Like us to subscribe
Carl Edwards' win in the NASCAR All-Star Race turned into one for the blooper reels.
As Edwards drove onto the frontstretch to celebrate, he tried to spin his car into the grass. But as he did, the splitter dug into the turf, hit the ground hard and destroyed the front end.
Edwards' car came to rest at the finish line, steam pouring from beneath the hood.
"You guys know I usually pull down there, do a backflip," Edwards said. "I thought, 'Hey, I'm gong to do a slide to the grass. This will be great.
"As soon as I turned to the grass...it just dug in the splitter. I didn't expect that."
Edwards' crew chief Bob Osborne did not seem amused and said "the 99 program does not have disposable cars."
But the driver still found humor in the situation.
"Bob has been doing a really good job of keeping the splitter down," Edwards said. "It helps on the racetrack, but it doesn't help on the grass."
Check out a video of Edwards' celebration-gone-wrong (fast forward to the 2:00 mark):
The gloves did not come off. None of the boys had at it. And the most notable wreck of the evening was during the race winner's celebration.
As it turned out, the 2011 NASCAR All-Star Race didn't live up to the hype. That's disappointing, although it doesn't mean there's necessarily anyone to blame.
Every race has a winner, but not every race can be a winner. This one wasn't – unless you're a fan of All-Star champ Carl Edwards, of course.
Just last year, the All-Star Race was one of the more memorable events of the season. There were wrecks, flared tempers, hurt feelings and drama – enough to fill not only newspaper columns and highlight reels, but a flood of television commercials that relentlessly hyped this year's edition.
In one ad, NASCAR President Mike Helton dressed up like a sheriff with the drivers acting as gun-toting outlaws. Another commercial replayed crashes and aired the raw, angry radio chatter between teammates over and over – a reminder to anyone that the All-Star Race was a time for drivers to go all out, with no points on the line. Track president Marcus Smith even offered to pay any driver fines for fighting.
The buildup was immense. But if the drivers were willing to mix it up a bit, there was a good chance the race could deliver.
In the end, though, as runner-up Kyle Busch acknowledged, the race was "tame."
"Sorry we didn't give you any scoop (or) drama," he said.
We are, too.
So what happened? Here's one theory: In the era of strict limits on testing, teams now use most of the All-Star Race as glorified practice for next weekend's Coca-Cola 600.
Drivers are indeed willing to take more risks than usual in the final 10 laps, but perhaps the only real chances for that to happen are in the immediate aftermath of a restart.
And if a restart is clean and the field gets strung out in the final segment, there's nothing anyone can do. Last year, the final 10 laps gave fans plenty of action; this year, it seemed obvious Edwards would win with eight laps left – barring a caution that never came.
"You're not always going to have a side-by-side, three-wide finish," Edwards said. "But one little thing being different...and it could have been a much different race.
"Nine out of 10 times, it's going to be a much closer finish that it was tonight."
That doesn't mean it's time to move the All-Star Race or completely revamp the format (although there could certainly be a few tweaks). But as long as drivers only see the purpose in racing hard for the last 10 laps, the All-Star Race will either be boom or bust.
And, as it turned out, this one was a dud.
Carl Edwards dominated the 2011 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night, winning an unusually mild event that didn't quite meet the predictions of aggressive racing.
But in the end, it was checkers and wreckers for Edwards – he wrecked the car during his post-race celebration.
Here are the 2011 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Results:
Segment Three Results:
Segment Two Results:
Segment One Results:
In perhaps the least surprising NASCAR All-Star Race fan vote ever, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named the winner of the Sprint fan vote shortly after Saturday night's Sprint Showdown.
After finishing sixth, Earnhardt Jr. talked to crew chief Steve Letarte and returned to his hauler, where he received the official word he was the winner.
And believe it or not, Earnhardt Jr. said he wasn't totally sure he would win the thing.
"Generally, whenever you have a contest, until they announce the winner there are no guarantees," he said. "I see it a whole lot different, I think, from this side of the fence. I just didn't take it for granted.
"I knew my fans were working really hard and they've done such a great job over the last several years of locking up the most popular driver award. All the credit goes to them; they did all the work and support us so much."
Earnhardt Jr. said he got online to monitor the "hard work" and effort his fans were doing in advance of the fan vote and said the backing of his fans was motivation to perform well.
"They really believe in what we're trying to accomplish," he said. "It makes (you want to go) out there and (work) harder and harder to try to get where you want to be and be more successful and be a better competitor when you've got that many people behind you."
Does he have anything for his All-Star competitors tonight?
"I think we made it better (in the Showdown)," he said. "The speed is there. My biggest problem going into this race is we don't have any speed in the first four laps for some reason. I just don't like the way the car feels on sticker tires."
David Ragan won the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Showdown to transfer into his first NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Making the final pass for the lead exiting the second corner with two laps to go, Ragan secured his spot in the night's main event.
Starting from the pole, Ragan led the field to the end of the first 20-lap segment and did not pit during the caution flag period separating the two segments. Restarting the second segment, Brad Keselowski powered to the lead by going three-wide under Ragan and Paul Menard.
As the laps clicked away, Ragan closed the gap on Keselowski and was able to retake the lead coming to the white flag.
"There for a few laps I thought that we were just going to have to run second," Ragan said. "Everything is a lot easier if you have a fast race car. I just tried not to make any mistakes those last few runs."
Finishing second, Keselowski also transferred into the Sprint All-Star.
"I certainly didn't let him go, I can tell you that," Keselowski said. "I saw him coming and tried to not let him go (by). I didn't want to lose the race, but I wasn't going to wreck myself trying to win when I knew I could transfer from second. I certainly didn't let him go. His car was just that strong. He went right by me, dirty air and all."
Also transferring into the Sprint All-Star Race was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished the Sprint Showdown in the sixth spot. There were 2.4 million votes cast in the Sprint Fan Vote.
"I want to thank all the fans, not only my fans, but all the fans that voted," Earnhardt Jr. said.
It did not take long for the action to start as Landon Cassill blew the left-rear tire heading into Turn 1 on the second lap of the first segment. As the car slid up the banking, Joe Nemechek and David Stremme narrowly made it past. Following in Stremme's path, Derrike Cope drove hard into the driver side door of Cassill's ride. The wreck was vicious, but both drivers were able to walk away.
Here are the results of the Sprint Showdown:
It's NASCAR All-Star race night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about NASCAR's All-Star night for you below.
Start time: As you know, there are two races tonight – the last-chance qualifier race, called the Sprint Showdown, and the main event, which is the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. There will be a lot of buildup to the races, including the burnout competition; but if you're just looking to tune in for the actual events, the Sprint Showdown will take the green flag at 7:36 p.m. Eastern time and the NASCAR All-Star Race is scheduled for a 9:20 p.m. start.
Race segments/distance: First up is the Sprint Showdown, which is a 40-lap race divided into two 20-lap segments. After the Showdown, from which three drivers will advance to the Sprint All-Star Race (the two top finishers plus the fan vote winner), all of the teams will participate in driver introductions. The All-Star drivers will be joined by their pit crews. Then comes the big race, which is a 100-lap race divided into four segments: 50 laps, then 20 laps, 20 laps again and the famous 10-lap shootout for a $1 million prize.
TV and radio: Though it's not available in as many households as ESPN, this is Speed's night to shine. Speed airs one NASCAR Sprint Cup event per season, and it's the All-Star Race. If you don't get Speed, we recommend finding your local sports bar or calling a friend. And if that doesn't work, try to find your local Performance Racing Network (PRN) affiliate. You can see a list of PRN stations here.
National anthem: Sprint or Charlotte Motor Speedway – whoever decides these things – made a good call on this one. The U.S. Army "Brass Brigade" is performing "God Bless America" prior to the Sprint Showdown and will stay on to perform the national anthem before the Sprint All-Star Race. You know they'll do it right.
Race officials: Actress Angie Harmon – a personal friend of Jimmie Johnson – will drive a pace car. The honorary starter (the person who waves the green flag) is a Sprint executive, and the grand marshal is a yet-to-be-determined Sprint customer. I'm actually on a three-judge panel today who will pick a lucky fan to be the grand marshal. Can you imagine coming to a race and ending up as the grand marshal? I'll try to help pick a good one.
Tickets: There are still tickets available for the All-Star Race if you're in the area and want to stop by.
Weather: Fans at Charlotte are in store for a very pleasant evening. After a hot day in the mid-80s, the temperature will be 78 degrees at the start of the All-Star Race.
Last year: Kurt Busch took advantage of a tangle between Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, then held off Martin Truex Jr. on a pair of late restarts to win his first All-Star Race. He went on to sweep Charlotte Speedweeks by winning the Coca-Cola 600.
Starting lineup for tonight's Sprint Showdown (scroll down further for NASCAR All-Star Race lineup):
"Iceman" Kimi Raikkonen kept his cool during his NASCAR debut on Friday night, turning in a solid, clean 15th-place finish in the Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Now, it appears, he may already have his sights set on moving up the NASCAR ladder.
After the 2007 Formula One world champion displayed poise throughout Friday's event (despite brushing the wall twice), he acknowledged afterward that "it was more fun than I expected."
Race winner Kyle Busch, Raikkonen's team owner, acknowledged there was a Toyota Nationwide Series car in the Kyle Busch Motorsports shop – but insisted he didn't own it. For now, it's a mystery as to who does.
Raikkonen, for his part, said "We'll see" when asked about running next week's Nationwide event at Charlotte, but also made a reference to the Truck race being "quite far away to come from Europe."
Does that mean he'll stick around North Carolina for another week?
Either way, Raikkonen's debut was extremely respectable for first-timer. Aside from a couple of Truck tests, he had zero experience in NASCAR and had never seen a 1.5-mile oval before Friday.
"I mean, you'd rather be more high up (in finishing order)," he said after the race. "But I think how it felt this morning and qualifying (a disappointing 31st), I'm pretty pleased how it was in the race. I think for sure there's still a lot to learn. But I didn't really have any major issues."
Crew chief Rick Ren said he'd heard (as many people had) that Raikkonen had a reputation for not being talkative. But the driver gave three group media interviews on Friday as well as separate TV and radio interviews, and did well in communicating with his spotter (also something he wasn't used to) and the team as a whole.
"He does everything you ask him to do," Ren said. "This is a tough racetrack – so I can't believe he (wouldn't be) pleased with coming out of here 15th in his first race. I'm pleased for him, just because I know how difficult it is here."
Ren was particularly impressed with Raikkonen's ability to not spin the tires on restarts – he was floored, in fact, that someone new to NASCAR wouldn't make that mistake.
"I was like, 'Wow, this guy is good on restarts,'" Ren said. "I was really surprised. Some guys can race for years and never learn restarts."
Interestingly enough, Raikkonen cited restarts as his weak point. He didn't have enough experience to figure out where to put his car on the restarts yet, he said – though he expected he'd figure it out with time.
Before the race, Ren gave Raikkonen a crash course in everything NASCAR – from caution lights to the flags to pit stops to what happens if he gets into an accident – and said the driver "grasped it very well."
It showed. The driver was completely involved in race strategy throughout the event – telling Ren that he wanted track position instead of a pit stop on the first caution – and displayed a quick grasp of the racing.
Raikkonen indicated it didn't take long before he was comfortable in the car – and in the garage.
"Everybody's been very nice and very welcome," he said. "It's a nice atmosphere, very relaxed. It's been good."
Let's face it: The qualifying format for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is one of the wackiest things NASCAR does all season.
The starting lineup is determined by three laps: Drivers make two qualifying circuits, come down pit road at the end of the second lap for a four-tire pit stop and then return to the track for a final lap around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Because a pit stop was involved, getting on and off pit road was as important as anything in deciding the pole. And Kyle Busch did that the best on Friday night, grabbing the top spot for Saturday's All-Star Race.
"We all love this format and enjoy it," Busch said. "... I give (my pit crew) the credit of having a really fast pit stop here today."
As the last car to run, Busch knocked Clint Bowyer off the top spot.
"That Kyle Busch is a pain in everybody's butt, isn't he?" Bowyer joked.
Bowyer will start on the outside pole, followed by Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin – who is driving the No. 25 car this weekend instead of his usual No. 5.
Starting lineup for the 2011 NASCAR All-Star Race:
After a week or more of debate, Kevin Harvick explained he was still unsure whether or not the four week probation handed down by NASCAR applied to Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race.
"I’m still confused whether I am on probation or not on probation so I can’t answer that," he said when asked if he would be hesitant racing Kyle Busch in the All-Star Race. "I don’t really know. I’m just going to go race and see what happens."
Following his comments, Harvick had a meeting inside the NASCAR hauler before heading out to practice. NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp explained Harvick had already been invited earlier in the day to come to the NASCAR hauler and the meeting was not a direct result of his comments.
Apparently, Harvick was not the only driver still unclear if probabtion applied to the Sprint All-Star Race. After his media availability concluded, Greg Biffle asked, "Does anybody know if the probation applies to Kevin in this race? Or does it skip this race? So you get points taken away even though you don't get points issued?"
Biffle denied anyone put him up to the question and explained he would bring up the point in Saturday's driver meeting.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France took time on Friday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway to address the state of the sport 11 races into the 2011 season.
France touched on topics ranging from the 'have at it' philosophy and clarifying what probation means, also addressing attendance numbers, getting back to the roots of the sport, highlighting the Nationwide Series regulars, split-screen commercials and the possibility of shortening races.
Below are some of France's selected quotes.
On the 'have at it' philosophy:
There are limits and I think you saw one of the limits is if you put anyone in danger, like what happened with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch where it was after the race that happened... I think it's important to know that if you look throughout NASCAR's history, one of the videos that is shown the most Wednesday night (at the NASCAR Hall of Fame dinner) was the famous finish in Daytona with Richard Petty and David Pearson hitting each other and spun out in the grass. You go through our history, that's part of it. Contact, the emotion, in particular late in the race. We have said we can over-officiate and over-regulate in some circumstances over a 60-year period of time.
I think our point was a couple years ago was we thought we might have been in a pattern of that. We wanted to put it in the drivers hands. We never said there was no limits with that. You can't just go around with a missile and a weapon out there, but if you're having contact, that's part of NASCAR. It's tough for us, but that's what we do. It's tough for any sport to have certain areas of the game – or in auto racing – that are subjective as to what is too much.
We will figure that out. We will remain obviously a contact sport. We are going to remain with the basic philosophy we're putting more of it in the drivers hands. If they go over a line that we think is there, we'll deal with that.
On whether NASCAR needs to clarify penalties:
There's a 60-year history of how we officiate the event. Most of our top officials, certainly Mike Helton who is in charge every weekend, has been at the helm for a decade or longer. This shouldn't be a big surprise for anyone to try and read us and how we're going to officiate the events.
Late in the event, if your car is faster than somebody else and there is some contact and somebody gets by, that's NASCAR racing. We celebrate that. Throughout our history, look at the All-Star, some of the great finishes have all been with contact. Earnhardt and Bill Elliott going through the grass, that's just how it is.
The drivers know us well enough to understand. They certainly have conversations and we'll be happy to reiterate our situation.
On the definition of probation:
What probation means is there is a different set of eyes and expectations that are placed on a driver that is placed on probation. They are going to have a lot more limited flexibilty on how we'll officiate them if they should they be in a similar area they had just violated. Why it is important to have consistent rules, even in the All-Star Races, is there are safety elements that are effected, there are lots of different reasons why we just wouldn't want to say we're not going to have a standard set of NASCAR rules in the All-Star Race.
Keep in mind, given that there are no points in the All-Star Race, by definition it gets more aggressive. We know that. That's fine. Drivers take more chances, they're not worried about where they are in the points standings, so it's going to be more aggressive and more competitive. But if we took the lid off and just said there are no rules, or don't worry about any ramifications that might extend into next week at all, then we believe – I said earlier in my remarks there has to be limits to all of this – that would be above the limits we would think going into an event wouldn't make any sense."
On whether poor attendance could cause tracks to lose race dates:
We don't like to see empty seats. We like to see as many fans enjoying this great competition as possible, but we're also realistic that some things are going to take time. There are not many sports that aren't being affected one way or another in attendance and how they do a lot of things.
We need the tracks to be sensitive. We've got high gas prices now that are upon us, and that's obviously a factor for our fans to consider. We certainly don't want to see empty seats and we're working with the tracks to get the best dates possible and go from there.
On whether NASCAR is trying to get back to its roots:
I don't think there was a time when we didn't think the best racing in the world was important or the core fan wasn't important. That just wouldn't be accurate. Obviously, we have a job to do, which is satisfy the core fan in every way we possibly can and try to do that. We also are trying to be appealing to ways to new fans.
Sometimes there is a different path you have to be on, slightly different, to accomplish both things. You are never off one path for long and they're never very far apart.
We're reacting to how young people in particular are taking in with their favorite sports or learning about their favorite sports. It's very different than it was then say 10 years ago, say five years ago. You just can't have your head down when all those things are going on while you are trying to grow your fan base.
On promoting the Nationwide Series regulars:
I think you'll see us take a slow, steady step making sure we get the most out of the Nationwide Series which needs to be analogous to college football to build some stars that come from Saturday to Sunday for us. This was a big step, but it's not going to be the only step. We will be looking at ways to enhance the young drivers and their talents, and new owners for that matter, in the Nationwide and other national series that don't just get this percolation of Cup drivers to the point where it just homogenizes both Sunday and Saturday, it doesn't deliver those benefits we would like to see of showcasing young drivers, young talent and new owners.
On the decision to use split-screen commercials by Fox in Dover and ESPN in Chase races:
We had been informed. Obviously it's not a brand-new concept, it was tried a decade ago or so with some mixed reviews. They're trying some different takes at it. If it enhances the viewing experience and works with the advertisers, we're all open to that. I think we're going to trust our TV partners to try some new things and they will be as critical as we will be to see how well it will go.
There is no question the television landscape – with that has happened with Comcast and NBC coming together and recent deals, the PAC 12 deal and others – that sports content has never been more important to all the networks who are the business and some new ones that are getting into the business.
Our obligation and hope is to get renewals done with our incumbents. When that day comes where that's not possible – which I hope it doesn't come because I think we have the best line-up of broadcast partners – we'll deal with that and have to see how the split-broadcast affects that.
On shortening races:
We have shortened races. Over the last five or six years we have shortened races, even in the Nationwide Series. We will be open to that if it works for the tracks, if it works for our partners and obviously if the fan base wants that. That will be something that it will be case-by-case. Would we be open to that? Yes. Have we done it before? Yes.
In Saturday night's Sprint Showdown – the last-chance qualifying race for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race – there will be two transfer spots up for grabs.
The Fords of David Ragan and AJ Allmendinger will get the head start in the 40-lap event, as they qualified on the Showdown's pole and outside pole positions, respectively, on Friday afternoon.
"We've struggled a little bit and haven't gotten the finishes we wanted, but this is our kind of racetrack," Ragan said. "...Our car is fast enough, we've just got to put ourselves in the right position."
Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski and Jeff Burton rounded out the top five, with fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting 13th.
The Showdown, which will have two 20-lap segments, takes the top two drivers and puts them into the All-Star Race, along with the winner of a fan vote.
On Friday, Sprint announced the top five of the fan vote (in alphabetical order) as: Allmendinger, Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano and Brian Vickers.
Here's the complete starting lineup for the Sprint Showdown:
There are a few ways to tell Tony Stewart is now a 40-year-old.
For one, the veteran has a few streaks of gray hair. He's now a team owner instead of just somebody's driver. And there are so many candles on his birthday cake that when he blows them out, he lives up to his nickname: Smoke.
But as of now, none of the signs that Stewart is 40 have shown up on the racetrack. He's still Tony Friggin' Stewart, the man whose peers voted him NASCAR's most talented driver last year.
As he gets older, will his skills someday decline? Or will Stewart walk away from the sport someday when he's still on top of his game?
"You don't know until you get in that position," he said. "Your heart and your mind might be 100 percent into it, but something (might) happen where you can't see as good or you don't feel as good in the car. Or you might be perfectly healthy and on top of your game and your mind says, 'I'm just tired of doing it.' You don't know what the variables are going to be."
Stewart once said that good drivers never forget how to drive and argued that the only reason a driver's performance may drop off is due to the car or circumstances on the team.
But when he said that, Stewart mentioned that eventually age would become a factor. After all, no one can race forever.
So I asked Stewart on Friday: How does a driver know when his career is starting to wind down?
"I think you just know," he said. "... I think mentally you know, your mind tells you something. It's no different than having a family or anything else – you just kind of know when the time is right. It's when priorities in your life start changing, that's when you can sense that. It's desire, it's health – there are a lot of variables to decide when that day really is that you walk away from it."
Certainly, I'm not saying Stewart has lost a step or is even close. Along with Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and perhaps Carl Edwards, Stewart is still among the drivers I'd want in my car more than any other.
But I wondered if Stewart still feels as good as he did when he was 20.
"Mentally? Yeah," he said. "Physically? Not so much."
Why doesn't he feel the same physically?
"I probably could take better care of myself," he replied.
Wasn't he on a good diet plan now? I asked sincerely.
He offered no response but smiled, gave me a friendly punch in the gut and walked into his hauler.
Former Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen made his NASCAR debut Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, taking the wheel of the No. 15 truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Running 30th in both practice sessions, Raikkonen was unhappy with the day's progress but knew there would be a major learning curve in NASCAR.
“Since I stopped in Formula 1, my interests have always been in many different motorsports,” Raikkonen said. “I want to try different things and this wasn’t the first time that I have been offered to come here. I had a good time to come and see how it is and learn and try to get better in it. That’s really the only reason that I came. I was interested to see how it is and how it feels and how it is racing in NASCAR.”
Making his debut this weekend in Charlotte, Raikkonen said he had no further plans set in place, but hopes to get a chance to run some Sprint Cup Series races if all goes well.
“I don’t have big plans – I don’t have any plans for next year or anything of what I do,” he said. “I see how it is because I didn’t have any expectations when I came here. It’s a bit like when I went to rally (cars) – I didn’t have much expectation, I wanted to see how it is.
"It’s the same story here. For sure, it’s a different sport. Different type of racing than what we have in Europe. It’s very popular here and maybe it looks easy, but it’s not so easy to be fast. We’ll see how it goes and what the future will bring. We go step-by-step and see what happens.”
Friday’s practice sessions reinforced that sentiment, as he struggled to find a handle on the No. 15 truck.
“Wasn’t very good day, but we have to start from somewhere,” Raikkonen said. “Improve hopefully in qualifying and in the race we can do a bit better. Of course there’s a lot of things to know what you want from the car. It looks quite similar, the circuits here, but it’s not. You have to learn all the best things on every circuit and what you can do and the best lines. That really comes with the knowledge and experience. We try to survive through the day and try to do the best that we can and hopefully we are much more smarter and we know more things after that.
“I hoped to have a little bit more during the practice, but the handling of the car was not what I wanted and at the end it was a bit better. I’m still not happy, but it would be nice to still have some more practice. It is what it is and it will be interesting to see how it goes in the race because that is really the first time now that you have some cars beside you and you can go and overtake some guys. It is a different thing once we go all together in the start and the first laps. We have to learn it and hopefully it goes smoothly.”
Throughout the days two practice sessions, Raikkonen was able to talk things over with team owner Kyle Busch between track time.
“Expectations for Kimi tonight are pretty simple,” Busch said. “Just try to get him to run all the laps, try to get him to gain some experience, get him out there around some other trucks. Try to drive the truck a little harder and get a feel for it. Feel the loose, feel the tight. Apparently we’ve already given him both of those, but to be able to get him to feel that in traffic and race around some other guys and see if he can’t make his way forward. Essentially, just try to complete all the laps and get experience.”
Running rally cars in Europe, Raikkonen is making NASCAR attempts as it fits into his schedule.
“I have always planned to do the rally this year so this is really when I have time, but the NASCAR I wanted to see how it is, how it feels, how I do here,” he said. “So I mean if I completely suck here, there’s probably no reason to come back, but hopefully it goes better than today. I mean, I don’t know yet. Like I said, we go day-by-day and see how it goes and what comes in the future it comes. Like I said, I have no plans for next year so it’s too early to think about it.”
Indicating his plans are to run this weekend and next weekend, Raikonnen left the door open for a Nationwide Series start as the Camping World Truck Series has the weekend off. Busch said his team would be unable to field Raikkonen in the Nationwide Series race next week as his team does not have a Nationwide license and his crew members are not licensed to work in the Nationwide Series, “so it would have to be with somebody else.”
When Regan Smith was down on his luck in NASCAR and searching for a ride, Furniture Row Racing picked him up and gave him an opportunity.
So just because he's won a Sprint Cup Series race now, Smith said it can't just be assumed he'll ditch Furniture Row to go chase after the money that a bigger team could offer.
"I think there's something to be said about loyalty," Smith said Friday. "Maybe that doesn't stick around all the time in this sport, but I'm perfectly happy where I'm at."
Smith said when he first sat down with Furniture Row Racing executives, they agreed to "build something together." And now that the team has shown it can win races – Smith was the upset winner in the Southern 500 at Darlington – the driver said he's even more committed.
"We've all got a lot of time and effort put into it," Smith said. "They've certainly stuck behind me, even when we were having some struggles. And vice versa – if we were in a situation where were breaking some parts or whatever, I'd know I was 100 percent behind them. So I've got a lot personally invested into Denver and into the team."
The driver, a current Charlotte resident and native of upstate New York, is even building a house in the Colorado foothills. Take that as another indication Smith is happy with his current situation.
"I'm sure stuff will be said and things will be out there, but I've only got one win and one top five," he said. "I want to concentrate on getting more of 'em and being consistently up front. To me, that's the most important thing right now."
Ever since the fan vote for Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race began, it's been assumed that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a virtual lock to win it.
After all, the guy has won eight straight NMPA Most Popular Driver awards. What other fan base could possibly beat out Earnhardt Jr.'s legion of devoted followers?
The driver himself, though, has been cautious when addressing the topic. Calling it a "tricky subject," Earnhardt Jr. has gone to great lengths to emphasize that he doesn't believe he's guaranteed to advance from the Sprint Showdown into the main event.
At Dover, he even suggested he wouldn't have a problem going home to drink a beer and watch the race on TV if he somehow failed to qualify for the All-Star Race itself.
Some people apparently took that to mean he didn't care, though, which is hardly the case.
"I guess I was making the point – and going a little overboard –trying to make people understand that I wasn't taking for granted that I'd won the fan vote and I was locked in and I had nothing to worry about," he said.
Earnhardt Jr. is well aware there are several ways he could miss the All-Star event. He could fail to finish on the lead lap or have a damaged car, which would negate the fan vote even if he won it. Or Junior Nation could somehow get out-voted by another group of fans (although that seems next-to-impossible).
As such, his strategy is to go out and win the Sprint Showdown – and make it into the All-Star Race on his own merits.
"I'm just going to go out there and run as hard as that car can go," he said. "I would love to win and get into the All-Star outright. I've paid attention to the last several months, and I know how much the fans have put into voting for me. And should we win the fan vote, it would be because of everything they did. I think they would agree with me they would like to see me win and go in outright – and that's what I'm going to try to do."
But if he's running fourth or fifth late in the race, will Earnhardt Jr. fall into a conservative mode and not try to push the limits if he believes he has the fan vote locked up? He said no.
"The opportunity for us to win the fan vote is definitely in the back of my mind, but I don't think it'll affect me at all how I drive the race," he said. "If we're sitting there in the second segment and I'm running fifth, I promise you that you can guarantee that's all I can get out of it at that time."
There's another reason for that as well: Earnhardt Jr. said his No. 88 team is using the All-Star weekend as a test session for next week's Coca-Cola 600.
"We don't have the ability to do a ton of testing, so these opportunities, you've got to really snatch them up and run through some ideas that have been on your mind," he said.
In the six year history of the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge, no team had ever been a repeat champion. But on Thursday night, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing crew was able to do just that, becoming back-to-back champions by edging out the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports pit crew in the final round.
The No. 11 crew pushed the car across the line in 22.298 seconds, beating the No. 48 team’s time of 22.714 seconds.
Making its way through the bracket from the first round, the No. 11 team beat Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 9 crew, narrowly edged the Richard Childress Racing No. 29 team, cruised past the No. 22 Penske Racing team and came from behind to edge out the crowd favorite No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team to advance in the finals.
“There’s a lot of time and effort in terms of training,” rear tire changer Mike Hicks said. “It’s about repetition. If you do something for so long, over and over and over again, it becomes natural. That’s just something this team, this group has succeeded with.”
By taking the win, the No. 11 team will now have the first pit stall for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, something driver Denny Hamlin is happy about.
“Winning this last year was actually what got us the lead with 10 laps to go last year in the All-Star Race,” he said. “The critical point of all this is that pit stall.”
The pit crew members were more pleased with the fact they beat their biggest rivals, the No. 48 team. Losing out to them in the 2010 Sprint Cup championship, Thursday night’s victory was a small win in the season-long battle.
“We know what the weakest link is,” Hamlin joked, praising his pit crew.
“It was definitely gratifying,” gas man Scott Wood said. “Anytime we can beat the 48 and to line up against anybody, it’s especially gratifying about them. Going back-to-back is especially gratifying too, but we would trade this in a heartbeat to beat (the No. 48 team) at the end of the year when it counts.”
Aside from the night’s big winners, individual winners were also crowned for each position – each of which posted record times. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Mike Casto won the jack man competition with a time of 5.071 seconds, while No. 14 teammates Rick Pigeon and Jeff “Gooch” Patterson had the fastest time for the gas men at 8.652 seconds. The tire changer/carrier awards went to the No. 33 team with Jason Pulver and Austin Craven scoring the best time on the front tires with 13.901 seconds and Dustin Necaise and Matt Kreuter taking the honor on the rear tires with a time of 13.846 seconds.
In addition, the No. 14 Stewart-Haas pit crew had the overall fastest time of the competition, with a time of 21.472 seconds. That set a new record for the competition, breaking the old record held by the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing of 22.115 seconds set in 2009.
Tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge will see some of the best teams in the Sprint Cup Series compete against one another for bragging rights as the best crew on pit road. For the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, the competition is a chance to show they are once again among the sport’s elite.
At the end of the 2010 season, the pit crew struggled as the battle for the championship heated up between Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. When the crew continued to make mistakes at the eighth Chase race in Texas, crew chief Chad Knaus made a mid-race decision to swap the No. 48 pit crew with teammate Jeff Gordon’s over--the-wall guys. Once among the most respected and successful pit crews, the move was a surprise to many.
The No. 48 team was able to soldier on with the No. 24 pit crew for the final two races and claim its fifth consecutive championship, but the over-the-wall crew saw all but one person changed during the offseason. Heading into tonight’s Pit Crew Challenge, car chief Ron Malec says the team is eager to prove its worth.
With fresh faces going over the wall, many of the No. 48 crew members will be taking part in their first Pit Crew Challenge. Made up of former athletes, the crew has the finest of facilities to train at, including a new turf field complete with a track course for sprints and a sand pit with what appears to be monkey bars for additional conditioning.
“I think this is the best group of athletes we’ve ever had,” Malec said. “These guys are very focused and it’s a great group of guys. They’ve done really well for us this year. With Chad restructuring the team like he did at the end of last year, I think they have performed flawlessly for what you can expect for a new group of guys working together in a high-pressure situation like we are every week.”
While the team has performed better over the first 11 races, the crew has not gone without its hiccups and shuffling of crew members in 2011. Following a slow day on pit road in Bristol – where Johnson finished third – there were changes made at the tire changer position. Malec explained the crew member was not replaced as much as he was benched.
“We have a second string system,” he explained. “We put in the guy in that was a back-up who filled in on the 88 when the other guy got hurt for three weeks. It’s basically keep them in line, and if somebody needs to refocus or do something more in practice, it gives them time off if they’re fighting an injury and they’re not quite able to be doing their job as well as they could.
"(Then) we put that second string guy in and he may be the first string guy and the other guy may become the back-up. It’s like a pitcher – when he’s struggling they pull him out of the game.”
Making the connection between a pit crew and traditional stick-and-ball sports teams is not an exaggeration by any means. More and more these days, pit crews are made up of former athletes from baseball, football and hockey, among other things. The days of working on the car in the shop and pitting the car on Sunday are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
According to Malec, the No. 48 team has made the shift from mechanics to athletes in the last year, adding that the No. 88 pit crew still has a lot of guys that work in the shop throughout the week.
“We’re using (the No. 48 crew) as a benchmark to try and build for the future and maybe use as a template for developing the rest of the teams,” he said.
Although they do not typically set up the cars for a race weekend, the No. 48 guys set up the car they will push across the finish line in tonight’s Pit Crew Challenge. Malec explained even though the pit crew members are highly specialized, they still need to know how to work on the car in the pits if need be. As a result, Hendrick Motorsports is beginning to include the pit crew on various things around the shop without taking away from their over-the-wall training and conditioning.
Tonight in front of fans, friends and family at the Time Warner Cable Arena, the men of the No. 48 pit crew will shake off the jitters, focus on the job at hand and attempt to win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge.
It looks as if Trevor Bayne's first competition after his return to NASCAR may be in the burnout competition prior to Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
Bayne is among the seven entrants in the Pennzoil Ultra Victory Challenge, in which drivers perform burnouts that are judged by experts and, ultimately, the fans.
Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, and the Busch brothers will participate in the competition, along with Bayne and defending champion Joey Logano.
Bayne hasn't raced in NASCAR since Talladega due to an illness. If he successfully completes a track test this week, Roush Fenway Racing said he's expected to return to the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing car for the All-Star Race.
This year, the burnout competition format is slightly different. Instead of judges determining the winner, the panel of judges will select the three best burnouts and then turn it over to the fans for voting.
Fans at the track and at home will then text their choice, and the driver with the most votes wins the trophy and a $10,000 check to his selected charity.
The burnout competition will be at 6 p.m. Eastern (televised live on Speed) prior to the All-Star Race.
The 2011 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of the most highly anticipated events on the NASCAR schedule, and it is hard to believe it is already upon us. After 11 races, the teams head home to Charlotte for two weeks of fan events and hard racing.
Will the 2011 Sprint All-Star Race live up the hype? Will Ryan Newman settle things with Juan Pablo Montoya? What about Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch? Who is your choice to get the Sprint Fan Vote?
Stay tuned as we keep you posted throughout the week.
So who is eligible for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint All Star Race? Here is the latest list:
As of last count, over 1.5 million votes have been cast in the Sprint Fan Vote. Fans have the opportunity to cast their vote until 5:00 p.m. ET on Saturday. The current top 10 in the Sprint Fan Vote (listed alphabetically) are:
Here is what this week's schedule has in store (all times Eastern):
7:00 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman (Time Warner Cable Arena... TV: SPEED 8:00 p.m.)
9:00 a.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice (1 hour)
10:20 a.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)
12:00 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown final practice (1 hour, 25 minutes)
1:35 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Spint All-Star Race final practice (2 hours, 35 minutes)
4:00 p.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying (2 laps)
5:00 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown qualifying (2 laps)
6:00 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race qualifying (3 laps with pit stop, with a four-tire change)
8:00 p.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race (Distance: 134 laps, 201 miles.... TV: SPEED)
7:30 p.m. - NASCAR Spint Cup Series Sprint Showdown (Distance: 20 laps/20 laps.... TV: SPEED)
9:00 p.m. - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint All-Star Race (Distance: 50 laps/20 laps/20 laps/10 laps)
We'll email you a reset link.
If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.
You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.
We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.
You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.
We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.
Choose an available username to complete sign up.
In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.