1. No Problem, Ron – Sprint Cup Series points leader Kyle Busch ended his six-weekend streak of winning a race – somewhere and in some type of car or truck. The Las Vegas native won the pole positions at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for both the Craftsman Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 and the Sprint Cup All-Star Race but did not visit victory lane in either contest. In the All-Star Race, Busch appeared to be the driver to beat as he dominated the early going, but encountered engine problems before the end of segment 2, relegating him to the 24th and final position in the running order. Busch also dominated the CTS event, leading 86 of the first 105 laps on the night; however, with just 29 laps remaining in the contest, reigning series champ Ron Hornaday and Busch made contact, requiring NASCAR’s hottest driver to pit twice for repairs and dash his hopes for a victory. Said Hornaday, a three-time CTS champion; “I got loose and got into him. He got the short end of the stick.”
No doubt Hornaday’s explanation is more than good enough for many Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans!
2. Busches and Shrubs – Some might believe they won’t be able to stomach another race that ends with Kyle Busch in Victory Lane. But take heart, those whose nerves are on edge; these streaks of wins have happened before for the Busch brothers, and in every instance, their detractors have all survived. In fact, Kyle’s big brother Kurt Busch, who was equally adept at alienating a large percentage of race fans, actually topped little brother at this point in his career. Comparisons of the brother’s win totals through their first 125 NASCAR Cup races shows that the older Busch actually won more frequently – Kurt had nine wins, while Kyle has just seven. Keep in mind that Kurt took the 2004 Cup title as well during that span.
See, it isn’t that bad. Kyle hasn’t even won a championship… yet!
3. Keeps On Truckin’ – Leaving Charlotte, short-track ace and Frontstretch Driver Diary participant Rick Crawford trails Hornaday by just five points in the season-long Truck Series championship. The Alabama native has been competing against teams with Cup Series backing and far more factory support for years; but despite the underdog status, he’s finished in the top 10 in the CTS points standings six of the last eight seasons.
Wasn’t there a time when NASCAR Cup team owners were looking for experienced, mature drivers with a proven track record of knowing how to make the most with the equipment they have? If that era ever comes back, Crawford should be at the top of their short list.
4. Classy – Three-time Daytona 500 winner and 1999 NASCAR Cup champion Dale Jarrett is “officially” retired following his 21st-place finish in Saturday night’s All-Star Challenge. Dale’s father and two-time Grand National (now Sprint Cup) champion “Gentleman” Ned Jarrett gave the invocation before the start of the race. Not only did the elder Jarrett pray for the safety of all drivers in the non-points event, but he gave thanks for Dale’s 20 years of competing safely.
5. Light ‘Em Up – As part of the pre-race All-Star festivities, Greg Biffle won the Inaugural Pennzoil Victory Challenge. The event required four selected drivers – Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson – to do a smoky burnout followed by two impressive donuts, and then continue with that burnout into a simulated victory lane. The contest winner was judged on a combination of ability to execute the required tasks as described – style and time. Biffle’s $10,000 prize award was donated to the Greg Biffle Foundation following his victory.
There has been no word yet as to whether the “old-fashioned” victory celebration of taking a slow lap around the track and waving to the fans has been officially outlawed by NASCAR… but it might be coming.
6. Not To Put Any Pressure On The Guy… Or Anything – “Humpy” Wheeler, President and General Manager of Lowe’s Motor Speedway, offered his annual prediction as to who ultimately would win the Sprint All-Star Challenge. Waxing almost poetically, Humpy predicted Roush Fenway driver and three-time winner Carl Edwards would take home the $1 million victory purse in 2008.
Said Wheeler, a “world-class” promoter, “Carl Edwards is a racer’s racer in the mold of Dale Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough. He will put his car in places angels fear to tread, and beneath that big smile and his trademark back flip, Carl has an abnormal fire in his heart to win that I have seldom seen.”
Edwards finished 10th in the All-Star Challenge, but really… would he have lived up to Humpy’s over-the-top praise of him even with the victory?
7. Fans 1, Humpy 10 – Fans voted Kasey Kahne into the Sprint All-Star Challenge this year, as Kahne was not eligible for the race. For starters, he hadn’t won the event previously, scored a win in the series since 2007, and is not a past champion at the Cup level. As if that weren’t enough, he failed to advance to the All-Star event by way of the Sprint Showdown, finishing fifth. But despite the odds stacked against him, the fans got it right this time; Kahne backed up their selection of him with a winning performance in the main event.
It is the first time that a “fan pick” has been victorious in the exhibition race in five tries since the “Fan Vote” was instituted back in 2004. In comparison, although Humpy Wheeler missed his prediction this year, he has been correct 10 of the last 20 years.
Who else can forecast a Sprint Cup race winner 50% of the time? That’s pretty darn good, Mr. Wheeler! Fans will have some catching up to do.
8. Do Numbers Tell The Whole Story? – Owner/driver Robby Gordon’s sponsor, Jim Beam, put the full-court press on in a PR campaign to get their driver into the All-Star Challenge by way of the Fan Vote, if needed. Gillett-Evernham driver Elliott Sadler also had NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Earnhardt Jr., lobbying for him. Yet, in somewhat of a surprise, Kahne narrowly beat out Gordon in the online fan voting to become eligible for the All-Star Challenge.
Kahne is currently 14th in the Sprint Cup championship driver points standings, while Sadler and Gordon are 28th and 30th, respectfully. But, come on… let’s not discount the “cuteness” factor, either!
9. Horn-a-dinger – AJ Allmendinger won the Sprint Showdown event in an exciting and hotly contested final-lap duel that ended with three-time IRL champion and former Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. finishing second. The two former open-wheel racers, still trying to become acclimated to the world of stock cars, both advanced to the All-Star Race due to their 1-2 finishes.
Looks like these two might be getting the hang of racing cars with fenders.
10. Inflation? – The All-Star Challenge is broken into four separate segments designed to create the feel of a typical local Saturday night go-for-broke, drive it like you stole it race. Those short races generally see drivers taking chances that they would not normally take, almost guaranteeing numerous wrecks as competitors throw caution to the wind in an attempt to win the $1 million payout. But Saturday night’s event had only three caution periods – all of which were previously scheduled to break up the action. Shockingly, none were waved for accidents!
Maybe $1 million isn’t worth as much anymore?