NASCAR at Charlotte 2014: Winners and Losers from the Sprint All-Star Race
It took a bold move two laps into the final 10-lap segment for Jamie McMurray to seal the deal and rocket away from the rest of field to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race, a made-for-television spectacular held at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
And it was a flawless performance by McMurray’s Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew (and a bad one by Kevin Harvick’s) during the final stop on pit road that put McMurray out in second place behind Carl Edwards for the final green flag restart. Passing Edwards looked like child's play for race winner McMurray.
“Really, as a kid, that’s what you grew up wanting to do, is to have a shootout like that and have a possibility to just race for 10 laps," said McMurray in the post race press conference. "Carl got a little jump on me on the restart and I was able to hang on to his quarter panel. And I was like heck with it, it’s for a million bucks. If we wreck, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s still cool to come out on top of that."
Harvick finished second, Matt Kenseth was third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Edwards ended up fifth.
The race was a typical All-Star free-for-all with several drivers hitting the wall after losing a battle against another driver or with their own ill-handling ride.
The All-Star victory by McMurray was a much-needed pick-me-up for team owner Ganassi, whose IndyCar teams had put on a disappointing performance during the first day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. It was also the first All-Star race victory for Ganassi, whose driver combination this season is proving to be the best in his 25-year history in NASCAR, with the veteran McMurray running a bit under the radar this season.
Kelly Crandall with Popular Speed believes that the victory also added depth to the McMurray and Ganassi relationship.
The often overlooked McMurray has now won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and All-Star race, adding another marquee win to the resume of this future NASCAR Hall of Famer.
All quotes in this slideshow are taken from official team and manufacturer media releases unless otherwise stated.
Winner: Kurt Busch
Apparently Kurt Busch has got this IndyCar-in-the-afternoon, stock-car-at-night thing down.
In a dry run of next Sunday’s “double duty,” The Outlaw turned in an impressive job of qualifying his Andretti Autosport-prepared IndyCar in the 10th spot earlier in the afternoon before jetting off to Charlotte to qualify for and then compete in the Sprint All-Star race at night.
In the past, Busch has had more than his share of problems that have led to a public persona that was a public relations nightmare. In the last year, he’s taken great steps to turn that image around. On Saturday, he proved to any doubters that he is genuine and a talented race car driver despite his past histrionics.
Saturday was just a taste of what is to come. His media appearances this week have been scheduled around his racing obligations, and his nutrition calendar for the week has been meticulously planned out to help him have the strength and energy needed to successfully complete both races.
No matter how you view Busch, good or bad, you have to admit that what he’s attempting to do is a ballsy undertaking. Whether you want him to succeed or fail, at the very least he deserves your respect.
Loser: Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick was angry at the end of the All-Star race—a race he should have won.
Not once, but twice, his pit crew delivered subpar stops that put Harvick back out on the track in a worse position than he had prior to the stop.
In the post-race press conference, he threw his pit crew under the bus.
"Just a bad pit stop," said Harvick. "The guys did a great job putting a fast race car on the track. We recovered from the first one, and the second one cost us the race. All in all, they put a car on the race track that was capable of the winning, and we just didn't get it done."
His No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS was the car to beat. He could put it anywhere on the track, and it did what he needed it to do—except make up the difference between himself and race winner Jamie McMurray in the final laps.
Despite not ending the night in Victory Lane, Harvick can take solace in the fact that his race team continues to be the ones to beat every weekend, a role normally played by Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team.
Harvick will be tough to beat in the Coke 600.
Winner: Josh Wise
Former open-wheel standout Josh Wise was a complete unknown to both NASCAR fans and his fellow competitors in the Sprint Cup garage until about a month ago.
In fact, the only person who was doing any talking about him was another former sprint car and open-wheel racer, a fellow named Tony Stewart.
Then suddenly, Wise became an Internet star via a fan-based sponsorship scheme that involved the online community Reddit in order to get him sponsored for the Aaron’s 499 using a bitcoin-based financial structure.
To be honest, if you understand this whole bitcoin thing, then please explain it to me. The Godfather Dave Moody did a pretty good job of it on his blog.
The bottom line is, the sponsorship scheme worked so well that not only did it raise about $55,000 for the Talladega race two weeks ago, it propelled Wise into the All-Star race via the fan vote, shutting out Danica Patrick, which might not have been a bad thing, anyway.
Unfortunately, these fan-based sponsorships don’t work. They’ve been tried in various racing series over the years, and while they may yield success for a race or three, the sponsorship model in professional racing today and more importantly the cost of racing are its downfall.
Nevertheless, Wise proved something that all of us already knew: The power of the Internet is an amazing thing.
Loser: Kyle Busch
Busch’s M&M's Toyota was fast, and he qualified well for the All-Star race. His appeared to be the car to beat in the early going.
Unfortunately, when he crossed paths with a car that wasn’t as good, driven by Clint Bowyer, who was trying to slow Busch's progress by blocking him, Busch ended up hitting Bowyer, taking both himself and Joey Logano out of the race.
"I hate that we’re out this early, but you’re trying to race hard and protect that average finish that you’re supposed to have for the last segment and trying to pass as many cars as you can, and I was going to have two right there getting into Turn 3," said Busch, explaining his action on the track after the incident to a national television audience.
It is remarkable how calm and collected Busch has become following these kinds of on-track incidents. In the past, he would let his emotions get the best of him, making angry comments. Or he’d just not talk to the media at all.
Perhaps that is why Busch insisted on walking most of the way to the infield medical unit for the mandatory post-accident examination before being stopped by a NASCAR official who insisted that he ride the rest of the way there in an official vehicle.
Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
His National Guard Chevrolet SS wasn’t all that good during the All-Star race. In fact, he was heard over the team radio (by this writer) describing his race car as having the handling characteristics of a dump truck.
The Fox Sports television crew also heard the same comment and played it back for the audience.
However, despite fighting with a car that wouldn’t turn like he wanted it to, Junior’s car got better near the end of each segment. He was able to move up through the field. The problem was, each segment was only 20 laps. Not enough time.
Still, it means there’s something for his team to work with. Although according to Lee Spencer with Motorsport.com, Earnhardt isn't happy at all with his car.
No, the No. 88 isn’t perfect, yet.
"We need to improve a little bit, and I think we understand that and we're going to work hard all week," said Earnhardt in a post-race interview. "I feel pretty confident going into the 600 weekend with the improvements we'll have on the car."
Next weekend’s race is a lengthy, grueling affair, the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule. Given this team's history this season, crew chief Steve Letarte will give Earnhardt a car capable of winning, one that will stay together and remain fast for 600 miles next weekend.
Loser: Jeff Gordon
The good news? Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet made it to the highlight reel for this year's Sprint All-Star Race.
The bad news? It was on fire after hitting the wall and taking out two other cars driven by Martin Truex Jr. and Greg Biffle.
Gordon looked every bit the current points leader and Kansas race winner as he sliced and diced his way through the field during the All-Star race.
His team’s performance on pit road during qualifying and the race was also flawless.
However, a mechanical failure or a cut tire that sent the four-time Cup champion and former All-Star race winner into the wall did what the rest of the field could not do—slow down Gordon.
This season, the 42-year-old is driving with the passion of a man half his age, determined to win a fifth title behind a Hendrick Motorsports team that has given him a fast race car every weekend.
This team has to be considered one of the favorites for next weekend’s Coke 600.
Winner: AJ Allmendinger
AJ Allmendinger offered to streak through the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway wearing nothing but a Goodyear tire if he’d won the All-Star race.
It’s too bad we’ll have to miss that.
Just making it into the race as the runner-up in Friday night’s Sprint Showdown is a victory for Allmendinger and his single-car team.
The JTG Daugherty team has often outperformed the Richard Childress Racing teams with which they have an engineering and mechanical alliance.
His team has struggled with its 1.5-mile program, which showed last weekend in Kansas (finished 30th). After the Showdown Friday night, Allmendinger admitted that the team came to Charlotte with a notebook full of new ideas.
Apparently they worked.
"I'm really happy that the car is better," said Allmendinger after the Showdown. "We're not really where we want to be yet. We don't have quite enough speed in it, but we're definitely making progress."
Allmendinger was mixing it up with the race leaders when he was taken out of the running. This team probably isn’t a favorite to win next weekend, but if the Californian can keep the fenders on his ride, a top-five finish is a real possibility.
Loser: Ryan Newman
As the only Richard Childress Racing (RCR) entry in the All-Star race, one has to wonder if his team owner was even at the track Saturday night. Or was he already in Iowa for his grandson’s Nationwide Race on Sunday?
His victory last summer in the Brickyard 400, after being let go from Stewart-Haas Racing, got him his entry into this year’s All-Star race.
But it’s been a slow process of acclimation into RCR for Newman this season. After 11 races, the Daytona 500 winner has no top-fives and three top-10s. That's not what was expected from a veteran driver, even though he had very tiny shoes to fill.
Few drivers can boast wins in both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, two of NASCAR’s crown jewels. Newman can. However, his career in recent years has settled into a never-ending series of midpack runs, characterized by poor qualifying from the driver who used to be called "Rocket Man."
Occasionally there's a good race thrown in there. Saturday night's race wasn't one of them.
Winner: NASCAR Fans
Let’s face it: Saturday night’s edition of the Sprint Cup All-Star Race wasn’t the best there ever was. In fact, it might be hard for NASCAR fans to come to agreement as to which one actually was the "best."
Still, it was an evening of exciting entertainment filled with danger, speed and something we don’t often see anymore (except on restrictor-plate tracks)—multicar wrecks.
Over the years, NASCAR and the race’s sponsorship partners have tweaked and twisted the rules of this event in an effort to keep it fresh and exciting.
The current rules, with the qualifying race, the Showdown—run Friday night and the winner and the runner-up transferring into the big show and being allowed to qualify with the rest of the All-Star field—are some of the best ever.
One of the rules stands out as being new, but in reality, it is something old.
Single-car qualifying for the All-Star race, which features cars speeding down pit road and then coming to a screeching stop in the pit box, is as entertaining as it is dangerous. No, it’s downright scary watching a stock car barreling down a comparatively narrow pit road at speeds over 100 miles per hour.
However, it recalls a time in NASCAR when these kinds of speeds on pit road were routine. Some of us still remember when there were no pit-road speeding rules, and drivers routinely raced at dangerously high speeds down pit road.
It was often done with 42 other cars on pit road. It would be insane to replicate such a condition in today’s racing environment.
But it does make for unique entertainment for the fans and a brief look back at how things used to be in a sport that has undergone tremendous change over the past two decades.
Follow me on Twitter: @BobMargolis