of last year’s version were good. I’d still like to see eliminations after each segment, to take it down to perhaps ten cars at the end (though that would have eliminated Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., so NASCAR will never consider actually doing it). Additionally, although it was never a factor the idea of unlimited green-white-checkered finishes in this race was a good one and I hope NASCAR brings it back. This one doesn’t need a lot of changes, though… NASCAR should concentrate on making the Showdown a better race next year and leave this one alone.
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