Matt McLaughlin · Sunday May 20, 2007
The Key Moment: Kevin Harvick muscled his way to the front at the start of the final segment and was never headed.
In a Nutshell: A lot more sizzle than steak.
Dramatic Moment: Watching Kyle Busch's tantrum claim his brother's Dodge as well.
Waiting to see if the Open would manage to end before midnight.
What They'll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week:
With the lack of grip in the tires, especially right after starts and restarts, what kind of race are we going to see next weekend? We might all be in for a very long night.
The first two segments of the All-Star race ran caution free and without commercial interruption. Race fans coast-to-coast needed a ratchet wrench and a can of WD40 to get their jaws closed after this stunning development.
For the last timeâ€¦there was no "pass in the grass" not twenty years ago this week and not ever. Dale Earnhardt hit the grass with the lead over Bill Elliott and returned to the track still leading. He then proceeded to run Elliott up into the wall on the back straight to protest the No. 9 car crowding him down onto the grass. After the race, the normally affable Georgian driver took off down pit road and rammed Earnhardt on the cool down lap, ala Days of Thunder. Hey, maybe for the 25th Anniversary of his win in the inaugural Winston, Waltrip will finally admit he had an oversized engine in that race and had to clutch it after the start/finish line to grenade the engine and escape detection.
Justice is blind, but sometimes, it has a sense of irony. Burton's car ran the AT&T logos for the first time in an All-Star race sponsored by that other cell phone company…not only that, but he damn near won the thing.
Thank goodness they finally dumped that silly inversion rule, huh? It was the one time a year fans actually had a vote in the way NASCAR ran things. At least they sped up the driver and crew introductions this year.
It's a bit contrived, and it's only an All-Star race. But Saturday night's race may be a harbinger of the "new NASCAR" race; shorter in duration to appeal to those with attention deficit disorder, a caution thrown every 20 laps to artificially tighten the action (though the folks at LMS were kind enough to announce when the cautions would fly rather than using debris as an excuse) and run on Saturday night rather than Sunday afternoon. Perhaps I've said this once or twice before, but this is not your father's NASCAR.
Speaking of which, I had a worrisome thought. What if NASCAR really isn't throwing debris cautions to tighten the racing? What if they're more diabolical and throwing all those cautions to bump profits at the concession stands? I mean, when a caution flies a lot of fans head for the food and drink vendors knowing it will take NASCAR ten laps to clean up an errant hot dog wrapper off the apron. More hot dogs sold equals more wrappers on the track, equals more cautions, equals more sales at the food stands in a worrisome downward spiral.
I get nervous when a team like the Fed Ex bunch dumps its pit crew members after some slow stops. On one hand, you can't have the guys in the pits throwing away race wins. My guess is the problem they had at Darlington had to do with the rain delay that pushed the race off to Sunday and soaked the tires and wheels. Had the team gone through the effort to reglue the lugs to the wheels Sunday morning I doubt they'd have fallen off. On the other hand, these guys have trained together for months. Now you're mixing some new folks in and it will take them time to gel as a team again. Meanwhile, you have guys who used to be on the pit crew still working in the shop somewhat dispirited by their demotions and resultant pay cuts. That's never a good thing.
So even Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has to get a haircut and a shave before going out on job interviews?
An announcement was made this week that the DEI and RCR teams will be pooling their resources in a combined engine program. So what do Teresa Earnhardt and Patty Loveless have in common? They're both famous for "It's a Little Too Late to Do the Right Thing Now."
You had to read between the lines but was Jeff Gordon actually criticizing Goodyear for the first time in his career?
The once unstoppable force that was NASCAR has hit a few bumps in the road. First, Staten Island residents managed to stop a proposed track from being built there. Next, the voters in Washington State said they had no intention of funding a track there and, if it was all the same with the folks in Daytona, they'd just as soon not have the track built, even with private money. Then Friday, a judge ruled that NASCAR could not stop the 31 team from running AT&T decals. It was a stunning defeat. So what's going on? Arrogance has always been a corporate cornerstone, but arrogance used to be tempered by intelligence. The corporate brass knew how to pick their fights. That's why the whole Texas lawsuit was quietly settled before opening arguments. We'll see what happens with the potentially bombastic Kentucky lawsuit.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
Millions of fans who wanted to see the All Star event weren't able to watch it on TV because their local cable carriers don't have SPEED on the lineup.
Many pundits picked Juan Pablo Montoya to win the Open, but he got loose on the first lap of the event and wrecked. In the course of his spin, Montoya saw to it five other drivers had to retire as well.
David Ragan was running solidly in a transfer spot when he spun himself out.
Michael Waltrip got to participate in a race for the first time since Daytona. He used the opportunity to blow an engine in practice and wreck in qualifying before posting a twentieth place finish.
Matt Kenseth might have had the All-Star Race in hand until he got caught speeding entering the pits.
Jeff Gordon's strong run was negated by an equalized tire.
The "Seven Come Fore Eleven" Award For Fine Fortune
Jeff Burton has been doing this long enough he saw what was going to happen between the Busch brothers directly ahead of him and backed off the gas. He was just barely able to avoid the spinning No. 2 car as a result.
The way Jimmie Johnson's front fenders were grinding down into the tires, it's a miracle he finished the race, much less that he almost won it.
Kevin Harvick isn't winning a lot of races this year, but he's winning the ones with the paychecks involved.
Tony Stewart ran like a three-legged lamb in the first two segments, but the team hit on something during the break for the end of the race. Stewart was able to post a Top 5 finish to add a few bucks to his rainy day fund for fines and, by not entering the Top 3, managed to avoid having to do a post-race interview, too.
- Chevys finished in the top six positions and claimed eight of the Top 10 finishing spots. Only Matt Kenseth in a Ford (seventh) and Ryan Newman in a Dodge (eighth) spoiled the party. The top finishing Toyota was Dale Jarrett in 12th.
- Harvick and Johnson were the only two drivers to post Top 5 finishes in last year's All-Star race and this year's event. Last year, Johnson won while Harvick finished second. Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are the only other two drivers with Top 10 finishes in both events.
- A decade is a long time, I suppose. Of the drivers who ran Saturday night's race only five also ran the 1997 Winston; Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, and Jeff Burton. Of the other fifteen drivers who raced in the 1997 event, two have passed on (Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Hamilton) and eight more have retired.
What's the Points? This race is pointlessâ€¦which is the point.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) We'll give it two and a half cans of National Bohemian, the beer you drink before the Novocain has worn off and you still can't taste stuff.
Next Up: It's 600 miles of racing, from sunlight through twilight and into the night in what has always been and always will be (in my mind, anyways) “The World 600.” Oh, and there's that race in the Midwest that afternoon. And the Monaco Grand Prix. A truly devoted fan can probably spend twenty straight hours watching race coverage next Sunday.
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