NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race: ‘Always Wild And Crazy’
No points. No problem.
That’s Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a nutshell – along with a $1 million payoff for the driver and team most willing to throw caution to the wind and fulfill the racing prophecy of “checkers or wreckers.”
“It is a win-or-nothing kind of situation,” said Jeff Gordon, with three all-star victories the top winner among active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors. “If we don’t win, then we don’t lose any points, so you can kind of leave [the track] with a smile on your face.”
What separates NASCAR’s all-star affair from those of other professional sports? Several things – but most noteworthy that individual players aren’t performing with an unfamiliar coach or manager with teammates who may or may not be interested in the outcome. Points leader Greg Biffle will race with his No. 16 Ford team. So will the other starters who will be racing for pride as well as cash.
It’s also a dress rehearsal for the May 27 Coca-Cola 600, which does carry points and looms significant as the countdown to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ closes on its mid-point.
The last driver to win both the Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 was Kurt Busch in 2010.
Saturday night’s 100-lap race will be contested in five segments – four 20-lap stints and a 10-lap finale. Winners of the first four segments will go to the head of the field for the race’s ultimate pit stop. Only green flag laps will be counted during the final segment.
Carl Edwards is the defending winner of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Other previous winners qualified for the event include Gordon, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.
The race is open to race-winning drivers from the 2011 and 2012 NSCS seasons, active NSCS champions from 2002-2011 and past Sprint All-Star Race winners from 2002-2011. The top two finishers of the night’s opening Sprint Showdown plus one driver selected via the Sprint Fan Vote complete the field. (Click here to vote)
An All-Star victory might be the spark Gordon needs to jump-start his 2012 season – during which he’s been beset by just about every imaginable piece of bad luck. He ranks 23rd in the point standings despite being in contention for a top-five finish or better in most of the season’s first 11 races.
“We’ve won all three segments and battled Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt for the victory,” said Gordon. “But we’ve also run out of gas while leading on the last lap. We’ve also won in a backup car after wrecking in primary in Turn One on lap one. The All-Star Race is always wild and crazy.”
Showdown Filled With NASCAR Star Power
Last-chance races have been called many things, and Saturday’s Sprint Showdown (run in two segments, 20 laps each) is “special.” Consider that among the 22 participants there are:
• 10 winners of 77 NASCAR Sprint Cup races
• A past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion
• Two Daytona 500 winners and a Brickyard 400 winner
• Three former Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ qualifiers
• Two competitors ranked among the top 10 in current NASCAR Sprint Cup points
Only the top two finishers will transfer to the Sprint All-Star Race although another will go into the night’s main event via the Sprint Fan Vote. Who might they be?
Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte have won 21 races apiece. Labonte is the 2000 NSCS champion. Dale Earnhardt Jr., an 18-time winner and currently third in points, has won the Daytona 500. So has Jamie McMurray, whose resume includes the Brickyard 400. Burton, Earnhardt and Juan Pablo Montoya have been Chase qualifiers.
If there’s a “wild card” it could be Martin Truex Jr., ranked sixth in points with four top-five finishes including a second place last month at Kansas Speedway.
Any way you shake it, that’s some under card.
Bayne, Menard, Ambrose Eye First All-Star Race
Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race will feature at least three first-time starters – two of them winners since last May’s Coca-Cola 600 and another whose all-star debut was delayed by illness.
• Trevor Bayne punched his All-Star ticket by winning the 2011 Daytona 500. Unfortunately, Bayne was hospitalized later in the spring, forcing him to delay his special trip to Charlotte as a 20-year-old.
• Paul Menard kissed the fabled start-finish line bricks following his victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
• Australian Marcos Ambrose became the second foreign-born driver to reach NASCAR Sprint All-Star glory, winning at Watkins Glen International last August.
There could be other Sprint All-Star rookies. Three more slots are open to as-yet unqualified drivers: one via the Sprint Fan Vote and to the top-two finishers of the Sprint Showdown last-chance event that precedes the Sprint All-Star Race.
Rookie winners of the race are few and far between – just two since the race’s second edition in 1986. Ryan Newman won as a first-time starter in 2002 driving for Penske Racing. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in 2000 driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
One Mistake And You’re Done In NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge
NASCAR Sprint All-Star week isn’t just for the drivers. The pit crews – arguably the second most important part of a winning combination – get their time in the spotlight on Thursday, May 17, at 7 p.m. at Time Warner Cable Arena (SPEED, delayed beginning at 8 p.m. EDT) in Charlotte.
The NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge is a competition between 24 of the top NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pit crews and features the “unsung heroes” of the sport in a popular tournament-style battle. The event’s finishing order determines pit selection for Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 Toyota team is the two-time defending champion.
Mike Lepp, director of athletics for JGR, has been with the organization for six years and has witnessed the evolution of stops and those who perform the pit road ballet. “Six years ago it was 14 seconds. Now, if you’re not under 13 seconds you’re done,” said Lepp, adding that as many as 15 crews regularly bust sub-13-stops.
The No. 11 team’s rear tire carrier, former Lenoir-Ryne College linebacker Heath Cherry, said the pit crew competition requires crews to bring their ‘A’ game each round. “It always comes down to the team that makes the fewest amounts of mistakes,” said Cherry, “just like out here [in an NSCS race].”
Rising Stars: Suárez Shines In Historic Mexico City Night Race
Daniel Suárez collected his first NASCAR Toyota Series victory on Saturday in the Mexico Nocturna 200 presented by AC Delco at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. The 20-year-old Suárez, out of Monterrey, Mexico, and driver of the No. 3 TELCEL Dodge, had to survive three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. In the process, Suárez takes over the points lead after four races.
It was a historic night for the NASCAR Toyota Series as it was the first night race in Mexico City. The series held its first race under the lights in 2010 at Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico.
Suárez, the 2010 series rookie of the year, is also in his second full season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and heads to Iowa Speedway Saturday for the Graham Tire 150, the annual combination showcase with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
Joining Suarez in Saturday’s combo event are a number of other possible future NSCS stars, including Darrell Wallace Jr. and a pair of 16-year-old points leaders: Dylan Kwasniewski (West) and Chase Elliott (East).
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
The ninth celebration of NASCAR Day will be on Friday, May 18. Fans are encouraged to join The NASCAR Foundation’s initiative in the “Pin It Forward” campaign. Fans are invited to connect and share their pride for NASCAR by posting stories and uploading pictures on the Foundation’s Facebook page, as well as donate $20 for a pair of commemorative pins. … Blake Shelton, a three-time GRAMMY nominee and CMA’s reigning Male Vocalist of the Year, will perform prior to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in the infield between Turns 1 and 2. Admission to the show is free with the purchase of a ticket to the race. … On Monday, former Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter, who passed away after a year-long battle with cancer in 2010, was inducted into the South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame. Born in Charleston, S.C., Hunter attended the University of South Carolina and lettered in football and baseball from 1959-60. He was the president of Darlington Raceway from 1993-2001 before rejoining NASCAR in the summer of 2001. … Regan Smith will be featured in one of the segments on the Discovery Channel show, American Guns, Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.
Darrell Wallace Jr. To Make Series Debut At Iowa For JGR
Since winning his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in 2010 at the record age of 16 years, five months, 19 days, Darrell Wallace Jr. has been on his way to the bright lights of NASCAR’s national series stage.
His ascension to the national series officially begins Sunday at Iowa Speedway, where he’ll make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Wallace is the first African-American in NASCAR K&N Pro East history to visit Victory Lane. Wallace’s Greenville-Pickens win was the first of six to date, including a successful defense at the North Carolina track. In 25 NASCAR K&N Pro East races since 2012, Wallace also has 11 top fives, 19 top 10s and three poles to complement his trips to Victory Lane.
“I love Iowa,” Wallace said. “Been out there twice now, definitely had good runs both times out. I am looking forward to getting on the track, interacting with the fans, just giving the team, the sponsors and the fans a good show.”
Wallace also will compete in Saturday’s KNPSE race at Iowa. Follow him on Twitter this week – @BubbaWallace – as he prepares for his debut.
Iowa Native Michael Annett Seeks Hometown Win On The Heels Of Best Season Start
Nothing beats winning in front of your hometown crowd and for Michael Annett, a Des Moines, Iowa, native, the opportunity to do just that is before him. The NNS heads to Iowa Speedway this weekend for the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250, and though Annett has an average finish of 10.8 with a best result of seventh (2010), the hometown victory has eluded him.
He’s been solid in his previous three full seasons in the series with two top-10 finishes in the final standings, including a career-best ninth last year. But he’s also been waiting for his defining moment. Some might say that moment came off the track in February 2011 due to legal issues. But Annett, 25, has turned himself – and his career – around since that time.
He opened this season with a new team, Richard Petty Motorsports, and carries a new number – the iconic No. 43 – on his Ford Mustang. He’s led by veteran crew chief Phillipe Lopez. Currently sixth in the standings, he’s 11 points behind Sunoco Rookie contender Cole Whitt in fifth. On the heels of two consecutive top-10 finishes, Annett ranked a career-best fifth prior to Talladega but was caught in a late accident that brought a probable top-10 or better finish to a halt. Annett has a pre-race Driver Rating of 86.3 and an Average Running Position of 13.8 at Iowa.
Could It Be Another Sweep For Stenhouse At Iowa Speedway?
Success in NASCAR can be repetitive. Case in point, there were four tracks on the 2011 NNS schedule that were swept – Nashville (Carl Edwards), Bristol (Kyle Busch), Dover (Carl Edwards) and Iowa (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.). Three drivers have won at Iowa Speedway in the NNS and only one is entered this weekend: Stenhouse. Could he repeat and begin another Iowa sweep?
Stenhouse, the reigning series champion, defeated his Roush Fenway Racing teammate – and 2007 series champion – Edwards each time. The second of those victories was perhaps the most dramatic moment of 2011: Stenhouse sliding across the finish line just ahead of Edwards, who had slammed into the rear of Stenhouse’s No. 6 Mustang thanks to a thick smoke shield from its expiring engine.
Now Stenhouse (@StenhouseJr) returns to his turf brimming with confidence. Not only because of those victories, but as the series’ points leader. He’s 23 points up on his rival, Elliott Sadler, who’s in second. If Stenhouse can sweep Iowa this season, he will be in rare company. Only six drivers have won four or more consecutive races at a single track – Dale Earnhardt (Daytona, five); Jack Ingram (South Boston, five); Kyle Busch (Texas, five); Jamie McMurray (Rockingham, four); Tommy Ellis (South Boston, four); and Mark Martin (Rockingham, four).
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Iowa reads like its own All-Star event with names like Danica Patrick, making her first Nationwide Series trip after five appearances with IndyCar. Patrick is in her first full season in the series and has broken into the top 10 in the standings. Action sports superstar Travis Pastrana is also now in the mix. Pastrana will be making his third career start after debuting at Richmond (22nd) and following up at Darlington (17th). Kurt Busch, the 2004 NSCS champion, will drive for his brother Kyle’s team. … Kurt is one of four double-duty NSCS drivers entered, opening the door for the likes of Parker Kligerman, who’ll drive the No. 22 Dodge of 2010 series champion Brad Keselowski. Brendan Gaughan will be in the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing and Brad Sweet gets a shot in the No. 38 Chevrolet for Turner Motorsports. Michael McDowell will drive the flagship No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. He has three top 10s in four starts at Iowa. … Jeff Green, the 2000 series champion, will drive the No. 14 Toyota again this week for Eric McClure, who has not yet been medically cleared for competition following his accident at Talladega.
Close But Not Quite For Bodine At Charlotte Motor Speedway
Nine seasons of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition have sent only two champions to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Victory Lane. Ted Musgrave won the track’s inaugural race in 2003. Four-time champion Ron Hornaday Jr. collected the hardware twice, in 2007 and 2009.
Todd Bodine, a two-time titleholder, bids to add his name to that short list in Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200. A victory would erase a major gap in Bodine’s resume. Despite winning 21 times in trucks and another 15 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Bodine has yet to capture a points-paying race in Charlotte.
Bodine has done just about everything but win at CMS. He finished second to Kyle Busch in 2010, the best of a trio of NCWTS top fives. His Nationwide record shows five top fives in 21 starts. Friday’s race will be Bodine’s 49th at Charlotte in NASCAR’s three national series.
He has won what’s now called the Sprint Showdown, Saturday’s last-chance entry into the Sprint All-Star Race. “I have always run well here but never got to victory lane in the points race,” Bodine said.
Red Horse Racing will roll out the same No. 11 Toyota in which Bodine finished fifth last month at Kansas Speedway.
“Charlotte is definitely its own animal. The corners have a sharper radius than most of the other 1.5-mile tracks. The majority of them have long sweeping corners, where Charlotte does not,” Bodine said. “You’re challenged with the handling of the track because of the tighter turns, which makes Charlotte a lot more difficult than the others.”
Hornaday Ready To Resume Winning Ways
Ron Hornaday Jr., a month shy of his 54th birthday, can set one record and extend another at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hornaday has won at least one race in seven consecutive seasons – including four a year ago – a NASCAR Camping World Truck mark he shares with Kyle Busch. He’s also working on a streak of seven consecutive pole-winning campaigns and 11 overall.
Charlotte has been one of Hornaday’s best tracks, on which he ranks first in Driver Rating (115.1), Average Running Position (6.088), Fastest Laps Run (100), Laps in the Top 15 (855) and Laps Led (169). He’s the only currently active series driver with multiple victories but continues to look for his first Keystone Light Pole at the 1.5-mile track.
Hornaday got off to a slow start in 2012 as he moved from Kevin Harvick Inc. to Joe Denette Motorsports. A sixth-place finish at Kansas Speedway, however, boosted the four-time champion to seventh in the standings, 11 points out of the top five.
“We have done some testing, found a few things and the boys have been working hard making updates on our intermediate trucks, getting the drag out and getting good down force,” said Hornaday, whose last victory came at Las Vegas last October. “We weren’t far off, but I feel like these changes will put us back in the hunt.”
Consistency Crafton’s Hallmark In Charlotte
Four years have elapsed since Matt Crafton scored his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2008. Another “W” could put Crafton, 10th in the standings, back in the championship picture.
Crafton finished on the lead lap in his first eight starts at CMS, a streak that came to an end with a 26th-place finish a year ago. Both he and ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter, 16th in points, could use a little intermediate track tonic. Both of Sauter’s series victories came on 1.5-mile tracks (Kansas and Las Vegas).
Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Toyota, needs one top-five finish to become the 13th driver to reach 50 career top fives.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Timothy Peters has run well at Charlotte, winning the pole in 2010, but has only a single top 10 to show for his six starts. The NCWTS points leader finished second in his most recent start at Kansas Speedway. … Two full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will compete in Friday’s race: Brad Keselowski and David Reutimann. Brendan Gaughan, splitting his time between all three national series this season, returns to the seat of DeLana Harvick’s No. 2 Chevrolet, which ranks eighth in Owner Championship points. … Friday’s race is the first of the year to use 2012 Owner Championship points to determine locked-in starting positions.