Jimmie Johnson had the field spanked most of the night, Kyle Busch had the fastest car at the end, Denny Hamlin was in the right spot, but when it mattered most Kurt Busch was there to earn the $1,028,309 purse and take home the trophy for the Sprint All-Star Race.
Starting from the pole, Busch was fast early, tagged the wall multiple times in the third segment, was able to avoid a number of wrecks and survived three late-race restarts to score his first All-Star Race victory.
“Man, we had a rough third segment,” Busch said in a beer-soaked victory lane. “All we did was bolt right sides on and I thought we had the right strategy then, but it really tightened the car up. I don’t know if it was a set of tires, we didn’t adjust anything there. I was really disappointed with that third segment. We were able to rally. Took a break during that 10 minutes. Took a deep breath, made two shock changes – a shim change on the front shocks. Just really went after it, because I said, ‘the car is good enough, we just have to be good when it counts.’ Man this car was a rocket ship at the end. Really excited, really excited… This is huge. This is one of the marquee events.”
Busch’s break came when Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch raced each other hard in the final 10 laps. With a huge run on the outside, Busch looked to the outside of Hamlin exiting turn 2. Unwilling to give up the lead, Hamlin shut the door and sent the No. 18 into the outside wall, killing his momentum. The incident allowed Kurt Busch to slip by on the bottom to take the lead.
Simply trying to make it to the finish, the right front tire eventually gave way on the No. 18 Toyota, sending him hard into the outside wall and back down the track into Kasey Kahne.
Jumping on the radio, Busch told his crew, “Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race. I am going to kill that mother*&^%$. I had this race won.”
Pulling into the garage, Busch parked his ride behind Hamlin’s hauler and walked inside to wait for his teammate to show up. After the race, Hamlin was told, “Just stay out of the truck. We got somebody mad. Just stay right there.”
The pair spent over 20 minutes inside the No. 11 hauler talking with team owner Joe Gibbs. Busch exited the hauler out of a side door and did not meet with members of the media. Hamlin told members of the media after the meeting that with 10 laps to go the two are not teammates in an event like this. After watching a replay of the video with Gibbs and Busch, Hamlin went on to say he believed they both had an understanding of that moving forward.
“Kyle is the most talented person in this garage and he gets it,” Hamlin said. “He just gets a little hot under the collar sometimes.
“It was the old Kyle for a little while. Then the new Kyle came and met with us,” Hamlin added.
After coming home third, Joey Logano explained he was sure Coach Gibbs would get the situation worked out.
“I know they’re cool with me. That’s a good thing, I guess,” Logano joked. “I’m sure they’ll work it out, whatever it is. Joe and J.D. have been through situations like this before. Joe especially, with football teams, I’m sure there’s controversy. I’m sure they’ll figure it out. I’m not worried about it.”
The final 10-lap segment was pegged as the epitome of ‘Have at it, boys’ and when it came to the restarts it lived up to the hype.
Coming to the green on the initial start of the final segment, Logano took a look under Johnson to make it three wide. Getting his left-side tires in the grass, Logano tried to get back in line and tagged Mark Martin who was on his outside. Martin couldn’t save it and then slid down into David Reutimann, who collected Tony Stewart on the bottom of the track. Martin shot back up the track and collected Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“It just got kind of crazy out there on that restart,” Martin said. “You can’t win this thing until you get it started and we were trying to get it started. I didn’t get the best start, but it was going to be OK. And then somehow or another, the No. 20 (Logano) car kind of swerved up and the No. 1 (McMurray) car got in the back of me and we just started wadding up.”
After leading 56 of the 100 laps, Johnson lost his chance at another All-Star victory in the final 10-lap segment. The No. 48 team was beat off pit road by Hamlin and Kyle Busch on the final four-tire stop of the night and Johnson was never able to recover from there.
Battling with Hamlin as Kurt Busch drove away with the lead, Johnson lost the rear end of the No. 48 Chevrolet and spun off the fourth corner. As the fans jumped to their feet and cheered, Johnson brought the car to pit road to clear the grass from the grill and get four fresh tires. Restarting the race with only two laps to go, Johnson was unable to make up ground and came home 13th.
“I was needing a mistake and I almost had one when the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and the No. 11 (Hamlin) got together,” Johnson said. “But I was so occupied watching them and got out of the gas, I wasn’t sure where they were going to go, then the No. 2 (Kurt Busch) came blowing by on the inside. That was my opportunity there and I was just maybe a little too cautious wondering where they were going to end up.”
Transferring into the night’s main event by winning the Sprint Showdown, Martin Truex Jr. was able to capitalize on a poor final restart by Logano to bring the No. 56 Toyota home in the second spot.
“Just needed a few more laps,” Truex Jr. said. “I was catching Kurt there at the end. But it was a good day for us.”
The 26th running of the Sprint All-Star Race saw six lead changes among only four different drivers and saw only three incidents that brought out the yellow flag. Out of the 21-car field, only 13 cars finished the event out of the track.