Brad Morgan · Tuesday May 21, 2013
The Sprint Cup All-Star race was the headliner this weekend as 22 of NASCAR’s biggest names took to Charlotte Motor Speedway in hopes of taking home the $1 million prize. While only one driver captured the spoils, several others didn’t disappoint while trying to build momentum for one of the sport’s crown jewels next week.
So who’s in position to win that 600-miler… and who’s losing sleep over what’s to come? An All-Star studded edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not breaks down those Sprint Cup tales of opposite directions while giving the Camping World Truck Series some attention, too.
NASCAR’s All-Star race was dominated by the Busch brothers, but Jimmie Johnson stole the show during the final 10-lap segment, becoming the only four-time winner of the event. If that wasn’t enough to heat him up, the neat $1 million reward that’s now burning a hole in his pocket surely will.
But the five-time champion isn’t fazed by that; he’s already rolling in the dough this year. J.J.‘s already accumulated over $3.3 million, even before his most recent catch.
That gaudy figure is enough to put Johnson easily atop the earnings board, a spot that he also occupies in the driver standings. Speaking of points racing, the No. 48 team will look for a similar type of effort during the Coca-Cola 600 this weekend.
With six career wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it might appear that Johnson owns the track, but only one of those trips to Victory Lane has occurred since 2006. A slip-up reminiscent of his infamous ’11 Chase knockout at the venue would put an end to Johnson’s most recent hot streak.
The stars of Sprint Cup weren’t the only NASCAR drivers in action over the weekend. During Friday’s running of the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, the trucks also managed an exciting show.
Rarely does a driver express extreme happiness and frustration in the same interview, but Brendan Gaughan was in just that sort of mood after piloting his Chevrolet to a close runner-up finish behind Kyle Busch. Gaughan might have expressed mixed emotions, coming up just short in a late-race charge against the eventual winner, but his recent form speaks an entirely different language.
Simply put, there has been no one better than the 14-year veteran of late, with three consecutive top-5 finishes. He’s jumped 13 spots to fourth in the standings in as many races after a mediocre start at Daytona.
The preliminary, 40-lap Sprint Showdown was dominated by Jamie McMurray, who easily transferred to the Sprint All-Star Race for the seventh time. His No. 1 Chevrolet paced the field by 1.226 seconds over second-place finisher Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who also raced his way into the feature event.
Danica Patrick was aided by the fan vote that secured her a spot in the show as well, making it an eventful night for “Danicky”… or wait, was it “Stenica”?.
Either way, the couple has kept pace with one another through 11 races thus far, with Stenhouse enjoying a slim one-point edge in the separate rookie standings.
Max Gresham did several things right inside the AmWINS Group Chevrolet Friday night. The 20-year-old driver posted a career-best third-place finish, driving the No. 8 and while doing so led three laps, also a first. That’s surprising although his team, Eddie Sharp Racing, is no stranger to success at the 1.5-mile track after Justin Lofton delivered a victory in the same truck there last season.
In perhaps the week’s warmest moment, All-Star Race pole sitter Carl Edwards honored the late Dick Trickle. Edwards had Trickle’s name written above the No. 99 Ford Fusion’s driver-side window during the three-lap, four-tire pit stop qualifying session Friday.
Finally, although ARCA isn’t an official part of NASCAR, Ken Schrader surely is. Schrader won the ARCA Series event at Toledo Speedway, becoming the oldest driver to win a race in series history at age 57.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. has had many successes during his Camping World Truck Series rookie campaign, but Charlotte Motor Speedway wasn’t one of them. It appeared that “Bubba” was headed for a top-10 finish until a hard crash on lap 121 ended his night prematurely. To make matters worse, the DNF occurred under caution, following contact with Brad Keselowski.
Wallace will get a chance to turn things around at Dover International Speedway, where he has competed in a Nationwide Series event before. In that race, he started on the pole before finishing in a respectable 12th position.
Martin Truex Jr.’s All-Star experience was anything but extraordinary despite sitting on the pole for the Sprint Showdown. From there, his night quickly went downhill thanks to poor pit strategy and less than stellar track position. Truex never resurfaced after being pushed back into traffic, posting a fifth-place finish and early exit from the party. Being the only ’12 Chaser not to make the final cut hurts heading into the Coca-Cola 600.
Brad Keselowski has been off kilter for several weeks and that trend continued with an early exit from the All-Star Race. The defending champion was forced to retire prematurely due to transmission problems on the third lap of segment one.
Keselowski appeared to first damage the transmission when getting up to speed after the green flag because afterwards, he quickly faded to the rear of the field and later to the garage. The best remedy for the Blue Deuce’s trouble would be a good finish this weekend, when Keselowski will look to replicate last season’s fifth-place finish to pull his Penske team out of its current nose-dive.
The coldest news out of the Charlotte area this week isn’t related to on-track performance. Jennifer Jo Cobb and Mike Harmon are locked in a dispute in which Harmon allegedly stole Cobb’s team hauler. Harmon turned himself into the Cleveland County (N.C.) Sheriff’s Department on charges of breaking and entering and felony larceny, in order to prove his personal claim of innocence.
While it’s still unclear who actually owns the trailer, Harmon was able to race on Friday, posting a 24th-place finish. Meanwhile, Cobb did not qualify for the event, her first DNQ of the season.
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