Johnson Steals Busch brothers' show with All-Star win
The Scoop: Kurt and Kyle Busch were the class of the field in the Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but pit stops after Segment 4 in the main event put Kasey Kahne and three-time All-Star winner Jimmie Johnson up from front for the final 10-lap sprint to the checkers. Johnson wasted no time passing his Hendrick Motorsports teammate for the lead and Joey Logano eventually passed Kahne to finish 2nd. Kyle Busch, who entered the pits after Segment 4 for the mandatory four-tire pit stop in 2nd, lost a couple of spots and could only claw up to finish 3rd. Kurt Busch entered the pits in 1st, as NASCAR determined the final running order by average running position in the first four segments, but his Furniture Row Racing team lost him four spots in the pits. That's where he finished. The Busch brothers shared most of the spotlight through the night, leading 29 laps a piece, but Johnson stole the show at arguably his most successful race track. Johnson becomes the first four-time winner in the 27-year history of the event and did so after starting near the back in 18th, because of a pit stop penalty in the race's unique qualifying format. The only driver outside the top 5 finishers to lead laps was 2012 fall Charlotte race winner Clint Bowyer, who stole the lead briefly at the beginning of Segment 2 and then gained the top spot again on older tires at the start of Segment 3. But the strategy lost him track position and he only mustered 18th. The race's restarts were exciting, but most of the action was single-file. Seven cautions slowed the race mostly to part the segments, but there were yellows for a nearly one-hour stoppage for rain, Brad Keselowski's broken transmission, and Mark Martin's spin through the grass. Jamie McMurray won the All-Star Showdown and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 2nd, putting both drivers in the main event. Danica Patrick also got in the big race by virtue of winning the Sprint Fan Vote.
140 Characters or Less: Busch brothers fast, pit stops slow. Johnson wins again, fans groan. Five-time is now four-time.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Jimmie Johnson - Johnson not only took the win, but did so on a track where most drivers simply could not gain ground. Crew chief Chad Knaus played the perfect pit strategy, the No. 48 pit crew put the Lowe's Chevy on the front row for the final segment, and Johnson led the $1 million dollar lap that mattered.
North Korean Missile Dud: Clint Bowyer - The No. 15 Five-Hour Energy Toyota was one of the top 5 best cars in the race, but crew chief Brian Pattie's strategy to keep him out of the pits when the leaders pitted flopped. They all passed Bowyer and left him in no spot to gain track position back at the end. They finished 18th.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: Kurt Busch - Furniture Row Racing is almost no longer an underdog team. Busch's prowess has mixed with FRR's bolstered relationship with Richard Childress Racing to be fast week in and week out. Busch probably should have won the race, but the four spots lost on pit road on the last stop did him in. FRR's cars are fast, but some small team mechanical gremlins and botched pit stops, along with some lousy crash luck, have kept them from scoring wins.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Jimmie Johnson - Started 18th, finished 1st - 'nuff said.
Wheel of Misfortune: Greg Biffle - Had a decent car, but got put in the wall late in the going and never contended again. He ended the night 15th.
Head-Scratcher Crown: Mark Martin - His 2013 misfortunes continued Saturday, as he spun the No. 55 Aaron's Toyota early in the race, gained track position later by not pitting, but retired three laps from the end with crash damage. The 54-year-old Martin seems to be making too many unforced errors of late in this his last season in the No. 55.
Ghost Driver: Any driver, but the top 5 finishers and Bowyer - Seriously, guys (and Danica), we really get the feeling that too many of you used this fan event as a test session for next week's Coca-Cola 600. So many of you said you did. There was not much passing (except of restarts) and not many different leaders. Maybe the race is too short or there are too many segments. But most drivers stayed out of sight and out of mind in the All-Star Race.
Georgia on My Mind: David Ragan knew he wouldn't win the race, but kept his No. 34 CSX - Play It Safe Ford…safe…and finished 19th - just ahead of Danica Patrick. His win two weeks ago at Talladega puts him in the 2014 All-Star Race as well.
- Too many fans are up in arms about the race being lousy because Johnson won. This makes no sense. If Johnson had dominated the race, the complaints would be more understandable. But Johnson came back and only led at the very end. If a more popular driver had done that, the same detractors would say it was a good finish. Regardless, Johnson's overall track record in the race made for a tepid post-race storyline, thus a judgment on the overall race itself. The racing wasn't great, but you have to admit that you didn't know who was going to win the race until Johnson lined up on the front row for that last restart. If Kahne had won, there would be less groans.
- Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race was a free for all, as drivers wrecked left and right. One driver told me that the lack of grip at Charlotte threw teams for a loop, as the pavement is several years old. I've also heard from multiple drivers and people involved in the NCWTS that the intensity level in the series is raised to a fever pitch. Kyle Busch ended up winning ahead of Brendan Gaughan. Griffin's Max Gresham scored a best career finish of 3rd and Watkinsville's John Wes Townley was 8th. Tucker's Ryan Sieg finished 15th and Conyers' Chris Cockrum ended the night 22nd. The Trucks race again in two weeks in Dover.
- Jamie McMurray not only did a good job winning the Sprint Showdown, but also drove up to and stayed in the top 10 in the All-Star race, finishing 8th and ahead of plenty of more potent teams. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is running better now; watch for both McMurray and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.
Next: The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series both race Charlotte Saturday and Sunday nights. Expect the cast of contending characters to change as day fades to night in the Coke 600, much as it did during last Saturday's Darlington race.