The Frontstretch: 2008 All-Star Weekend: Meaningless On The Track, But Memorable Off It by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday May 20, 2008

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2008 All-Star Weekend: Meaningless On The Track, But Memorable Off It

The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday May 20, 2008


The 2008 Sprint All-Star race has officially come and gone, but there were a number of storylines still swirling following Saturday night’s action at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Did the racing live up to the hype? Did SPEED really need a constant countdown ticker for all this since the season began? Is it really a burnout contest if you can generate more smoke with a clapped-out 5.0L Mustang than a supposed 850hp racecar? And is there a chance in hell that Joe Gibbs Racing will come back to the Coca-Cola 600 with the same hand-grenade engine package it showed up with this past weekend? Beyond these gripping questions, there were a few other articles of interest that piqued my…uh, interest. So, let’s check them out:

  • It’s clear to me that Kyle Busch is reveling in his newfound role of “villain.” It’s a tag that he has been unfairly labeled with — but in a sport that hasn’t had a rivalry of sorts since Ray Evernham and Jack Roush pointed fingers at each other and yelled things almost a decade ago, something is needed to stir things up, and that’s exactly what Busch is doing these days. Rival Carl Edwards may have his backflip, but Kyle seems to have chosen a sarcastic bow as his “special” gesture for the fans — not exactly the endearing moment they’ve been looking for.

Sure, Detroit Pistons center Bill Lambeer may have originally coined the gesture when Kyle was in kindergarten, but it is no less amusing in NASCAR than it was on the hardwood. Busch performed the bow after winning last week at Darlington, and again after exiting his car following the burnout contest — to the utter disdain of those in attendance. When drivers and teams were introduced for the All-Star Race that evening, the 23-year-old was ready to rumble all over again. Brandishing sunglasses that looked like something that would have been handed out at the Trinity Atomic Test Site, he and his entire No. 18 M&M’s team took a bow before the collective jeers of those in attendance.

Personally, I think it’s great giving back what’s being given to you: Busch’s physical potshots prove much more endearing than Jeff Gordon’s at the height of his unpopularity. Back then, Gordon would lazily wave like a storefront mannequin during driver introductions, never taking the time to acknowledge the boo birds. Busch? He welcomes the chance to be NASCAR’s Bad Boy; and while he may not exactly be Mr. Popularity now — showing some personality while continuing to rack up wins and strong runs — Busch stands a good chance of turning the tide and winning fans over in the process.

  • Outside of the political arena, nowhere else does hypocrisy flourish as it does in auto racing. Such was the case when Elliott Sadler exited his freshly flattened Stanley Tools Dodge Charger after A.J. Allmendinger (…or is it, Wallmendinger?) washed up into Sadler a whopping seven laps into the Sprint Showdown. Sadler was none too pleased with Allmendinger’s actions, stating in post-race interviews there “was a reason” the open-wheel convert was removed from his car earlier in the season. That comment proved intriguing, considering that one week earlier, Sadler made all of two complete circuits before piling into Tony Stewart in much the same fashion at Darlington. Luckily for him, Gillett Evernham Motorsports retained his services for the following weekend …

Elliott Sadler has now been involved in two wrecks the last two weeks; but while last week’s All-Star Race left him the victim, this Darlington mistake left Tony Stewart fuming and Sadler apologetic as he headed to the garage.

Allmendinger was apologetic to Sadler following his victory, and it isn’t as if he’s had a history of running into guys or causing wrecks in his brief tenure in Sprint Cup or the Craftsman Truck Series. But while NASCAR has been searching for a rivalry, Sadler vs. Allmendinger doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Petty vs. Allison or Waltrip vs. Earnhardt. Hopefully, this one doesn’t have legs; there is nothing more ridiculous than watching two 25th-place cars go after each other, as Sterling Marlin and Robby Gordon proved one too many times back in 2005.

The finish of the race was rather exciting, however, and it was good to see Allmendinger have something positive happen to him for a change — as well as Sam Hornish, Jr. Many have been hard on Hornish for wrinkling up many a Penske Dodge in both Nationwide and Cup Series competition, but he very well may be on the verge of turning the corner and getting a handle on fendered racing.

  • If there was one thing missing from this year’s installment of the Sprint All-Star race, it was yellow – caution flags, that is. I suppose LMS made up for it by painting the walls and everything that was once white a hideous shade of yellow; ‘twas a shade so ugly, it would make a school bus driver or a Caterpillar enthusiast cringe. But in years past, a big wreck or noticeable tangle in the All-Star Race was as inevitable as “The Big One” at Talladega. In fact, they had become both an integral and climactic part of the affair, what with Rusty Wallace turning Darrell Waltrip in 1989, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison getting together as they crossed the finish line in 1992, or the famed “Pass in The Grass” between Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt in 1987. But in 2008, the carnage was simply nowhere to be found. Even the Busch Brothers didn’t wipe each other out, and big brother Kurt made no ill-fated attempts to bumpdraft a teammate through the tri-oval.

Instead, when the big show came we were rewarded with what we’ve experienced at all of the intermediate tracks this year: single file racing, inability to pass, and understeer. Yes, the competition is close, but it’s by default, as the aerodynamics of these cars do not allow a faster car to overtake a slower one, once he reaches the other. And as bad as “aero push” was with the old cars, the current ones seem to exacerbate the problems.

The key seems to all surround that trinket shelf affixed to the bottom of the cars — a piece otherwise known as the new front splitter. To combat the problems, teams have taken to a new type of setup that toes out and offsets the rear housing. You may have noticed the inevitable results of such a major change to the chassis; the cars Saturday night looked a lot like something Buckshot Jones had bounced off the wall, and tracked down the straightaway like a hound dog on the trail of an escaped convict. While NASCAR shrugged off the criticism of this practice following Jeff Gordon’s comments regarding how Carl Edward’s car could barely fit on the scales, it has since suggested that it will be instructing teams to reign in their rear ends sooner rather than later.

I am usually dead set against any more hand-tying by the sanctioning body of the teams that have been given very little to work with in adjusting these cars, but you have to admit that the whole rear housing thing has gotten a bit out of hand. Just witness the Penske cars of Busch and Ryan Newman; whenever they creep sideways towards turns one and three, they look like a B-52 lumbering in upon final approach. These cars don’t have traction control, but they could use crab control such as the big bomber features. It’s a good thing the Penske Dodges crank out those big horsepower numbers, as they’re going to need it pushing the barn-door sides of their car up the straightaways at nearly 200 miles per hour.

So, while this wasn’t exactly the most memorable All-Star Race we’ve witnessed, it’s still notable that the driver the fans voted in took home the million dollar prize for winning the segment that counted. This is, after all, a race billed for the fans — and let us not forget that it serves as a prelude to the longest race of the season, next Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. Kasey Kahne won the All-Star Race in a car that barely mustered a Top 5 in the Showdown and that upset does well to engender hope that next weekend’s race will hold some unknowns. It looks as if a car can come from virtually nowhere to win, much like Casey Mears in 2007, winning his first career race on a fuel mileage gamble of all things. Clearly, there should be plenty to write about next week, following the biggest weekend in racing for speed junkies everywhere.

Let the new countdown begin.

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