NASCAR Sprint All-Star Strategy: Just Stand On It
No points. No problem. Just follow the money. That’s the easiest way to describe Saturday night’s 29th NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (SPEED, MRN Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, 7:30 p.m. EDT).
Twenty-two drivers will battle for a winner’s payout of more than $1 million without worrying that failure might damage their Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ chances.
The strategy is simple enough: Checkers or wreckers. Just bring back the steering wheel – as long as you’re carrying it to Victory Lane.
The 135-mile race will be contested in five segments – four of 20 laps and a 10-lap finale. Nineteen drivers – 2012-13 Sprint Cup winners, and All-Star winners and Sprint Cup champions from the past 10 seasons – have claimed starting positions. Three additional starters – the top-two Sprint Showdown finishers and winner of the Sprint Fan Vote – complete the 22-driver lineup.
Odds favor defending All-Star Race winner Jimmie Johnson, a three-time event winner. He shares the all-time victory record with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson is the only driver to win more than once in the most recent 14 editions of the non-points race. He’s led in eight of his 11 NASCAR Sprint All-Star race appearances, including the last five consecutive.
Six of the recent 12 winners are NASCAR Sprint Cup champions. Eleven former All-Star Race winners are among drivers with guaranteed starting positions for Saturday night’s event.
Talladega Superspeedway winner David Ragan was the last to qualify with a 2013 victory. Ragan will be making his third NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race appearance, this time driving the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford.
Several all-star race veterans will be making their first starts with new teams: Kurt Busch (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet); Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota); and Joey Logano (No. 22 Penske Racing Ford).
Logano’s team won the 2010 race with driver Kurt Busch.
The Sprint All-Star Race marks the first competitive appearance at Charlotte Motor Speedway by the Gen-6 NASCAR Sprint Cup cars. What drivers and teams learn about the Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry will assist them greatly in setting up for NASCAR’s longest race, the May 26 Coca-Cola 600.
The winner of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race has gone on to capture the Coca-Cola 600 seven times. Current double winners are Kurt Busch (2010), Kasey Kahne (2008), Johnson (2003) and Gordon (1997).
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winner has won that season’s NASCAR premier series championship five times, including Johnson in 2006 and Gordon in 1995, 1997 and 2001.
All-Star Victory Eludes Joe Gibbs Racing
Seven different organizations have won NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races since 1997. Amazingly enough, Joe Gibbs Racing is not among them.
Over the years, JGR has come close, just not close enough.
Kyle Busch finished second in 2011 and fourth a year ago.
Denny Hamlin posted fourths in 2009-10 but was 20th in 2012 after starting third.
A driver change – veteran Matt Kenseth joined the team this year – may be the tonic that Coach Gibbs needs to celebrate his first All-Star victory. A silly aside: Gibbs is also 0-for-1 in the NFL’s all-star version. His NFC team lost to the AFC 10-6 in the 1987 Pro Bowl.
If current form is any indication, the three Gibbs drivers may battle each other for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star hardware. Kenseth, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winner driving for Roush Fenway Racing, is the season’s first three-time winner. He won last weekend’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Busch has led seven of 11 races, including the most laps at Darlington.
Hamlin appears fully recovered from injuries suffered at Auto Club Speedway in March, finishing runner-up to teammate Kenseth at Darlington – his first full race since returning to competition.
Kenseth is the only current JGR driver with a points-paying victory at Charlotte. He won the 2000 Coca-Cola 600 and the track’s 2011 fall race.
Ironically, Gibbs is no stranger to Charlotte’s Victory Lane. JGR has four wins in Charlotte, the most recent by Tony Stewart in the fall of 2003.
A Toyota has yet to win the Sprint All-Star Race.
Busch, All-Star Made For Each Other – Just Not Yet
Hard-charging Kyle Busch and the NASCAR All-Star Race – a flat-out, give-no-quarter affair – should fit hand in glove. Not so far.
Busch not only has failed to win, he’s been down for the count more often than he’s taken the checkered flag. Busch has failed to finish four of seven all-star appearances, three times kayoed by accident.
Yet when the stars have aligned Busch has been very good: three poles, two top fives and three top 10s. He finished fourth in 2012 after leading 14 laps. And although he’s failed to record a NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch has won at the 1.5-mile track 10 times in NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck events. His All-Star Race Driver Rating of 106.7 is third best and higher than ratings of three-time race winners Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
Busch brings two things to the All-Star that may have been lacking in previous years: speed and momentum. He’s already won twice and led seven of 11 races for 740 laps – roughly half of last year’s laps-led total during the full, 36-race season.
That should make the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota a solid pick to break his Sprint All-Star Race drought.
Sprint Showdown, Sprint Fan Vote Last Chance To Make Big Show
Only three unclaimed spots remain for Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. And 23 drivers will race hard to nab one of them in the Sprint Showdown (7:30 p.m. ET on SPEED), the precursor to the main event scheduled to start at approximately 9 p.m. ET.
Among that list of 23 are rookies, veterans, winners and former Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders. Three rookies pepper the fields: Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Timmy Hill. Martin Truex Jr. had a career year last year, making the Chase and vying for a championship. He’ll join Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya as former Chasers who have yet to lock up a spot.
David Reutimann is a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner. Jamie McMurray has won on NASCAR’s biggest stage – the Daytona 500. Paul Menard has “Kissed the Bricks” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Bobby Labonte has won a championship. None of them have locked up a spot yet.
Though Aric Almirola has yet win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, his 2013 story hints at a sooner-than-later victory. His string of four consecutive top-10 finishes snapped at Darlington, but he remains ninth in points. He has yet to claim an all-star nod.
The top-two finishers in the Sprint Showdown will earn a bid into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. In addition, the top vote-getter in the Sprint Fan Vote will earn a spot in the ‘big show.’ Fans may vote for their favorite driver by using the NASCAR Mobile ’13 application or online at www.NASCAR.com/SprintFanVote. Votes cast from the NASCAR Mobile ’13 application count double.
Almirola, Menard Hang Tough Going Into All-Star Break
Unofficially, NASCAR Sprint All-Star break represents the closing in on the halfway point of the “regular season.”
By no means set, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field does seem to be taking shape. Two races from the official midpoint of the 26-race regular season, the points suggest that only major stumbles should deter a number of drivers from missing NASCAR’s playoffs.
Jimmie Johnson remains the points leader for the sixth consecutive week, and currently enjoys a 108-point cushion from the Chase cutoff of 11th place. Likewise Carl Edwards (second), Matt Kenseth (third), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) and Clint Bowyer (fifth) hold 30-plus points advantages over 11th. And if he needs it, Kenseth’s three wins should be enough for a Wild Card berth come regular season’s end.
After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski are each 11 points ahead of 11th, and Kyle Busch is 10 points ahead of the cut-off spot. Then there’s the curious cases of Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, all separated by two points. Harvick, a six-time Chase contender, won his first race of 2013 at Richmond and comes off a fifth-place finish at Darlington. Neither Almirola nor Menard have made a Chase in their careers, but have enjoyed career-year starts to 2013. Almirola has finished in the top 10 in four of the last five races; Menard has four top 10s this year and has been in the top 10 in points after six of the last eight races.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
The NASCAR Foundation and NASCAR industry will come together on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to celebrate the 10th Annual NASCAR Day. This special day supports a range of charitable causes that are relevant and meaningful to those within the NASCAR family. Fans can get commemorative NASCAR Day pins and make donations at Camping World SuperCenters nationwide or at NASCAR.com/foundation. … For the first time since this year’s Daytona 500, FOX Sports and SPEED bring CAMCAT back to the track. The 85-mph, high-tech camera is suspended a maximum of 140 feet above the race track by a pair of gigantic cranes. … Mark Martin will make his 24th NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race start on Saturday, which is the most all-time.
JGR Continues To Dominate, Build Depth
Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway was indicative of the season Joe Gibbs Racing is having.
All four JGR entries finished in the top five with Kyle Busch winning and posting his 16th perfect driver rating in the series. It was Busch’s first perfect rating at Darlington and his first since the August 2011 Bristol race.
JGR drivers Elliott Sadler (second), Brian Vickers (third) and Matt Kenseth (fifth) joined Busch in the top five. Three of the team’s four cars are firmly ensconced inside the top 10 in owner points. The No. 54, which Busch has driven to five wins, leads the owner points. The No. 11, driven by Sadler, is fifth, while Vickers’ No 20 is eighth.
The reason for JGR’s success in the NSCS and NNS is due in large part to how the organization approaches the latter.
“It pays off in Nationwide. That’s kind of our training ground for our guys to move up to Cup,” said J.D. Gibbs, team president for JGR. “We have guys that work hard, long hours. They enjoy it. They enjoy winning races, too … It’s the best training ground we could ever have.”
This season, the team has incorporated a nice blend of full-time NNS talent (Sadler and Vickers) with two drivers competing in the NSCS (Busch and Kenseth). The strength and quality of the personnel (drivers, crew chiefs, crew members) found throughout the organization are why they’ve found success at all levels.
Case in point: Adam Stevens. Over the past two seasons no driver or crew chief has more victories than Stevens, who has been atop the war wagon for all five of Busch’s NNS victories this season. Last year, Stevens called the shots for former JGR driver Joey Logano, who visited Victory Lane nine times with the crew chief.
Because of his success, it’s reasonable to assume that great things lie in store for Stevens, proving the formidability of JGR’s training ground and “bench.”
Allgaier Making Gains On Last Year’s Performance
When Justin Allgaier crossed the finished line 10th in last Friday night’s race at Darlington, it was his sixth top 10 of the season.
Although the Illinois native didn’t have a bad year in 2012, after the first nine races of 2013 he’s on track to have a better season. Could the stronger start be what he needs to propel him into title contention?
Allgaier currently sits fourth in the standings, 43 points behind Regan Smith. Last year at this time, he was seventh, 104 points off the lead.
In addition to his 10th-place finish last weekend, Allgaier has finishes of third, fifth, seventh and eighth to go along with another 10th. He only has one finish outside the top 15 – a 31st-place finish at Richmond. Over the first nine races of last year, he had a pair of seventh- and eighth-place finishes to go with two finishes of 32nd or worse.
So far in 2013, he has been running at the end of all the races, while last year he had two DNFs already at this point in the season. His average finish position is 11.1, which is an improvement on the 15.3 he had through the first nine races of 2012.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
The NNS returns to the track Saturday, May 25, for the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, marking the start of 21 consecutive weeks in which the series will compete. … Kyle Larson remains on top of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings with Alex Bowman and Nelson Piquet Jr. in second and third, respectively.
Busch, Crafton Share Charlotte Connection
Matt Crafton won his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. So did Kyle Busch. The two enter Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 with the same – albeit slightly different – agendas.
Each wants a victory.
Crafton, however, might be willing to sacrifice the trophy in exchange for maintaining or adding to his series points lead. For Busch, a four-time Charlotte truck winner but not NCWTS points eligible, it’s all about the “W.” Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Crafton’s No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota go fender-to-fender with Busch’s No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Tundra.
Busch owns a significant statistical advantage – over Crafton and everyone else in the field. His 129.2 Driver Rating includes series bests of average finish (3.6), laps led (335), number of fastest laps (205), and percentage of laps in the top 15 (88.9).
Crafton’s Driver Rating (96.4) is fifth best and includes most green flag passes (307) and most quality passes (254) and most top-10 finishes (seven).
Busch and Crafton aren’t the only Charlotte winners in the field. Justin Lofton won the race a year ago while Ron Hornaday Jr. is a two-time winner (2007, ’09). The four-time series champion ranks second to Busch in Driver Rating (113.2) and has finished among the top five in six of eight Charlotte races.
Busch, Crafton and Hornaday have won seven of the past eight Charlotte races.
Second Last Year, Keselowski Ready For ‘Do-Over’
Close, but no trophy and no record.
That was the story a year ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Brad Keselowski. Bidding to become the 24th competitor to win in all three of NASCAR’s national series, Keselowski lost the lead to Justin Lofton on the North Carolina Education Lottery 200’s final restart and finished second.
It also kept Keselowski and his father, Bob, from becoming the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ first son-father winners.
Keselowski, who’s finished second three times in NCWTS competition, gets his next do-over Friday night. Brad Keselowski Racing will enter three Fords, for Keselowski, Ross Chastain and Ryan Blaney.
Blaney, the series’ youngest winner a year ago at age 18, is running for the championship. He ranks fourth, 21 points behind leader Matt Crafton. Chastain is competing for BKR on a limited basis.
At 20, Keselowski got his chance in the series with his family’s team. BKR exists to identify future stars, he said.
“Giving back and reinvesting in our sport is critical,” Keselowski said. “Someone [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] gave me a chance to prove myself and I feel it’s the only thing to do to give a young driver a chance in good equipment.”
Townley, Red Horse Participate In NASCAR Day Giving
Friday’s 10th Annual NASCAR Day wraps up this year’s “Ten Days of Giving” tour that included a May 8 stop in Atlanta. NCWTS competitor John Wes Townley, a Watkinsville, Ga., native, participated in the event before heading for Charlotte with his No. 7 Red Horse Racing Toyota team.
The team presented the George Washington Carver Boys & Girls Club with a new TV for their gaming room. Townley did a question-and-answer session and spent time playing the NASCAR game on the Wii with the kids.
“It means a lot to come out here and give back to my local community,” Townley said. “This sport has given me so much. It’s always been my dream to drive and if I can give back, it’s really an honor.
“I have three younger siblings, so I’ve been around kids for a while.”
Camping World, the Official Outdoor and RV Retailer of NASCAR, has joined the cause this year and will make the limited-edition pin, designed by NASCAR’s first officially licensed artist Sam Bass, available now until May 17 at Camping World SuperCenters nationwide for a $10 donation to The NASCAR Foundation.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 ends a near month-long break in the NCWTS schedule. Drivers will compete on three of the next four weekends at Charlotte, Dover and Texas Motor Speedway. … Crafton’s standings lead over ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter is 13 points. The pair has won three of the year’s first four races and fashioned a combined eight top-10 finishes. … Busch is the only driver to win from the pole (2010).
Canadian Tire Series Season Kicks Off
NASCAR will celebrate Canada’s Victoria Day Weekend in style with the kickoff of the 2013 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 season with Sunday’s Pinty’s presents the Vortex 200 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
The race kicks off the series’ seventh season of competition under the NASCAR banner for the premier racing series in Canada. D.J. Kennington, the defending champion, is coming off a record seven-win season a year ago, while he will face stiff challenges from fellow two-time series champion Scott Steckly and J.R. Fitzpatrick in search of his first title.
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, formerly known as Mosport International Raceway, is Canada’s largest motorsports complex. The series will return June 22 to compete on the park’s half-mile oval, and then return to the road course on Sept. 1 for a historic weekend, when it will be joined by the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
The worst the eventual series champion has finished in the season opener has been sixth (Andrew Ranger, 2009). Four times the opener’s winner has gone on to claim the title.
The series’ events are telecast nationally, live or tape delay, on TSN/TSN2 and on its French-language sister station RDS/RDS2.
The first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national points of the 2013 season were released Tuesday, with defending champion Lee Pulliam opening up with the early lead of Deac McCaskill and Tommy Lemmons Jr. The Semora, N.C., driver has 10 wins in his first 17 starts.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- Next Race: NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
- The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, May 18
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 20 laps / 20 laps / 20 laps / 20 laps / 10 laps
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- Next Race: History 300
- The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, May 25
- The Time: 2:45 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ABC, 2:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- Next Race: North Carolina Education Lottery 200
- The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway
- The Date: Friday, May 17
- The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 201 miles (134 laps)