Who’s in the headline – While most of the stories will be written about Denny Hamlin winning the race, it is his pit crew that really should be in the spotlight. On the mandatory stop before the final 10-lap segment, Hamlin’s crew threw down a 10.4-second pit stop. DJ Copp told Frontstretch in 2013 that the current equipment made a 10-second pit stop possible. The No. 11 team is very close to making that a reality. They also turned in the fastest pit stop during the unique All-Star qualifying format, which put Hamlin in the number one pit stall and ultimately gave him the pole position for the final restart which secured the triumph for him.
What happened – NASCAR’s annual showcase of its best drivers, race winners and most popular vote getter who doesn’t fit into the first two categories, took the rag late on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. There was some aggressive racing on each restart until the cars spread out, and then it was mostly a single-file parade. Kurt Busch looked to be the class of the field near the end of the event, but he stumbled on the final restart and came home in third. Busch’s teammate Kevin Harvick was equally strong and pressured Hamlin as the laps wound down, but fell victim to the vagaries of clean air. The entire event was caution-free, which begs the question: “Are the drivers really laying it all on the line for $1 million?”
Why you should care – NASCAR was going to try and run their current idea of the 2016 rules package in the All-Star Race but backed off of that notion. The sanctioning body is now talking about staying with the 2015 package next season. There were four passes for the lead on the track, although two of them were generated by Busch beating Brad Keselowski to the line by a bumper on lap 33. The current package has corner speeds up and the benefit of clean air is still too great. If the sanctioning body can’t get these cars off of the ground there isn’t going to be any difference in the racing next season.
What your friends are talking about – Joe Gibbs Racing won their first All-Star Race. The organization has been running in NASCAR since 1991 and has three Cup series championships, one NXS championship and two K&N East titles. With 116 Cup series wins to their credit, it is amazing that they had never tasted the champagne after the All-Star Race. There isn’t much left for Coach Gibbs’s bucket list, but now there is one less item.
Roush Fenway Racing owned mile-and-a-half tracks years ago. They have struggled mightily the last couple of years, only scoring five wins. The last mile-and-a-half win was Matt Kenseth at Kansas in 2012. Greg Biffle did win at Michigan in 2013. The organization is working hard, just like every other one in the garage, but they have to be feeling the pressure at this point. Greg Biffle was the only Roush car in the All-Star Race, having raced his way in with a segment one win in the Sprint Showdown. Unfortunately for Biffle he pancaked the right side of his car early in the event and was a non-factor from there on.
Hamlin’s pit crew ripped off an amazingly fast pit stop to set him up for the win. They also had a loose wheel earlier in the race. Kyle Busch, Hamlin’s teammate, also had a loose wheel. While the JGR teams have modified their pit guns to a point where they seem to be faster than everyone else on pit lane, they also seem to be lacking in torgue. Spinning the lugs at a high revolution can certainly make the stops faster, but if the guns don’t seat the nuts solidly it can leave wheels loose and ultimately cost teams wins.
JGR may have won the battle but, to this point, Hendrick Motorsports is winning the Intermediate war. Harvick and Jimmie Johnson have won all of the mile-and-a-half races this season. Kurt Busch has been very fast on those tracks as well. The majority of the tracks in the Chase are mile and a half tracks so excelling on them is going to be a huge factor toward winning the title. The sport ebbs and flows for sure and this domination might not last but, for now, the other teams have to step it up or the HMS teams and satellite operations are going to run away with the hardware.
Timing and scoring is a challenge at a racetrack. With the electronic telemetry that the cars utilize it isn’t as difficult as it was when scorers used a piece of paper and wrote down times from a clock at the start/finish line. Amazingly, with that advanced technology, it still takes race control 10 minutes to figure out the average finishes over the four segments in order to bring the cars down pit lane for the final pit stops. Most college freshmen who have taken an Excel class could throw together a spreadsheet and calculate the lineup before the pace car grabbed the field when the final caution flew. Not sure what the difficulty is, but the powers that be might want to hire a new intern to do the data input next season.
There were rumblings after the All-Star Race that a member of Johnson’s crew may have attempted to modify the side skirt of the No. 48 during the race. NASCAR announced that it was illegal to modify the skirts at all during races this season. The video is being reviewed and an announcement of any penalties should be made on Tuesday.
Speaking of penalties, Kasey Kahne won the Truck race by inches on Friday night. He was then found to be too low in the front and too high in the right rear. NASCAR has never taken away a win from a post race technical violation but this instance screams to be the first time it happens.
The 2016 Cup series may have more than just Chase Elliott as a new face in a full-time ride. Roger Penske says he wants to see if his organization can work out a situation where they can secure a sponsor to help the Wood Brothers run Ryan Blaney for all 36 races in 2016. Ty Dillon is going to complete his second full season in the Xfinity Series this year, which was the length of his brother Austin‘s career in the series. Dillon says that he and his grandfather, Richard Childress, have a plan for his Cup career and it looks like 2016 is when it is supposed to happen.
Ed Clark, the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, confirmed that he has submitted a formal request to NASCAR to receive a different race date for 2016. Clark admits the track would love to have a date in late April and again in late September. He said he does not want to see another track give up a date that they consider a good date but he would like a better option for his track after the temperature for his race date in March was quite brisk and hurt the walk-up crowd which is always a big part of the attendance at AMS.
Who is mad – Harvick went for it in qualifying and failed. Overshooting the pit stall resulted in Harvick starting the event in 20th, dead last on the field. He clawed his way forward and managed to enter the pits in the top five for the final stop. He had the fastest car on the track when the laps wound down but Hamlin pulled in front of him and took the air off of his nose with three laps to go as they raced through turns 1 and 2. That ended his shot at scoring the victory.
Keselowski came into the pits with the best average finish over the first four segments so he was the first car to hit the line. Hamlin’s crew ripped off their amazing stop and Keselowski saw the No. 11 pulling out of his pit ahead of him. The 2012 champ goosed it to try and beat Hamlin to the timing line. Unfortunately that caused his average speed over the final segment of the pits to be too fast and he was penalized. Keselowski was able to race his way back to 10th during the final 10 laps, but that moment of exuberance cost him any shot he had at scoring the win.
Kurt Busch embraced the no holds barred attitude of the All-Star Race more than any other driver Saturday night. Busch went four-wide on the start of the fourth segment and put his car in multiple scenarios that could have ended poorly. Unfortunately for Busch, with Keselowski’s speeding penalty, Busch had to start on the outside for the final restart of the race and the outside line was not strong on any of the starts all night. Busch fell back at the drop of the green and was unable to get past his Stewart-Haas teammate Harvick and take a shot at Hamlin.
Who is happy – AJ Allmendinger continues to reap the benefits of his Watkins Glen triumph from last season. Having qualified for the All-Star Race, Allmendinger started 13th and ran from there to seventh for the majority of the race before finishing 11th. Allmendinger was decent on mile-and-a-halfs early this year after a poor 2015 and is hoping to ride this momentum to another win in the near future.
Kenseth did not qualify well, starting the race in 17th. His team took a shot at two tires in the middle of the race, but it didn’t pay off like they hoped. The 2003 Cup champion pulled off a top-five finish with his daring moves over the final 10 laps and salvaged a good finish out of an average night at best.
Jeff Gordon is a four-time All-Star winner and, with his pending move out of a full-time seat, knew this is most likely his last All-Star Race. For the first time since 2006 he was able to finish in the top five thanks to a very solid run all night that never saw him outside the top 10. The salutes to Gordon continued during driver introductions as fans and drivers alike held up thank you signs to let Gordon know how much they appreciate him and his career.
With GoDaddy leaving the No. 10 next season, Danica Patrick is pitching hard for a potential sponsor. The fact that she won the fan vote for the All-Star Race shows that she can still move the needle. While it doesn’t pay enough to sponsor the team for a year, it does give the organization a statistic to highlight to entice a potential sponsor with the power of her popularity.
When the checkered flag flew
With the All-Star Race being all about running for the money and nothing about points we’ll ignore the points standings and Chase locks.
Hamlin’s win was his first career victory in the All-Star Race.
The win is also Toyota’s first score in the All-Star event.
JGR’s previous best in the All-Star Race was second on four different occasions (1997, 1998, 1999 and 2011).
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $4,644,293 in 11 points races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $922,850.
In the Xfinity Series, it has been $813,806 for the winners and $163,882 for last place after 10 races.
After five Truck races the winner has $286,711 and the last loser has banked $51,901.
What is in the cooler
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a mile-and-a-half track and the All-Star Race is run at night. Put those two things together and you have a recipe for boredom. The 25-lap segments provide the opportunity for plenty of excitement on restarts, but that is the majority of the excitement on any intermediate tracks with this race package. A couple of drivers put on shows carving through the field but the action at the front of the pack, where the broadcast is generally focused, was uninspiring at best. The end result is three cold Carolina Blondes from Foothills Brewing Company. It wasn’t thrilling but it wasn’t horrible either.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – Next weekend is the greatest day of racing in any calendar year. The Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. It is a non-stop cornucopia of auto racing excitement. After watching Monaco and Indy you can see the 600 on FOX. It is the final broadcast on FOX of the season. The remainder of the schedule on the FOX family will be on FOX Sports 1. You can also hear the race on SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. It is also available on your local PRN affiliate. The green flag should fly shortly after 6:00 p.m. ET.