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Our idea for a quick fix: Instead of lining segment winners up 1-2-3-4, why not have them start 4-3-2-1 for the final 10-lap shootout?
The NASCAR All-Star Race is promoted as an event where anything goes, where there are no lines that can't be crossed. Nevertheless, despite a quirky new format which was designed to provide some incentive for drivers to try their damndest to win each segment, the All-Star Race failed to deliver.
As the field rolled to the green for the final 10-lap shootout with a $1 million dollar prize awaiting the winner, it seemed obvious to those involved and those watching that winner was going to come from one of the first four rows – whether that was Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski or Dale Earnhardt Jr. (all of whom had won one of the first four segments).
Yet there were no fireworks, no controversy and not even a lead change in what was supposed to be a mad dash for the cash. All that happened was Johnson checking out – and the front of the field stringing itself out.
And instead of adding another memorable chapter in a book filled with them, ultimately the 2012 edition of the All-Star Race will be just another footnote.
Even though the new format did prove to have some merit, it also saw Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski drop to the rear of the field after their respective wins and run in the back in order to save their equipment for the final 10-lap sprint to the finish. This meant when the fourth segment rolled around, the three fastest cars were near the bottom of the running order doing everythingthey could not to take any unnecessary chances – the complete antithesis of what the All-StarRace is supposedly all about.
"I watched what the 48 did," said Kenseth, who finished third. "They won the first one, so they didn't race until the last 10. We watched that, too – kind of hung back. There wasn't any reward for racing up through there. You knew you were coming on pit road second."
Not everyone though, was of the opinion that the racing was uneventful Saturday night. Among them was the driver who with his third victory tied Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon for most wins in the All-Star Race and contended afterwards that by him dropping to the rear it allowed for better racing up front.
"No, we were trying," Johnson said when asked if he tried to race after scoring the win in the first segment. "We were working on our car. I was making sure I could get a couple good laps in and find the balance of the car. We were in heavy conversation about small adjustments, what we could do preparing for that final segment. Once we get through that and I catch the back, it was time to ride. That's no fun.
"I had to believe in the system. I really think whoever won that first segment would have done the same thing. It's just what you do when you can control the race like that. We took great advantage of it."
Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus elaborated on his driver's above point, noting that after winning the opening segment, it was critical that the 48 team stick to its plan of "limit your risk" and use the system to its advantage the best that it could.
But after everything was over and as talk centered on what had just transpired, it was the man who finished second who had the most telling comment on how this year's race was conducted.
"You know, obviously there was a debate whether or not to run hard or conserve your stuff," Keselowski said. "I hate conserving racecars. They're meant to run hard. I just wanted to make sure that everybody on my team was on the same plan, and they were. So I got to do what they tell me."
Jimmie Johnson joined an elite club on Saturday night.
In beating Brad Keselowski to the finish of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway by .841 seconds, Johnson won the exhibition event for the third time, tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for most all-time.
Matt Kenseth ran third, followed by Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified for the event by winning the preliminary Sprint Showdown.
Johnson was the first to stake his claim to a top spot in the running order, winning the first 20-lap segment after passing polesitter Kyle Busch for the top spot on Lap 15. In winning the first segment, Johnson earned the right to lead the field to pit road before the final 10-lap dash.
Thereafter, Johnson made frequent pit stops and ran behind the rest of the field to save his car for the finish.
Kenseth passed Denny Hamlin with three laps left in the second segment and secured the win in that leg. Like Johnson, Kenseth spent segment No. 3 running at the back while Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne waged an intense battle for the win.
Kahne got a strong run from the high line through Turns 3 and 4, but Keselowski held on to win the segment by .006 seconds.
Earnhardt won segment No. 4 by 1.618 seconds over Marcos Ambrose. After the 20-lap run ended, Johnson, Kenseth, Keselowski and Earnhardt entered pit road in that order, took no tires or gas and came out in those same top four positions for the final 10-lap run.
Of the top four drivers, Keselowski and Kenseth had the freshest tires, having stopped under caution for Greg Biffle's blown engine on Lap 73. But Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet was the class of the field and pulled away for the win in an anomalous All-Star race that did not see a single caution for a racing accident.
Here are the full All-Star Race results:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he didn't want to rely on the Sprint Fan Vote to make NASCAR's All-Star Race.
As it turned out, he didn't have to.
Earnhardt Jr. led every lap of the Sprint Showdown on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, giving him a transfer spot into the All-Star Race along with AJ Allmendinger and Fan Vote winner Bobby Labonte.
"Tonight, you have to go right out of the gate," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That really comes down to the team getting together and putting the best package together."
Allmendinger had to pit with a flat tire before the green flag, but his four fresh tires allowed him to rally back and eventually pass Jamie McMurray with just two laps to go.
Meanwhile, Labonte beat out Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. for the Fan Vote despite finishing 12th.
Here are the results from the Sprint Showdown:
Despite all the adversity he's faced this season, Jeff Gordon remains optimistic. Now he just needs some momentum to help his fading Chase hopes.
Tonight's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race could well provide the needed boost for Gordon and his No. 24 team, which remains 25 points out of 20th place and a couple wins shy of a Wild Card berth.
"I've said before that I don't believe in luck and I'm not a very superstitious person, but we're being tested for a reason right now," Gordon said. "We don't know what that reason is but we hope it will make us stronger."
While his miserable start to the season may be a point of stress for the No. 24 team, points don't matter this weekend, allowing Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate their strategy for the remainder of the season.
Gordon has had fast cars, but bad luck has been the culprit behind just one top-five and two top-10 finishes, and a fast car is exactly what Gordon will need if he's to win his record-setting fourth Sprint All-Star Race.
"If we're in contention, we're going to push hard," he said. "... I'm glad we're back to a 10-lap shootout at the end, because the highlights of this race will always show two guys running side-by-side through all the turns, and one slides up and hits the other and there's a lot of contact coming to the checkered flag."
Despite not winning the event since 2001, Gordon has had a lot of success in the All-Star race in recent years. His average running position of 8.3 is fifth-best in Sprint Cup Series, and he has an average finish of 9.3.
Can he win tonight and build momentum for the second half of the regular season?
"We sure hope we can win this race," Gordon said. "It's been awhile since we've dominated or even been in contention to win the All-Star Race the way we used to, but I think we have a race car and race team that can do it this year."
Even if Gordon can't win the race, Saturday night could provide an excellent opportunity for Gustafson to gather data in preparation for next Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 and Charlotte's October Chase race.
"We need points and we need wins," Gordon said. "This 600 is a lot more important than the All-Star Race. We can use this as a test for next week and we're going to go outside of our box a little bit in search of more speed."
Here's a viewer's guide for tonight's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:
Risk vs. Reward
Because points aren't awarded, there is no race that rewards aggressiveness more than this one, as drivers will take chances they otherwise wouldn't take in a typical points-paying event – often with varying degrees of success. That is why this race has had more than its fair share of memorable moments, from Dale Earnhardt's "Pass in the Grass" to Davey Allison winning but wrecking as he did and ending up in the hospital overnight, to Kyle Busch taking out his brother Kurt.
However, being patient does come with its own benefits, because this is a race where crashes can and usually do decimate the field. It isn't uncommon for a driver to wait for the inevitable carnage to ensue, allowing him to easily move up the running order.
Typically though, fortunes favor the bold in NASCAR's annual no-holds barred shootout.
As has been the norm for the last few years, a new format has been introduced for this year's All-Star Race. The race will be ran in five segments with the first four segments consisting of 20 laps, and the fifth and final segment being a 10-lap dash for the cash with cool $1 million awaiting the winner.
The caveat is that the winners of the opening four segments will be guaranteed to line up at the front as the field comes to pit road for what is a mandatory pit stop before the final 10 laps. In a nutshell, if a driver wins one of the first four segments he will be rewarded with valuable track position and the option to dictate pit strategy, something a majority of the drivers think will factor into the outcome, entering the final segment.
All the above said, it might be more advantageous for a driver to go all-out to win a segment early on so he can lay back and save his car for the last 10 laps. And many drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, are of the belief that the eventual winner will be a driver who starts the final segment from one of the first two rows.
Big Names in the Showdown
The best race of the night might be the preliminary Sprint Showdown, which will feature many a big name attempting to race his way into the main event, as the top two finishers will get to move on plus one additional driver via fan voting.
Included on that list is 2000 All-Star Race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2000 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte, former Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner Jamie McMurray and previous Cup race winners in David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joe Nemechek, along with Martin Truex Jr., who on the strength of seven top-10s in 11 races this season enters this weekend sixth in points.
• Somewhat surprisingly, only one driver has won the All-Star Race in consecutive years: Davey Allison (1991-92).
• Kasey Kahne is the only driver to have won the All-Star Race (2008) and not go on to make the Chase in the same season.
• Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose will all be making their first All-Star Race start.
• Twice previously, a driver scored a win in the All-Star Race before winning an actual Sprint Cup Series points race. The first was Michael Waltrip in 1996 driving for the Wood Brothers, while Ryan Newman did so as a rookie in 2002.
1. Kyle Busch
You would think a formula that rewards those not afraid to take chances would be right in Kyle Busch's wheelhouse. But despite being one of the more aggressive drivers in the garage, the 27-year-old is still winless in six starts and has finished in the top 10 just twice. Perhaps this is the year, as Busch was fastest in practice and qualifying.
2. Jimmie Johnson
With how well Jimmie Johnson has performed on the mile-and-a-half tracks – he's finished second (Las Vegas), second (Texas) and third (Kansas) – this season, it's incredibly easy to think he should be in the mix for his third victory in this race, which would move him into a tie with Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon for most All-Star Race wins all-time.
3. Greg Biffle
Originally this spot was earmarked for Kasey Kahne but, after he wrecked in qualifying (forcing him to a backup car for tonight), Greg Biffle gets the nod instead. The series points leader excels on the intermediate tracks, has no issue with being aggressive and, maybe more importantly in a race that will feature plenty of restarts, is one of the best restarters in the business.
Assuming he can race his way in – which I think he will – or win the fan vote, Martin Truex Jr. should find his way toward the front come the final 10 laps of the All-Star Race, as he has been one of the more consistent drivers this season and has shown plenty of speed thus far on the intermediate tracks including a runner-up finish at Kansas.
With no points on the line, a big check to the winner and a race featuring NASCAR's elite, the All-Star Race has always held a special place in my heart.
Maybe it was because the annual shootout under the lights typically fell on the weekend of my birthday and coincided with the party my parents always planned around this event. Or maybe it's because the yearly showdown of the sport's best has created some of NASCAR's most memorable – and in some cases most notorious – moments.
Whatever the reason, here are my favorite All-Star Race memories since 2000:
When Tony Stewart decided to leave Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2008 season to own his own team, most in the garage thought he was crazy. After all, JGR was one of the premiere organizations in NASCAR and a team which had provided Stewart with good enough equipment to win two Sprint Cup Series championships and 33 races.
While Stewart's foray into owning a Cup team started rather well - he was second in points heading into that year's All-Star Race - what he had yet to do was win a race in a car bearing his name.
That all changed in a race which featured a crazy final segment with plenty of three-wide racing, a remarkable save by Jimmie Johnson along with a savage Jeff Gordon crash as he was battling Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch for the lead. When the smoke finally cleared, there was Stewart standing tall in Victory Lane celebrating not only his first win as a car owner but his first All-Star Race victory in 11 tries.
It's become customary in NASCAR that when a driver wins, he either does a burnout, whips doughnuts through the frontstretch grass or performs some combination of both. However, what a driver is not supposed to do is damage a perfectly good race-winning race car.
But that is exactly what Carl Edwards did last year after taking the checkered flag in NASCAR's annual get together of the best-of-the-best.
Unbeknownst to him, a drainage ditch had been left exposed and as he drove through the infield to begin his celebration, Edwards' Ford Fusion clipped the grass and severely damaged the nose of his car.
The lasting image from last year's event was Edwards getting out of his wrecked, smoldering car and shrugging his shoulders in utter disbelief of what had just happened – as did everyone who had just witnessed the incident.
Three weeks ago in the Nationwide Series race at Richmond, Kurt Busch wheeled a car owned by his brother Kyle to Victory Lane, marking the first time Kyle had won a Nationwide race as an owner.
Seeing that moment unfold, you would think the Busch brothers had an inseparable bond, as close as brothers could possibly be. However, the relationship between the siblings hasn't always been so ideal.
Five years ago in the 2007 edition of the All-Start Race, Kurt was running second with 18 laps to go when Kyle attempted a banzai pass on his older brother heading into Turn 1. But as Kyle barreled into the corner, his Chevrolet bobbled and drifted up the track and into Kurt, sending both into the wall and ending both of their nights.
Understandably, Kurt was less than pleased with what had transpired and went on television and made it known that he wouldn't be eating Kellogg's – then Kyle's sponsor – anytime soon. The bad blood was such that the two barely spoke the rest of the season and didn't reconcile until grandma sat the two down at Thanksgiving and forced them to put their issues behind them.
In theory, teammates are supposed to race one another hard and do everything they can not to wreck one another. But that tends to go out the window when a big check with a lot of zeros is awaiting the winner.
This exact scenario played out in 2010, when with eight laps to go Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were running first and second when coming off of Turn 2.
Hamlin boldly blocked Busch's attempt to pass him on the outside, but the Hamlin's defensive driving resulted in Busch making significant contact with the wall. Just four laps later, Busch cut a tire from the damage and saw his night come to an early end.
It was then, as he limped back to the garage after crashing-out that Busch unleashed an unforgettable tirade that would have made a sailor take notice.
"Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this fucking race," Busch radioed to his crew. "I swear to God, I'm going to kill that fucker. It's all his fucking fault.
"I had this race won! It was won!"
Busch then proceeded to park his wounded Toyota in front of Hamlin's hauler where a meeting between the two combatants soon took place, mediated by team owner Joe Gibbs.
Few drivers entered Sprint Cup with as much fanfare as Dale Earnhardt Jr. did during his 2000 rookie campaign and few drivers had a coming out party like he did when he became the first rookie to win the All-Star Race.
Entering the non-points affair, the Budweiser team had the mentality they would do whatever it took to win, as anything less than first wasn't going to be acceptable. It was this attitude that led to a decisive call as Earnhardt Jr. entered the final segment running third but with a car that he and his team knew was not fast enough to win the race. So crew chief Tony Eury Sr. rolled the dice and called his driver to pit road for one last key adjustment and to put on four fresh tires for the 10-lap dash to the cash.
As the green flag waved, Earnhardt Jr., starting towards the back, transformed into a mirror image of his father, slicing his way through the field and passing then-defending Cup champion Dale Jarrett on the outside with two laps to go to take the lead.
Making this moment even more poignant was the embrace that Earnhardt Jr. shared with his dad in Victory Lane. It was not just a dad telling his son congratulations on a job well done, but a proud father acknowledging that his son had finally arrived – and arrived in a very big way.
If this trend of a rain-free race weekends continues, race fans may start to get spoiled. This is the second straight weekend when weather is not a problem.
Mostly sunny skies are expected during the day at Charlotte Motor Speedway with comfortable temperatures as the high reaches 78 degrees. Winds will be out of the north-northeast with a light breeze of 5 to 15 mph.
As evening sets in, the weather will remain fair and temperatures during the Sprint Showdown and All-Star race will range from the mid-70s at the start of the race to the mid-60s by the end.
Since NASCAR returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for next weekend's Coca-Cola 600, so let's hope the weather remains the same.
5 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-race – Mostly sunny – temp: 78
7 p.m. EDT
Sprint Showdown Race – Mostly sunny – temp: 74
9 p.m. EDT
Sprint All-Star Race – Mostly clear – temp: 67
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 Saturday's race for you below.
What time does the race start Saturday? This is not an easy answer because the evening begins with the "Sprint Showdown," a 40-lap race to decide which two drivers will transfer into the All-Star Race. The Showdown's official start time is listed as 7:36 p.m. Eastern, but since it's tough to say exactly how long the race will take, the All-Star Race start time is approximate. NASCAR estimates the engines will fire at 9:03 p.m., followed by the All-Star Race green flag at 9:12 p.m.
NOTE: If you're unable to watch the race, I'll be providing Twitter updates here – @jeff_gluck
Race format/distance: The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is a 90-lap race around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway. This year, there are five segments: Four 20-lap segments followed by a 10-lap shootout for the $1 million prize. The four segment winners will line up 1-2-3-4 entering pit road for the final stop before the shootout, which will then make the race decided by pit strategy. You can read more about the format here.
TV and radio: The race can be seen on SPEED, not FOX. Unfortunately, there is no live streaming of the race – but you can listen on the Motor Racing Network's Web site (just click the red link). You can also check MRN's site for a list of affiliate stations in your area.
National anthem: Tony Lucca, who was a finalist on Season 2 of The Voice, will do the honors. This is the second week in a row that a former contestant from The Voice has performed the anthem. Team owner Joe Gibbs will be doing the invocation.
Tickets: The All-Star Race is not a sellout – far from it, actually – and you should be able to get some very cheap tickets if you want to make a last-minute trip to the track.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, predicts no rain and a pleasantly dry evening for fans in attendance.
Last time: Carl Edwards won an uneventful All-Star Race last season, but made it eventful by wrecking his car in the grass while celebrating after the race.
Starting lineup for Saturday's NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:
And here is the starting lineup for the Sprint Showdown:
Kyle Busch won the NASCAR All-Star Race pole for Saturday night's exhibition race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, using a clean pit stop to pick up his third career All-Star pole.
Qualifying is different in All-Star qualifying, as drivers are required to do three laps that include a mandatory four-tire pit stop. The key is getting on and off pit road as quickly as possible with a fast pit stop.
"It's just a whole team effort, that's what it boils down to," Busch said. "...We knew we'd be pretty quick here, and we felt like we had a good shot for the pole."
Ryan Newman was on the pole until Busch knocked him off as the last car to go out, and he'll have to settle for a second-place start.
Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
Kasey Kahne crashed during his qualifying effort and will need a backup car for Saturday night's race.
In other news, AJ Allmendinger won the pole for the Sprint Showdown (the race preceding the All-Star event).
Here's the starting lineup for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race:
And here is the starting lineup for the Sprint Showdown:
What's the best way to use Twitter to help the NASCAR viewing experience?
If you asked most fans, they would probably give you one of three answers:
• Follow select individuals whose tweets you enjoy;
• Search the #NASCAR hashtag and see every single tweet related to the race;
• Use your own NASCAR-related Twitter list to view while the race takes place.
Each of those options has its disadvantages, though. If you follow only a select group of people, you might miss out on some great content. And if you view every piece of content, it's hard to find the tweets that really matter.
So what if there was a way to do all three of those things at once?
NASCAR and Twitter believe they have a solution. The two companies announced a first-of-its-kind partnership on Friday, in which Twitter will use a combination of the search algorithm and real-life editors to find the most interesting and relevant tweets during a race. The tweets will be pinned on a new Twitter.com NASCAR page that will launch the upcoming Pocono Raceway weekend (June 8-10).
"Twitter has never launched anything like this," said Omid Ashtari, who heads Twitter's Sports and Entertainment department. "This is absolutely the first time we've ever done this."
Ashtari cited NASCAR's ability to bring fans closer to the action as a major reason Twitter wanted to launch its new user experience around racing.
"To get this close to the action (at NASCAR races) is just unreal," said Ashtari, who has watched NASCAR races weekly for the past few seasons. "And that's what Twitter does – it brings you closer. This is an opportunity for us to help NASCAR – and for them to help us – bring the fans closer to the races."
When the new page launches, it will feature tweets from select people in the racing industry – drivers, spotters, teams, media, etc. – and has great potential to end up as the best way to follow a race.
How will Twitter decide which tweets are worthy of being featured on the NASCAR page? The company plans to hire people who "specifically come in with expertise around the sport," Ashtari said.
"(It will be) people who know and understand the content," he said. "We're not just going to stick some random person on it."
Both positive and negative tweets will be visible on the page, he said. If the tweet is one that "resonates," it could end up as featured content – even if it doesn't put NASCAR in a positive light.
"At the end of the day, we need to make sure it is best for our users," Ashtari said. "We're making a product that everybody can hopefully partake in and create a better Twitter experience for them."
The page will be located at Twitter.com/#NASCAR, but is not active yet (for now, it just redirects to @NASCAR's Twitter account).
RELATED: You can apply for the editorial position at Twitter and become the person who curates the NASCAR tweets. If you get the job hit the big time, don't forget the little people. The job posting can be found here.
Trevor Bayne was eligible for last year's All-Star Race, but he missed out after he contracted a debilitating case of Lyme disease.
Bayne is back this year, disease free and with sponsorship from Good Sam Club and Camping World RV Sales. Like last year, he's still eligible for the race by virtue of winning the 2011 Daytona 500, and will compete in Saturday's main event without having to qualify through the Sprint Showdown.
"I'm just excited to be in the All-Star Race," Bayne said. "The new format, I think, is going to be a lot of fun. Our strength this year has been on the short runs and this race will be a series of short runs. We were running in the top five our last time here and we ran out of fuel, so fortunately, there's no fuel-mileage issues with this format."
Bayne has again struggled to secure funding this season, having lost his full-time Nationwide Series ride and continuing to run a partial schedule in the Sprint Cup Series. The All-Star Race pays $1 million to the winner, a sizeable chunk to an operation still hoping to add more races to their 2012 docket.
Should he win the Sprint All-Star Race, Bayne said he and the Wood Brothers team are committed to spending their winnings on picking up additional races this season.
"Eddie and Len are the kind of owners who love being at the racetrack," Bayne said. "This is their hobby, so it's not like they take their winnings and go buy a new boat with it or something. They love racing and they want to be a part of it, so winning on Saturday night will definitely help us add more races."
The team took a similar approach after winning Daytona and added additional races to their schedule as a result. Bayne's effort remains on the Sprint Cup Series, but he will return to the Nationwide Series in August with support from yourracecar.com in the Bristol race.
"The Sprint Cup Series is where we've placed our focus," Bayne said. "We've had two top-10s out of four races this year and that's pretty honorable for a part-time team. I'd just like the opportunity to add on to that and keep working on it."
Kurt Busch doesn't believe he endangered any of Ryan Newman's crew members on pit road during last week's incident at Darlington Raceway – which resulted in a $50,000 fine from NASCAR – and the driver insisted he hit Newman's car on accident after the race.
Those revelations were part of an eight-minute media session with a large group of reporters at his team's hauler, an interview that ended with Busch becoming agitated.
Busch, speaking before All-Star Race practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway, said he did a burnout through Newman's pit stall because he was trying to beat the pace car off pit road and stay on the lead lap.
"Newman left his pit stall a good 10 seconds before I did, and I didn't think there was any reason to think crew guys were in danger," he said. "One guy has a problem with it, and it escalated from there."
Prior to a postrace confrontation with Newman's gas man, Busch hit Newman's car on pit road after the race. The driver insisted it the contact was an accident that occurred when Busch was taking off his helmet.
Newman, though, told SI.com that Busch "blew a fuse" and had a "chemical imbalance."
"Newman said he thought that was a lie, but that's the honest truth," Busch said. "And Newman and I were friends. We were great teammates (at Penske Racing) and he needs to check his trophy case on that Daytona 500 trophy that I helped him get years ago.
"We've always been great friends and there was no need for his comments afterward."
Busch acknowledged both he and Newman are "looking at the same scenario coming up here in these next few summer months" in terms of having to sign new contracts for next year. But when asked whether Newman was perhaps making comments to hurt Busch's free agency prospects, Busch wouldn't answer.
"This is good for our sport," he said unconvincingly. "This is WWE-type action."
Busch did not apologize to Newman's pit crew during his media availability, but he did say, "I apologize to NASCAR for them to have to make a decision on penalizing me."
The driver noted he's been "fined probably the most out of any driver," but said he always pays the fines out of his own pocket.
"I'll move on," he said. "Is my strike zone bigger than others? Yeah, it might be a little bigger than others, but I don't have a problem with it."
Busch said he observed the Darlington fans cheered louder for the pit road confrontation after the race than they did when Jimmie Johnson actually won the event, which told him NASCAR fans are just all about the show.
"That's when the crowd reacted the most, so you tell me if they're wanting WWE," he said.
At that point, the sarcasm bubbling inside of Busch got the better of him and came to the surface.
"This is fun," he said. "This is entertainment, right, guys? This is why you guys are all here suffocating me at the back of this hauler."
And with that, he ended the interview and walked inside the door to his transporter.
The No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson saved the best for last Thursday night.
Posting its fastest time in the final round of the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge, the No. 48 NASCAR Sprint Cup team dethroned the two-time defending champion No. 11 crew of Joe Gibbs racing driver Denny Hamlin.
In a competition that includes simultaneously changing front and rear tires, fueling and jacking four different common cars and then pushing a team car across the finish line, Johnson's crew accomplished the task in 22.239 seconds to edge Hamlin's over-the-wall gang (22.533 seconds) in the finals.
Gas man Brandon Harder, front tire changer Dave Collins, front tire carrier RJ Barnette, rear tire changer Calvin Teague, rear tire carrier Matt Tyrell, and jackman TJ Ford were the winning team for the 48, which finished second last year.
"In this discipline, the athleticism and training really pays off," Johnson said after the event. "We made a big effort to get full-fledged athletes who did nothing but work on their pit stops and disciplines. And then they focused on this -- the distance to run, the car push and all that -- and I think it just shows how strong they are, how physically able they are to get the job done."
The victory was the first for the No. 48 team in the eight-year history of the event held at Time Warner Cable Arena. The team won $80,675, a $10,000 increase over last year's prize money. In addition, the Jimmie Johnson foundation received a donation of $9,169 from the NASCAR Foundation.
The team also won the right to select pit stall No. 1 for Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race, which pays $1 million to win.
"I think it's going to be a big advantage, especially if you can get out there and win one of those first couple of segments," said crew chief Chad Knaus, who sprayed his team with champagne after the victory.
The winners of the first four 20-lap segments of the All-Star Race enter pit road 1-2-3-4 for a mandatory stop before the final 10-lap dash to the finish.
Conserving their strength for the finals, the No. 48 crewmen employed a strategy of stopping the push and letting the car roll to the finish whenever they had an insurmountable margin. That approach worked impeccably en route to the finals, setting up the confrontation with the champions of the previous two years.
With a clean run in 22.453 seconds, the No. 48 team cruised into the finals by winning a head-to-head matchup against Matt Kenseth's No. 17 crew (23.228 seconds). The No. 11 team earned its spot in the title match with a semifinal run in 22.869 seconds, beating the No. 88 crew of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (23.567 seconds).
Whenever the 48 team had a clear win, Teague would signal his mates to stop pushing.
"I saw that, too," Johnson said. "I wasn't involved in the training that went into it, but I think they were trying to conserve energy, and once they felt like they had a heat won, they just kind of backed off."
The event also crowned individual winners in each of the skill categories. Jeff Kerr of Kasey Kahne's No. 5 team won the jack man competition for the third time. Tom Lampe of Kyle Busch's No. 18 crew won the individual competition for gas men with an event-record time of 8.610 seconds.
Kerr said the secret to winning the competition was "to learn to deal with pressure without making a mistake. It the same thing when you go across pit road. The pit stop when you're running first and the pit stop when you're running 43rd are two totally different pit stops.
"The people that can do it under pressure are the people who can do it when it counts, and those are the people you want on your team."
Representing Jeff Burton's No. 31 team, the front tire changer/tire carrier combination of Tim Sheets and JD Holcomb were fastest in their category with a record time of 13.615 seconds. Changer Jake Seminara and carrier Kenny Barber took home individual honors on the rear tires in a record 13.073 seconds.
Each individual winner received $10,000 for his efforts.
This year more than ever, the Pit Crew Challenge was a perfect lead-in to All-Star weekend, given the emphasis on pit crew performance both in Friday's unique Cup qualifying session and Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race.
A pit stop is an integral part of time trials, and the mandatory pit stop precedes the final 10-lap segment of the All-Star dash for $1 million.
"We love that," Seminara said. "I think it was two years ago we came in the pits fifth on the last pit stop and came out second, I believe, and put him in position to win the race (though a late crash cost Busch a chance for the victory).
"We relish it," added Barber. "We wish we could do it every week."
No change in the weather expected for Charlotte Motor Speedway for this weekend's Camping World Truck series race Friday night and the Sprint Cup Showdown and All-Star Race Saturday night.
Pleasant conditions are expected with daily high temperatures near 80 in the upper 70s. Mostly sunny to sunny skies, and winds ranging from 5 to 15 mph.
Both evening the weather will be fair, and temperatures will be in the low 70s to upper 60s.
9:00 a.m. EDT
Truck practice – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 63
10:00 a.m. EDT
Truck final practice – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 66
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Showdown final practice – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 74
1:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint All-Star final practice – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 76
4:00 p.m. EDT
Truck qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 77
5:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Showdown qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 76
6:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint All-Star qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 75
8:00 p.m. EDT
Truck race – Clear skies – temp: 71
5:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-race – Patchy clouds – temp: 77
7:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Showdown Race – Patchy clouds – temp: 74
9:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint All-Star Race – Patchy clouds – temp: 68
If you're going to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and you're a customer of either Sprint, Nextel, Boost or Virgin Mobile, you need to hear me out on this.
Sprint is holding a contest on Saturday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway for one of its customers to be grand marshal for the All-Star Race that night. And here's the thing: I'm one of the judges, so I could help you win (but don't tell anyone)!
All you have to do is be one of the first 20 people to register at the Customer Rewards area inside the Sprint Experience fan display area on Saturday. The information I received says the registration opens at 11:30 a.m., so you'll have to get there a bit early -- but it'll be worth it if you win.
You'll have to give an AWESOME "Drivers, start your engines!" command to make it to the final round -- and that's where I'm one of the judges, along with ESPN's Marty Smith, Associated Press writer Jenna Fryer and Miss Sprint Cup. If we pick you as the winner, here's what you get:
• A meet-and-greet with Carl Edwards before the race;
• An introduction at the drivers' meeting as a VIP (all the drivers will clap for you);
• An introduction as a VIP on the pre-race stage;
• A ride in the official pace car;
• The opportunity of a lifetime to say "Drivers, start your engines!" live on SPEED and make everyone jealous of you.
Personally, I'd like someone from Twitter to win so they can tweet cool pictures and share the experience with the rest of us. So, yes, I'm a biased judge (but again, that's our little secret).
Anyway, if you enter the contest and make the finals, don't let me down! Deliver the loudest, most enthusiastic command EVER, and then I'll do my part.
For weeks, it seemed like Mother Nature would not turn off the faucets in the sky, but now we will have two weekends where weather is not a threat or a player.
Skies will be mostly sunny both Friday and Saturday, temperatures comfortable with highs near 80 and evening temperatures for both races in the mid 70s. Overall, it's another A+ weekend.
9:00 a.m. EDT
Truck practice – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 62
10:00 a.m. EDT
Truck final practice – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 65
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Showdown final practice – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 74
1:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint All-Star final practice – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 76
4:00 p.m. EDT
Truck qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 78
5:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Showdown qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 78
6:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint All-Star qualifying – Sunny skies – temp: 76
8:00 p.m. EDT
Truck race – Clear skies – temp: 72
5:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Pre-race – Patchy clouds – temp: 78
7:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Showdown Race – Patchy clouds – temp: 76
9:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint All-Star Race – Patchy clouds – temp: 70
This year's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race has a new format, and while it's a little bit confusing at first, it's bound to shake things up a bit.
Let's try to explain it as simply as possible.
• There are a total of five segments this year, beginning with a series of four 20-lap mini-races. At the end, there's a 10-lap shootout for the $1 million prize.
• Basically, you want to win a segment – and do so as early as possible – because the four segment winners get to line up at the front of the field coming to pit road for the final pit stop before the shootout (which is mandatory).
• At that point, the four segment winners will have a huge advantage because they can use pit strategy to try and win the race (by taking two tires, for example). And it's better to win a segment early because P1 coming to the final stop will go to the driver who won Segment 1; P2 goes to the Segment 2 winner, and so on.
It's all going to come down to pit strategy for the final 10 laps, and it'll be interesting to see whether a driver on old tires can use track position to hold off a driver with fresher tires over the final run.
So with that, here's a look at the NASCAR All-Star Race weekend schedule (Note: All times are Eastern):
7 p.m. – NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge at Time Warner Cable Arena (airs starting at 8 p.m. on SPEED)
9 a.m. – Camping World Truck Series practice (one hour)
10:20 a.m. – Camping World Truck Series final practice (one hour, 30 minutes)
12 p.m. – Sprint Showdown final practice (one hour, 25 minutes)
1:35 p.m. – Sprint All-Star Race final practice (one hour, 25 minutes)
4 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series qualifying
5 p.m. – Sprint Showdown qualifying (regular two-lap qualifying)
6 p.m. – Sprint All-Star Race qualifying (three laps with a mandatory pit stop and four-tire change)
8 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series race
7:30 p.m. – Sprint Showdown (two segments of 20 laps each; top two finishers transfer to All-Star Race)
Approx. 9 p.m. – Sprint All-Star Race (five segments consisting of four 20-lap segments and a 10-lap shootout)