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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Most of the top five was completely predictable, but the driver who finished third was a bit of a surprise. David Reutimann looked like he might have something for Carl Edwards after a charge off the final restart, but could advance no further in the closing laps of what was one of the least exciting All-Star events in recent memory. Darrell Waltrip got a little carried away during the charge, calling Reutimann “Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity,” which was an advertising slogan from International House of Pancakes. Here’s hoping that one won’t stick…

What… was THAT?

The All-Star Race is usually a throwback race, a race where caution is thrown to the wind in a no-holds-barred brawl for $1 million. But not this time. Instead a healthy crowd was treated to one of the least exciting contests this event has produced in years. There was a little beating, a smidgen of banging… and that was it. There were no fireworks, no “boys, have at it,” no excitement. The event has gone downhill since Sprint came on board and made changes that eliminates staples of races past, like late-race field inversions and eliminations.

Where… did the polesitter wind up?

Kyle Busch had to be the odds-on favorite to win after qualifying on the pole and winning Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte, but he could only watch Edwards drive away with the $1 million payday and settle for second.

When… will I be loved?

In a race so tame, it’s hard to spot a villain, and there was none to be seen in this one. Pin the blame for that on Sprint and the other corporate sponsors who have caused the race to become a watered-down facsimile of its former spectacle. No inversions, no eliminations, because heaven forbid a sponsor have to endure an early exit (then make sure your driver goes faster next time…) or see something as unseemly as a bump-and-run. Instead, it was a politically correct shell of its former self.

Why… was the No. 48 the 5 and the No.5 the 25?

Anyone who looked at the rundown and couldn’t find the No. 48, that’s because Jimmie Johnson was running the No. 5 in the All-Star Race while teammate Mark Martin took over the No. 25. The reason for the switch? Lowe’s is advertising 5% off purchases made with a Lowe’s credit card, so the sponsor requested the number change. Johnson and Martin will be back with their usual numbers next week for the Coca-Cola 600. It definitely made looking at the running order interesting: “Where the heck is Johnson… oh, wait.”

How… bad were the Penske entries early on Saturday night before a small late-race rally?

Brad Keselowski finished second in the Showdown to make the big race, but that was about where the fun stopped, as the No. 2 had brake issues in the first segment and lost six laps, and the No. 22 didn’t even have that excuse. Even though he got the lap he lost on a pit-road penalty in the first segment back, Kurt Busch was vocally unhappy with the way his Dodge was handling, at one point telling his crew, “I don’t care. I just want it backed in the fence” when asked about possible adjustments. Both drivers did improve. Keselowski gained back four of his six laps and Busch, despite his despondent radio chatter, was able to salvage something on the night; he ran in the top 10 for much of the second half before finishing 13th. But have you ever seen the movie Cars? Remember the scene where Lightning McQueen berates his pit crew so badly they up and quit on him? That has to be how Busch’s guys feel on a weekly basis, and in a sport where chemistry is huge, you have to wonder if things will unravel further as the summer heats up.

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