Who’s in the headline – The No. 22 of Joey Logano was festooned with a myriad of pictures from the 50 years of Team Penske. On a full moon Saturday night, the collective spirits of all of the drivers who have piloted a car for “The Captain” rode along with Logano as he navigated the pandemonium that was the Sprint All-Star Race. With the four fresh tires required by the rules before the final 13-lap sprint, Logano chased down Kyle Larson and passed him with two laps to go. He walked away over the final two laps to score his first win in the annual All-Star event.
What happened – The All-Star Race is all about putting on a show for the fans. The rules are designed and changed routinely, in an attempt to provide the best excitement they can. The rules unfolded into some confusion and interesting judgment calls Saturday evening. A caution flag caught Matt Kenseth at the end of the first segment, having not pitted during the required time.
When the mandatory stops were made at the break, there were several cars a lap down. All teams pitted but the lap down cars were not able to take a wave around so they started the second segment a lap down. Chase Elliott tried to make a pit stop halfway through the second segment after a restart for a caution brought on by weepers on the track. When he slowed, several cars were caught in a wreck that ended the night for Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, who was running his final All-Star event. Kyle Busch was caught speeding on a subsequent pit stop and found himself 13th heading to the second break. Jimmie Johnson also attempted to drop back behind the mandatory inversion so that he’d have track position for the final restart.
After Greg Olsen, tight end for the Carolina Panthers and honorary pace car driver, drew 11 cars for the invert to start segment three, Johnson started on the front row for the final segment with worn tires alongside Kyle Busch. As much as track position has been a factor at Charlotte in recent history, the tire that Goodyear brought gave up too much and the front row cars were sitting ducks when the field hit the backstretch on the first lap of the final 13.
Kyle Larson made a bold move to the inside in Turns 1 and 2, clearing the field and looking to head for the win. Unfortunately for Larson, the handle wasn’t there as the laps wound down and Logano worked him over until he made the pass with two to go to head to the win.
Why you should care – Aside from the confusion over the rules, one thing was very evident between the Sprint Showdown and the All-Star Race Saturday night: the new rules package afforded drivers the ability to catch and pass cars ahead of them when their car was better. It has been years since we’ve seen that happen at Charlotte, especially at night.
The other takeaway from Saturday is that the future of the sport looks bright from a driving talent standpoint. Ryan Blaney, Elliott and Larson put on a show during the Showdown. The finish of the final segment looked strikingly similar to arguably the greatest finish in the history of the sport between Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven at Darlington in 2003.
What your friends are talking about – Aerodynamics and tires have been a huge part of the change in racing this season. The All-Star race was a test for a couple more tweaks to the aero package for the Cup series. It appeared to be a success based on the action seen during the Showdown and the last two segments of the All-Star Race. NASCAR refused to implement new rules last season that appeared to be capable of improving racing for the Chase. With this package presenting promise, let’s hope that the sanctioning body chooses to implement them before the end of 2016.
Billy Silas is once again the owner of Rockingham Speedway. There were no other bids received after he made a bid to purchase the track from the Richmond County Clerk of the Court. Silas was part of the group that initially purchased the track with Andy Hillenburg in 2008. It is unclear, at this point in time, if Silas intends to return racing to the historic track once again.
Daytona International Speedway spent $400 million on renovations in the Daytona Rising Project. The SportsBusiness Journal announced their 2016 Sports Business Awards on the 18th and Daytona was recognized as the Sports Facility of the Year. The flagship track of ISC is known as the World Center of Speed, and the makeover has positioned it to be a premier facility for years to come.
Who is mad – Stewart was one of the cars that was caught a lap down when Kenseth didn’t pit before Jamie McMurray brought out a caution at the end of segment one on Saturday night. Halfway through the segment, he was trying to race his way into a lucky dog position when Elliott attempted to pit and triggered a chain reaction wreck that took out Stewart, Kahne and Kenseth. After being checked in the infield care center, Stewart called it “the most screwed up All-Star race I’ve ever been a part of” and said he was glad it was his last one.
Johnson was near the front a couple of times on Saturday night, but it became apparent near the midway point of segment two that he was not going to make it to the top 4 by the time of the inversion. The No. 48 team made a call as the laps wound down for Johnson to drop back into the 12th spot, so that he’d be close to the front after the draw for the inversion. While the inversion worked in Johnson’s favor, his tires were simply too worn out for him to come close to holding off the cars starting immediately behind him with fresh bologna’s. If there had been six or eight cars ahead of the fresh tire cars, it might have played out differently.
Kyle Busch still hasn’t won a Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch was hoping to garner a big win for his sponsor M&M Mars with a special paint scheme for their 75th anniversary. He led a race-high three times for 15 laps, but had a speeding penalty when he made his mandatory stop near the middle of the second segment. That penalty put Busch in a situation similar to Johnson. He dropped to 13th before the inversion, but his right side tires were even older than Johnson’s. The 2015 Cup Series champion had nothing for the oncoming hoard with fresh tires and ended up 10th in the final rundown.
Who is happy – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran in the middle of the pack for the first ¾ of the race, but his pit stop in segment two made his car very racy and he was able to work to the front of the pack. He went three-wide on the final restart to make it to third place, but was unable to challenge Larson or Logano in the closing laps. Following the race, Earnhardt acknowledged that his team was experimenting with some items to look for speed and they have hit on some tweaks that seem to work. He’s optimistic about his Coca-Cola 600 chances.
As down as Larson was after the race, he has to be able to look in the rear view mirror and realize he had a pretty great Saturday. Larson led the final segment of the showdown and overpowered Elliott in a fender banging, smoking brawl to the finish line to advance to the All-Star race. He then raced to the front of the second segment to be the first car with fresh tires starting the final segment. He made a bold move to take the lead and led up until two laps to go. He’s getting closer and closer to that first Sprint Cup win.
Trevor Bayne has been looking for a second Sprint Cup win for five years. Roush Fenway Racing has been struggling for speed for a couple of seasons. Bayne made a very bold move to split the leaders and beat Elliott by inches to advance to the All-Star Race. Bayne finished the race in seventh, and had a great battle with Kurt Busch during the final segment that displayed some great racing talent.
When the checkered flag flew:
Joey Logano scored his first career win in the All-Star race.
This was Logano’s sixth start in the All-Star race.
His previous best result was second in 2013.
Brad Keselowski finished second in the All-Star race for the second time in his career.
He was also the runner-up in 2012.
Logano and Keselowski’s first and second place finishes is the first time in the 32 years of the event that a team has swept the top two spots.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third in the All-Star event.
This was Earnhardt’s best run since he finished second to Ryan Newman in 2002.
Earnhardt Jr. has the most laps completed and the most top 10 finishes among active drivers.
What is in the cooler – From a pure racing standpoint, the All-Star race and the Showdown were as good as the event has seen in over a decade. The confusion over how to handle the Kenseth faux pas at the end of the first segment and the limited number of cars on the lead lap after the second segment hampered the overall impact of the rules. In the end it was an All-Star weekend that has the racing world talking and people excited about the direction of the aerodynamic package. As a result, it receives four Hornet’s Nest beers from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – Next Sunday is the greatest day in racing every year. The day starts with the Grand Prix of Monaco. It is followed by the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. The day wraps up with the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule, the Coca-Cola 600. Coverage begins at 6:00 PM on Fox. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.