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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 All-Star Race Recap

The Key Moment – On the final restart, Matt Kenseth started beside Jimmie Johnson but buzzed his tires trying to get up to speed. That allowed Johnson an easy getaway and once the No. 48 car was back in clean air, it was time to put out the fire and call in the dogs.

In a Nutshell – Oops. Back to the drawing board at Gimmickry Inc.

Dramatic Moment – While the finish of the third segment was closer, the racing during the second segment appeared to be the most intense of the evening.

The racing between Jamie McMurray and AJ Allmendinger for the final transfer spot in the preliminary race was another highlight of the evening.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

I can understand what the rules makers were trying to do allowing the winners of the first four segments to enter the pits first prior to the final 10-lap sprint. I agree there should be some sort of bonus for winning a segment, though I’m not sure we need a five-segment race. But once Johnson won the first 20-lapper, he adopted a clever if cowardly strategy of dropping to the rear of the field (about 13 seconds behind the pack) while Kenseth and Brad Keselowski, victors in segments 2 and 3 followed suit. It was rather embarrassing, by the end to see what could have been the three fastest cars on the track just exiting turn four as the leaders took the green flag. Here’s my two solutions. Firstly, they could consider allowing the four drivers with the best average finish in the first four segments to enter the pits prior to the rest of the field. Either that, or let’s go the whole way and restart the final ten segment with just four drivers on the track, the winners of each of the previous segments.

Has this event outlived its usefulness? With only two weekends off all season in the Cup series, might it not be better spent as a rare week off for the drivers and team members to enjoy a little quality time at home? I believe if they still need to have an All-Star Race, it ought to be run on the Friday night prior to the World 600. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard about the soda pop company. It’s always going to be the World 600 to me.)

For the record the first All-Star race (then the Winston) lasted 40 minutes and 32 seconds. I think driver introductions took that long Saturday night. The TV folks are always trying new stuff. Sometimes they work, more often they don’t. This latest experiment in introducing the field prior to the race didn’t work. There’s a reason they don’t televise driver intros prior to points races: they’re boring. Some of those fan-produced intros for their favorite drivers were just downright awful. If those were the best of the submissions, I’m glad I didn’t have the task of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Prior to the race, Brian France gave the media a brief “state of the sport” interview. He thinks everything is just ducky and the racing is very exciting to date this year. Yet he claims that he and NASCAR are listening to the fans. Could somebody buy that boy a pair of hearing aids?

All right, yeah it was pretty cool to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. forced down into the grass and being able to return to the track without losing a spot… shades of 1987.

Hmmm. The new Chevrolet entry for 2013 Cup races will be known simply as the SS. The production equivalent won’t be available in the showrooms until late 2013 as a limited production 2014 model vehicle. Chevy acknowledges the SS isn’t intended to be a huge-selling car. (Probably after watching the success of the last generation GTOs and G8s that helped consign Pontiac to the great boneyard in the sky.) Like that last-gen GTO, the SS will be based on a Holden model, a GM subsidiary out of Australia. Wait a sec. Isn’t NASCAR Cup racing limited to American-produced cars? Toyota sort of fudged their way in with a car that was designed in Japan but built in America. How in heck did this happen?

For the record, the top ranks of NASCAR racing haven’t always been limited to American-built cars. Prior to Toyota’s arrival only one top tier NASCAR race had been won by a foreign make. Al Keller won a Grand National (now Cup) race in June of 1954 held in Linden, N.J., driving a Jaguar. (New Jersey is still part of the United States, right?). Other foreign makes competed in the early days of Grand National racing as well, including a lowly VW Beetle that ran at Langhorne, Pa., in the ’50s.

This week, the House Appropriations committee added an amendment to next year’s military spending bill that would ban the Armed Services from sponsoring racecars (or any other sporting event.) That could be bad news for Newman and Earnhardt Jr.’s teams. On the other hand the last time such a measure was proposed it was defeated by a vote of 281 to 148. Truthfully, if the sponsors of the measure really want to stop wasteful government spending, there’s a lot of other areas involving much more money they should start with.

Yep, another $50,000 slap on the wrist for Kurt Busch was issued this week. In his comments on the incident, Busch seemed to indicate he felt he was actually fined for slamming the door on the NASCAR hauler on his way out. Apparently, he really is that clueless. (Also, Busch and the No. 51 team are listed as having earned about $80,000 in the All-Star Race. If Busch has the traditional 50/50 split with car owner James Finch he’s now only $10,000 in the hole after a short evening’s work.)

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Last year’s All-Star Race winner Carl Edwards had an engine expire on lap 26 of this year’s event. Ever the gamer, he spent the rest of the night helping the broadcast team call the race.

Edward’s teammate Greg Biffle also suffered a terminal engine meltdown that ignited the No. 16 car with pyrotechnics worthy of a Hollywood thriller.

Jeff Gordon’s car appeared competitive in the first few segments but in the end, he sank back to a 13th-place finish. Lucky number 13. It’s sort of a synopsis of his season to date.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Allmendinger won the pole for the preliminary race but had a left front tire go flat on the pace laps prior to the start. Somehow, he still rallied back to finish second to make the main event.

Kasey Kahne wadded up yet another car in qualifying for the race and was lucky to escape that wreck with no injuries. In his backup car, he was strong all evening before sliding back to a ninth-place finish.

Kurt Busch hit the wall hard enough it appeared his evening was over but he soldiered on to an eighth-place result. In even better news, he managed to avoid running into any cars on pit road while taking off his helmet after the race.

Kenseth felt he had a front tire going flat during the caution after Biffle’s fiery exit from the race, but the tire was in fact fine. Kenseth drove on to a third-place finish. (But someone is going to have to explain the name of his latest sponsor, the Fifth Third Bank, to me. What the blazes?)

A week after his team’s 200th victory, Rick Hendrick enjoyed the seventh All-Star victory his teams have managed to amass. Rather unwisely, Hendrick then decided he’d like to climb onto the No. 48 car for a post-victory ride. Hendrick is no spring chicken and he’s become… well, let’s put this politely, “portly.” It’s a wonder he didn’t end up a long red skid mark along the frontstretch, and my guess is he goes with boxers rather than briefs for the next few days.

Bobby Labonte at least made it into the big show when Earnhardt won the preliminary and thus didn’t need the fans to vote him into the transfer spot.

Worth Noting

  • Johnson’s victory Saturday night was HMS’ seventh in the All-Star races which have run under numerous different names. (I still call it the Winston. Sue me.)
  • Johnson’s All-Star win was the third of his career. He joins teammate Gordon and the late Dale Earnhardt as the only three-time winners of the event.
  • The only driver to finish within the top five in the 2011 and 2012 All-Star races was Kyle Busch. He finished second last year and fourth this time out. Kenseth finished third this year and sixth last year.
  • Ryan Briscoe won the pole for this year’s Indy 500 aboard a Roger Penske-prepared car. James Hinchcliffe will start second. Indy car fans refer to Hinchcliffe as “Manica” because he’s the guy that took over the seat vacated by Danica Patrick when she decided to go NASCAR racing full-time at the end of last season. Some of you may recall Ms. Patrick struggled mightily just to get into last year’s Indy 500. Hmmm.

What’s the Points? – This race is pointless… in more ways than one.

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 this one two and a half cans. The first four segments weren’t bad, but the finish was a decided anti-climax.

Next Up – The circuit returns to Charlotte for the longest race of the season, the World 600 next Sunday night. (Oh, and I hear they’re having some sort of race in Indianapolis that same Sunday afternoon and a Grand Prix in some tiny principality in Europe that morning, too.)