For the second week in a row, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte played the fuel mileage game. And for the second week in a row, they came up just shy.
In the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Earnhardt’s gas tank ran dry on the final lap, allowing Kevin Harvick to appear out of nowhere to steal a win. In Sunday’s STP 400 from Kansas Speedway, Earnhardt had the fuel, but not the track position. Instead, Brad Keselowski conserved enough gas over a lengthy green-flag run to coast to the checkered flag nearly three seconds in front of Earnhardt’s No. 88 machine.
“I was pushing really hard the run before and drove up to seventh or eighth place, I think,” Keselowski said. “And we were a legitimate top-5 car. We needed to get the clean air to be a car to win the race. I quite honestly felt like Kurt (Busch, teammate) and I were pretty equal. It was just a matter of being up front and having the right track position.
“But, you know, we didn't qualify as well as we’d like to, so we never really found that. Kurt had ’em covered on speed. We had ’em covered on strategy. And at the end a Penske car was going to win and that’s just what happened.”
Busch indeed had the car to beat. His No. 22 Dodge sat on the pole and led a race-high 152 of 267 laps — including 42 of the last 50. However, it was the eight laps he didn’t lead — the final eight — that mattered.
Busch was forced to pit road for a splash of gas on lap 258, handing the lead to Keselowski. Behind the eventual race-winner, Earnhardt slid under Denny Hamlin to take second. With both Earnhardt and Hamlin in good shape fuel-wise, it was only a question of whether Keselowski had saved enough gas to maintain the lead.
“As guys started pitting, I kind of looked at where our lap times were, and it seemed like we started picking up a bunch of speed,” crew chief Paul Wolfe said of his decision to keep Keselowski out. “It was almost a no-brainer for me because we were only losing three to four tenths (of a second, per lap) to the guys on new tires, where normally when guys start short pitting seems like you’re losing over a second a lap.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
“But it was like, as everybody started peeling off and pitting we just kept getting faster and faster, and it was like, well, we’re not losing much, so it got us in a position where there were so many cars a lap down, even if the caution came out, we were still sitting OK.
“It was almost a no-brainer for me once I saw how much speed we had in the clean air.”
Earnhardt, who held off Hamlin for second, chuckled when asked his reaction when Letarte told him to start saving fuel.
“Not again,” he said. “Man, (Letarte) was telling me that whole run, ‘We’re good, we’re fine.’ Then we got within 10 to go and he said, ‘Back it down, back it down.’
“‘What? I thought we was good!’ He said, ‘No, we’re going to run out right at the flag stand.’ And it did. The gauge was red.”
Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.
The win was Keselowski’s second career Cup victory. The first came in 2009 at Talladega, when he and Edwards tangled in the tri-oval on the final lap, sending Edwards’ Ford into the catchfencing. Ironically, Earnhardt — who Keselowski drove for in the Nationwide Sereis from 2007-09 — finished second that day, as well.
Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 was its typical showcase of endurance, stamina and mechanical frailty — peppered with an F-bomb — and the cries of favoritism and foul luck for NASCAR’s most popular driver. Also on display during the course of the final few laps were three drives who will prove to be pivotal players throughout the 2011 season, as well as determine the Sprint Cup landscape for 2012.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
As the field stacked up, trying to avoid the rapidly decelerating No. 4 Toyota of Kasey Kahne, on the lap 400 final restart, it appeared that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would finally break the string of 105 races without a win and all would once again be right in the Banana Republic known as Junior Nation.
Halfway down the backstretch on the white flag lap, amongst the debris being shed from Brad Keselowski’s clobbered Dodge, the No. 88 Chevrolet drew its knees into its chest, gasped one last breath of air and atomized Sunoco Green E15 race fuel, falling silent. Coming out of Turn 4, the sad reality set in that on Memorial Day Weekend, the National Guard would be denied a win for the second time in five hours – and 1,103 miles.
As his car coasted across the finish line, Dale Jr.’s first comments were, “What’d we end up, seventh? Eh, that’s ‘aiiight.’” As Steve Letarte apologized across the radio for being 500 feet short, Earnhardt tried to reassure his crestfallen crew chief, imploring him to “be proud, man, be proud.”
It is a far cry from the traffic heard across the airwaves the previous two seasons. Gone are the days of constant bickering and resentment and the suggestions that he was laying down on the job. Earnhardt has matured more as a driver and a leader in the past five months than the previous five years combined.
If fans were expecting a Kurt Busch-esque tirade across the radio, they would be highly disappointed in Earnhardt’s post-race interview. If they were expecting an old-school “It-don’t-mean-$***-Right-Now-Daddy’s-Done-Won-Here-Ten-Times” blast, they’d be even more taken aback by his reasoning that if they had won, it would have been “a gift.” For those that have lamented that Earnhardt isn’t anything like his late father, they may want to take a second look. He is clearly serious about not just winning, but winning consistently.
One win won’t erase the ills and missteps of the past several seasons, but it will serve as a stepping stone to making him relevant in statistics other than souvenir sales, as well as getting what was the former No. 24 team back to the level it was in 2007, when Jeff Gordon posted six wins, 30 top-10 finishes and would have won the championship by over 350 points had the standard points system been in play.
Junior’s Outlook: Gets a win prior to the Chase, qualifies for Chase, wins a race in Chase, finishes fifth in final standings. Nobody will notice because they will be either fawning over Jimmie Johnson’s sixth title or a monumental meltdown that sees his drive ending at five.
On the opposite end of the Coke 600 spectrum is Kevin Harvick, who has well earned the nickname “The Closer.” Many — think Greg Biffle, Bobby Hamilton Sr., Joe Nemechek, Ricky Rudd, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Kyle Bush —have bestowed other, less flattering nicknames for Harvick, a guy who thrives on being in the center of controversy.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for a driver who most had all but written off as returning to Richard Childress Racing following a 2009 season that had him openly feuding with his team — and team owner — over the radio during the race.
It had been a fall from grace of sorts for Harvick, who went through a dry spell not quite unlike Earnhardt’s. If not for the controversial end to the 2007 Daytona 500, it would have been over three years since Harvick had won a race as the 2010 season began. However, a contract extension with RCR (when all other options dried up) turned things around. Since the start of the 2010 season, Harvick has made a habit of leading the right laps to win races – i.e., the last few.
A quick check of the laps lead of his last seven wins tells the tale:
2011: Auto Club Speedway: 1 lap led; Martinsville: 6; Charlotte: 2 2010: Talladega: 2 laps led; Daytona: 28; Michigan: 60 2007: Daytona: 4 laps led
Not exactly Jimmie Johnson-like domination, but that kind of opportunism — where Harvick and team find a way to put themselves in a position to win — is exactly what championship-winning teams have a knack of doing.
Don’t get me wrong – Harvick is far from the feel-good cheerleader. He still routinely lambastes his team on the radio if the car is not up to snuff immediately, and will probably rub another 10 drivers the wrong way over the course of his career. Say what you will, though, when it’s all said and done, Harvick has the hardware: Daytona 500, Coke 600 and Brickyard 400 wins; two Nationwide Series titles; a pair of Camping World Truck Series title as an owner. And if things keep going the way they are, a Cup title in 2011 is a distinct possibility.
Not bad for a guy who was all but considered unretainable a year and a half ago.
Harvick’s Outlook: Wins two more regular-season races leading less than 10 laps combined. Easily makes the Chase as regular-season points leader, but falls just shy of a Cup once again.
It seems like yesterday when David Ragan was being derided by Tony Stewart as “a dart with no feathers” at Martinsville — but that day was actually over five years ago. Ragan has been a work in progress of sorts, though most organizations usually don’t wait half a decade for talent to come around, particularly when they are piloting what once was the flagship car of an organization entering it’s 24th season of Sprint Cup competition.
Ragan was tabbed to replace Mark Martin in the Roush Fenway No. 6 Ford for the 2007 season. His first act of defiance was losing control in one of the Daytona 500 qualifying races while getting up to speed after exiting pit road and running head on into the backstretch wall. Ragan’s sophomore season faired a bit better, barely missing the Chase, and he was an odds-on pick to make it for sure in 2009, as well as secure his first of many career victories. While he did win a pair of Nationwide Series races, Ragan floundered on the Cup side, dropping to 27th in points, albeit during a time when Roush Fenway had no idea that its simulation software was engineered on a Commodore 64 and apparently metric.
The 2010 season wasn’t much better, with only three top 10s to the 6 car’s credit and an anemic ranking of 23rd in the final points standings.
This year was off to yet another lackluster start, and rumors began to pick up that this was Ragan’s make-or-break season – odd, considering the previous two would have broken pretty much any other driver not named Jamie McMurray. His first top 10 of the year was at Martinsville – the same track where Stewart’s radio transmission became favored fodder for many in the media. He followed up with a pole a week later at Texas Motor Speedway and another top-10 run.
The good times kept rolling after the requisite Talladega crash took him out halfway through the event with a fourth-place finish at Richmond. While the team did fall off at Dover and Darlington (after peeling off the side of Brian Vickers’ car like a can of sardines), something seemed to click at Charlotte. He was fast from the get go on All-Star weekend, winning the Sprint Showdown. He was steady all night during the Coca-Cola 600 – narrowly missing out on winning his first career race at a track and event that favors first-timers. Had eventual race winner Kevin Harvick not received pushing assistance from teammate Paul Menard (who was not supposed to be behind Harvick in the running order) under caution, Ragan would have likely won by default had the No. 29 ran dry in its pursuit of Earnhardt.
So what does this all mean for the second-generation Cup driver from Georgia? Right now, not a whole lot. Ragan needs to win this year, and potentially make the Chase to secure his services at Roush Fenway Racing next season.
Rumors now have sponsor UPS pushing hard to get Carl Edwards down with brown, and Ragan may have further competition internally for his seat from current Roush-affiliated driver and Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, as well as Roush Nationwide pilot Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has emerged as one of the two or three fastest rising starts in stock car racing.
After five years, now is the time for Ragan to deliver on the potential and history of success the No. 6 car has historically known. It was the foundation upon which Jack Roush built his racing empire, after all, and if Ragan can’t deliver this season, he might be the Jenga block that gets removed.
Ragan’s Outlook: Wins a race in 2011, but it will be too-little, too-late, as Ragan is replaced by either Bayne or Stenhouse in a No. 6 car that is adorned with new decals in 2012.
2011 Race Length: 400.5 miles/267 laps Track Qualifying Record: 180.856 mph (Matt Kenseth, 2005) Race Record: 138.077 (Greg Biffle, 2010)
From the Spotter's Stand
Brian France is doubling down on Kansas Speedway, bringing a second Cup race to the 1.5-mile tri-oval in Kansas City, an annual late September or early October stop since 2001. NASCAR is betting that the first weekend in June will pay off for the track that also offers a high-end casino over Turn 2.
Last year, Greg Biffle made winning at Kansas look like easy money, taking the checkers by 7.638 seconds ahead of 2008 winner Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and two-timer (2006, ’09) Tony Stewart. In his past four stops in K.C., Biffle has two wins and a pair of thirds.
Crew Chief’s Take
“As with many of the circuit’s 1.5- and 2-mile ovals, bump stops on the shocks play an important role at Kansas. A team must find an optimal setting for the bump stops or the car will be negatively affected by being too low — which drags the splitter and affects handling — or too high — which gets air under the car and results in a lack of front-end downforce. Kansas is a simple track, which means there are probably more teams that can win there than at most places.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: Greg Biffle is absolute cash money in Kansas. Pretty Solid Pick: You want solid? Take a look at Jeff Gordon’s eight top 10s in 10 starts. Good Sleeper Pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr. suddenly looks like a contender on the big intermediate tracks. Runs on Seven Cylinders: Joey Logano’s success in the Nationwide Series at Kansas — two wins in three starts — have not translated into Cup glory. Insider Tip: Two races at Kansas mean double the success for Biffle, Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart … and double the boredom for the fans.
Classic Moments in Kansas
Kansas Speedway has been the site of many oddball finishes, and with its traditional date in the Chase, its often had championship ramifications. The 2006 Banquet 400 is no different.
Jimmie Johnson has led 105 laps on the day and leads late when fuel mileage comes into play. Johnson surrenders the lead with four laps remaining to Tony Stewart, who runs out of gas on the backstretch of the final lap. However, with pit stops ongoing, Stewart has a nearly 20-second lead over Casey Mears and coasts the final half lap to win with an empty fuel cell.
Johnson’s title hopes appear to take a fatal hit when he is caught speeding on pit road while coming in for a splash of gas and two tires. His 14th-place finish finds him 165 points out of the Chase lead. He rebounds, though, averaging a third-place finish over the final six races to win his first Cup.
1. Carl Edwards The day faded to night at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Edwards’ car struggled to keep up. Regardless, he’s the man to beat on most weekends.
2. Kevin Harvick No one but Harvick is quite clear where he came from to win the Coke 600, but in typical “flare for the dramatic” fashion (see: 2007 Daytona 500), he managed another crown jewel win.
3. Jimmie Johnson The 48 car doesn’t blow up very often, but when it does, crew chief Chad Knaus tells the world how unhappy he is, via FOX’s live in-car radio feed.
4. Kyle Busch The Lexus brand doesn't usually get much play in NASCAR-land, but Kyle saw to that last week. What’s all this talk about the “New” Kyle Busch, again?
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Losing the Coca-Cola 600 coming out of Turn 4 with a dry fuel tank has to hurt ... and for the second time this season, in a cruel bit of irony, it was the Budweiser car that robbed him of what looked to be a sure-fire win.
6. Matt Kenseth May have had the best car in Charlotte, but when a rash of cautions and wacky fuel strategy came into play, Kenseth was relegated to a 14th-place finish.
7. Greg Biffle Lost in fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s disappointment was Biffle, who gave up the lead prior to the green-white-checker finish for a splash of gas and a safe points day. The stop dropped him from first to 13th.
8. Denny Hamlin Continuing a trend, Hamlin also was the victim of an empty gas tank. And for those that were throwing dirt on his grave a month ago, noticed he’s quietly worked his way up the standings to 12th.
9. Kasey Kahne Unlike Biffle, Kahne stayed out for the green-white-checker finish, led the field to green and then ran out of fuel. The difference? He needs wins to make the Chase. And eight positions in the final rundown.
10. Clint Bowyer Bowyer battled an evil car throughout most of the evening in Charlotte, but was able to muster a 15th-place run.
11. Tony Stewart Expected more out of Stewart in the 600 after it appeared his team found something previously lacking in the All-Star Race.
12. Jeff Gordon Lucky for Gordon, only five 1.5- to 2-mile ovals remain until the Chase.
13. Marcos Ambrose The schedule sets up well for him, with two road races coming up shortly … and those five intermediate stops that have been Gordon's bane have been Ambrose's bread 'n' butter this year.
14. David Ragan Earns his career-best Cup finish (second) at Charlotte. For a driver with an uncertain future, that doesn't suck.
15. AJ Allmendinger In case you haven’t noticed (and you probably have not), the 'Dinger sits only 18 points out of the final Chase spot.
Just off the lead pack: Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers
Jimmie Johnson was still celebrating in Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway on Feb. 21, 2010, when runner-up Kevin Harvick addressed the media and uttered a quote that still bring impish grins to this day.
Harvick’s assessment of Johnson’s luck involved a golden horseshoe that was stuck in, well, use your imagination.
Johnson would win the next weekend in Las Vegas and again two races later at Bristol, the first three of six wins garnered last year.
However, for all the luck Johnson seemingly has enjoyed en route to five consecutive Sprint Cup titles, he can’t hold a candle — or a horseshoe — to Harvick’s 2011 fortune. And Sunday evening’s Coca-Cola 600 was the latest example for last season’s third-place championship finisher.
Harvick conserved enough fuel down the stretch, and zipped past Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his empty gas tank off of Turn 4 on the last lap at Charlotte Motor Speedway to earn his third win of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
In those three victories — the other two coming, ironically, at Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville — Harvick has led a grand total of nine laps.
“It’s one of those deals where you get toward the end of the race and I feel like we can take the car to another level and we always have something left,” Harvick said of his three wins. “You’ve got to be there at the end to make something happen. It’s just never been our style to lead a bunch of laps.”
As fate would have it, Johnson was partly responsible for getting Harvick into a position to capitalize when his engine expired with five laps remaining. Awaiting a green-white-checker finish, race leader Greg Biffle was forced to pit road for a splash of fuel. Kasey Kahne inherited the lead, with Earnhardt lined up to his inside and Harvick fifth.
When the green flag waved Kahne’s car sputtered, then stalled, creating a logjam in the outside lane. Jeff Burton spun as a result, but the race remained green. Earnhardt sprinted away, seemingly assured of his first win in 104 races, but as he entered Turn 3 on the final lap, the fuel cell of his No. 88 Chevy went dry as well, and Harvick, who had diced his way past Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, screamed by as the two exited Turn 4.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
“I feel like complete crap, to tell you the truth,” Harvick said of spoiling what would have been a crowd-pleasing win for Earnhardt. “I think everybody sitting up here would say we want the 88 to win and they’re so close to winning and both times (Charlotte and Martinsville) they had a chance to win. We are going to do what we have to do to win the races, and today it all just worked out strategy-wise that we won the race. But I feel so stinking bad for him, and I know how bad he wants (to win).”
For his part, Earnhardt, who placed seventh in the final rundown, viewed it as “just one of those racin’ deals,” as they like to say.
“We weren’t supposed to make it (on fuel),” he said. “We played our hand. I tried to save a ton of gas — as much as I could. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, to come so close. But if we had won that race, it would have been a gift.”
David Ragan, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger had enough gas to go the distance, as well, and rounded out the top 5.
The 600 win was the third “crown jewel” victory for Harvick. He also has wins in the Daytona 500 (2007) and Brickyard 400 (2003). He lacks only a win in the Southern 500 at Darlington to complete the career grand slam.
Racing means many things to many people. There is the spectacle of the entire event, the crowds of people, the sounds and smells, strategy and pure speed. Perhaps the oldest — and most accurate — description that has applied throughout the history of auto racing is that it is a test of man and machine.
One hundred years ago, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted a 500-mile race which set the standard for most major races over the next century — that is, until the ADD crowd of casual fans infiltrated auto racing and started asking for shorter races. And while the Indianapolis 500 remains “the greatest spectacle in racing,” this weekend hosts ultimate test of man and machine for the stock car set, as the Coca-Cola 600 takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
For years the challenge of running a 500-mile race was building a car and all its components that would last the distance — as well as a driver who could persevere. Cars routinely broke during the final 100 miles of races, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when small, seemingly inconsequential parts ended the day of a dominant racecar. Over that last 20 years, the manufacturing processes and material development has resulted in cars that rarely have faulty parts said causing failures. Add to that the systems that are in place that make drivers more comfortable than ever before, and the test of man and machine is not nearly as formidable as it once was — but it is still a test.
Driving a racecar is not an easy task, no matter how many creature comforts are built into a driver’s compartment. Cool boxes and ventilation hoses certainly make the temperatures more tolerable, but they are still quite high inside of a racecar. During a typical NASCAR race a car’s interior temperature can easily soar into the 120-130 degree range. When the cars slow under caution periods, the temps will get even higher because the amount of airflow through the car is reduced. In addition, the cars are made much more aerodynamic, which allows less air to flow into the driver’s area.
In the early years of racing — and especially in the early years of NASCAR — things were not nearly as comfortable as they are now. Drivers had loose seats which allowed them to slide around, forcing the pilot to use shear brute strength to hold themselves as needed to be positioned behind the wheel. The cars didn’t have power steering, either, so the drivers were forced to manhandle the cars around the track with incredible fatigue on their upper bodies. They also didn’t have the efficient cooling systems that engines have in the cars today, which resulted in the overall temps of the cars being very high, further sapping energy from the drivers.
In 1960, Charlotte Motor Speedway held its first 600-mile race, a distance chosen for a couple of reasons. First, track operators wanted to differentiate its event from the others on the NASCAR schedule by establishing it as the longest race held each year. Secondly, they wanted to not only rival, but exceed, the mighty Indianapolis 500.
The early years of the race frequently saw half of the field fail to finish all 600 miles. Drivers had to massage their cars and run race strategies designed to make the machines last until the finish, rather than worry about trying to lead laps during the race. The discipline required to allow drivers to pull away, knowing that his own car had to be run at a specific pace to be able to survive, required great will power because, after all, taking it easy is contrary to a driver’s makeup.
Today, cars are easily able to make race distances — even the annual 600-miler — making the request to shorten races is contrary to the basic premise of major races. If anything, more races should go greater distances so that the potential for failure, driver mistake and strategy have the chance to fully play out. The drivers won’t run flat out for the entire race distance, but that, in itself, is part of the intrigue of racing great distances; different teams are able to employ different philosophies and approach the race with different mindsets.
There are hundreds of short tracks across the United States which host races for many different racing series that run races of short distances. If a fan wants to see a “sprint” race, odds are, they won’t have to go far. However, the elite level of racing should put on a lengthy show to fully allow the cream to rise to the top.
Prior to last weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race, Carl Edwards was asked about the short distance of the exhibition race during his weekly media availability. He voiced an opinion inconsistent to what most drivers seem to espouse these days.
“I have been working out. I like those long races,” Edwards said. “You can’t make them shorter. I don’t know if that is what fans like or don’t like. I think there is a vocal group that doesn’t like the long races, but I know as a kid if you turn on the TV on Sunday and watched the 500-miler from somewhere, there was something about that event — it was a marathon of man and machine trying to persevere through this hot, demanding race. I thought that was really neat.
“I think there are other series that run short races and that’s OK. Their races are shorter (but) I like the long races.”
Racing is about having the best machine that is able to run the full length of a race paired with a driver who is able to run the proper pace and keep his car in the necessary condition to last. There are many races on the Cup schedule today that are less than 500 miles, which is a shame. Are fans that complain of races that are too long also going to complain if they have to pay the same amount of money to attend an event that is 100 or 200 miles shorter? Odds are, most are going to expect to pay less because they’re seeing less action. That is not going to benefit the racetracks or the competitors, because purses will be cut in order for the tracks to make money.
Five hundred miles result in some pretty amazing feats of man and machine, and need to be the minimum length of Cup Series races. Imagine 993 laps around the half-mile paper clip of Martinsville. Conquering that would truly separate the men from the boys — and that is what racing at the top level of a sport should do.
For those that don’t want to watch races that stretch for such a trying distance, the Truck and Nationwide series, as well as local short tracks, host events of a shorter fare. But the premier series in the country should continue to run 500-mile races to crown a true champion.
"I was test driving a new sports car and I got carried away. I went beyond the speed I should have been going on a public road. I apologize to the public, my fans, sponsors, and race teams for my lack of judgment. I take responsibility for my actions and I can assure you that something like this will never happen again."
NASCAR driver Kyle Busch after being cited by the Iredell County (N.C.) Sheriff's department going 128 mph in a 45-mph zone.
From the Spotter's Stand
After opening the year with a Daytona 500 win and then taking the checkers at the Brickyard 400 in Indy, big-game Jamie McMurray earned his third victory of the season with an exciting Saturday night showdown with Kyle Busch at the 1.5-mile Concord quad-oval in October.
McMurray led 65 laps in his second win at Charlotte, passing Rowdy on Lap 314 of the 334-circuit race and holding on for his third trophy of a breakout season.
Kurt Busch felt like “a million cool ones” after taking the check at the All-Star Race. Then, the 2 car turned the double-play — leading 252 laps to beat runner-up McMurray and little bro Kyle — for a second straight win in Charlotte the following week in the 600.
Crew Chief’s Take
“The 600 in May and the 500 in October present their own set of unique challenges. Varying track conditions and temperature shifts at each race add to the fact that each end of the track is significantly different from the cockpit. The challenge becomes adapting, and particularly in the case of the Coca-Cola 600, the races are really long there. The key is to survive the early stages, when the sun is out, and be in position to battle for the win at night.
“Horsepower is a necessity, as is engine durability, particularly in the 600, when the distance puts an added strain on the equipment.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: Jimmie Johnson has six points-paying and two All-Star Race wins. Pretty Solid Pick: Jamie McMurray had finishes of first and second at CMS in 2010. Good Sleeper Pick: Kasey Kahne is going to break through with Team Red Bull at some point, and Charlotte would be a good place. Runs on Seven Cylinders: They don’t call him “Wall-mendinger” for nothing. Insider Tip: The 600 has a reputation for giving drivers their first career Cup wins — think David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and David Reutimann.
Classic Moments in the 600
The first of David Pearson’s 105 wins comes in the second annual World 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 1961. Pearson, in his second year on the Grand National circuit, leads 225 laps in a John Masoni-owned Pontiac en route to the victory. Pearson owns a two-lap lead on the field when he blows a tire with one lap remaining and limps around to the start/finish line. Fireball Roberts finishes second.
Ralph Earnhardt leads 75 laps in the middle stages of the race in a car owned by Cotton Owens, marking the most laps he leads in any single Grand National event.
Tim Flock makes his 187th and final start in this race, after a Hall of Fame career during which he amasses 39 wins and 129 top 10s.
1. Carl Edwards Not that an exhibition All-Star Race factors too heavily into the Horsepower Rankings, but Edwards was on top of the list before the race, then he won the race, and therefore, holds serve.
2. Kyle Busch Kyle was cited for careless and reckless driving in Iredell County while doing 128 mph in a 45 mph zone. Funny, he got paid $258,300 for doing the same thing on Saturday night … and he still couldn't catch Carl!
3. Jimmie Johnson And this is where the trend ends, as Johnson faded to 11th on Saturday, yet maintains his ranking at No. 3. He may be higher by this time next week.
4. Kevin Harvick Things haven’t been quite so rosy since back-to-back wins at Auto Club and Martinsville speedways. Those two races are fading in the rearview mirror, but we’ll give him another week in the top 5.
5. Clint Bowyer Bowyer has improved his points position 15 spots in the last seven weeks. The higher you get, the tougher the sledding, but this team is capable of sliding into the top 3.
6. Matt Kenseth The upcoming Coca-Cola 600 is Kenseth’s and crew chief Jimmy Fennig’s kind of race: Lay low, save the equipment, be smart with the strategy.
7. Greg Biffle Biffle is gangbusters one week, totally pedestrian the next. And his 21 laps led in 2011 has got to improve. There’s just no excuse for that.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior’s performance — whether he and crew chief Steve Letarte were testing or not — was so bad in the All-Star Race that he slips a spot here.
9. Denny Hamlin Only one top-10 finish for Hamlin at Charlotte in the last seven races. If you’re looking for a good fantasy play this week, look elsewhere.
10. Kasey Kahne Five runs of ninth or better for Kahne and his Red Bull team are offset by three finishes of 36th or worse. If they clean that up, they’ll be tough.
11. Jeff Gordon Once again, Gordon is uncompetitive at a 1.5-mile track. That has to change.
12. Tony Stewart On the other hand, Smoke’s team looked like it may have turned a corner in the All-Star Race.
13. Ryan Newman Newman’s four fifth-place showings are carrying his season thus far.
14. Mark Martin Like Kenseth, Martin could be a guy to watch in this weekend’s 600.
15. Brian Vickers A couple nice runs overshadowed by a dud in the All-Star Showdown. That’s what Vickers does.
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr.
The 2011 Sprint All-Star Race certainly wasn’t as dramatic as past editions. The conclusion was no where near as exciting — or destructive — as 1992’s “One Hot Night;” there was no race-defining moment, like Dale Earnhardt’s “pass in the grass” in ’87, and tempers didn’t flare as they did in ’89 when Rusty Wallace used the “spin to win” method of getting by Darrell Waltrip with a handful of laps remaining.
But as Earnhardt once said, “It pays more to win.” And that’s all Carl Edwards cared about. Edwards and his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team put on a clinic Saturday evening, leading 29 laps — including every one of the final 10-lap shootout — to collect a race-record $1.2 million and a Sprint All-Star Race trophy at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“You have to remember, you’re not always going to have side-by-side, three-wide finishes,” Edwards, who earned his first All-Star Race win, said. “I think that tonight our car was superior. It ended up being a race that we were able to pull away from (the field). But one little thing being different, one different bump-stop combination, track bar height, tire pressure thing (and) it could have been a much different race.
“I believe, as much as we ended up winning the race by, I think that’s a rarity in this event. I think with a 10-lap shootout at the end, four fresh tires, nine out of 10 times it’s going to be a much closer finish. I know I was really nervous about that last run. I did not feel like we had it in the bag by any means. So it just so happened to turn out that way.”
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Edwards led the final four laps of the third 20-lap segment, which preceded a mandatory four-tire pit stop. Crew chief Bob Osborne’s over-the-wall gang held serve during the stop, getting the No. 99 out ahead of Kyle Busch, and his driver pulled away from there to win by .443 seconds.
Busch held on for second, while David Reutimann and Tony Stewart finished third and fourth. Edwards’ teammate, Greg Biffle, who led a race-high 46 laps — all in the first 50-lap segment — was fifth.
“From my vantage point, it was kind of a tame race today,” Busch said. “I don't know what that one caution was for, but I think there was only one or two interruptions besides the normal cautions that we have in this race. Sorry, we didn’t give you any scoop or drama.”
The only real drama, from a “smash ’em up” perspective, came post-race, when Edwards slid his car through the infield grass. His front splitter caught in the sod and tore the nose clip off the Ford.
“I think some people would like to think that I’m smart enough and savvy enough to come up with some (illegal) trick and destroy (the car) like that and make it look like an accident,” Edwards said. “We’re not that smart — I really did just tear up the racecar.”
Earlier in the evening, another Roush ride went to Victory Lane, when David Ragan won the Sprint Showdown, a qualifying race for the 27 cars not in the All-Star event. Ragan slide by Brad Keselowski with two laps remaining in the 40 lapper. Keselowski also transferred into the main event, as the top two finishers moved on. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the fan vote, and therefore rounded out the 21-car field for the All-Star Race. He finished a disappointing 14th.