All three NASCAR series were in action this past weekend, but for drivers at the Sprint Cup level, it was All-Star weekend, the only race weekend on the official season calendar when you can have either a great race or a bad race and not gain or lose any ground in the important points standings.
The rules for the Sprint All-Star race were changed this year. This year's race consisted of three 20-lap segments for the top 20 qualifiers and a 20-lap Showdown for the rest of the field. The first-place finisher in the Showdown was then added to the winners of each of the three other preliminary segments and awarded positional priority over 21 other drivers for a winner-take all final 10-lap shootout for the event championship.
In past All-Star events, the finishing order was inverted after each segment, which provided more balance to the competition. Because there were more individual segments this year, the winners of the first and second races (Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, respectively) dropped to the back of the pack in the subsequent segments, knowing that they were assured of being in the top two positions in the final shootout and not wanting to do anything to damage their chances.
By the time it came to the third segment among the 20 original All-Star qualifiers, the fastest cars were hanging around at the back waiting for the 10-lap final race. So you have to question the format and whether the fans were seeing real racing for their money. As the evening wore on - which is an apt way to describe it, given the absence of real excitement - the racing intensity and skill level became far less than an All-Star event is supposed to feel.
Jimmie Johnson outgunned polesitter Kyle Busch for the win in the opening 20-race segment, and parlayed front positioning in the final shootout to the overall victory. He was followed in the final race by Brad Keselowski, winner of the third segment, Kenseth, winner of the second segnment, Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who took the checkered flag in the preliminary Showdown against the drivers who did not qualify among the top 20 for the original All-Star lineup.
Come on, what a snooze! What else should we have expected from a 10-lap race, with those five cars starting at the front of the pack?
Here are five other things you should take away from this non-points, non-fun All-Star weekend:
- This was supposed to have been a special weekend on the NASCAR Sprint Cup calendar. The Sprint All-Star Race held Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway ostensibly is NASCAR's answer to the annual all-star exhibitions held in the major spectator sports with a ball or stick or both. If you ask me, though, NASCAR's event lacks the attractiveness of the other All-Star events, at least from a fan's perspective. Aside from the fact that NASCAR officials can't seem to decide on a set format and the race itself is considered an exhibition (with no points awarded), what makes the so-called All-Star event at Charlotte any different than any other Sprint Cup race? Putting aside the obvious, of course, that the winner takes home a $1 million purse.
- Maybe it's time for NASCAR to take a lesson from the NFL and do away with the all-star event. What the fans in Charlotte really gear up for, anyway, is the Coca-Cola 600, Sprint Cup's longest race of the year, and all the All-Star race serves as is as a non-frills tune-up for that big holiday race.
- This was five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson's third All-Star Race victory and his second victory in as many weeks. He won at Darlington Raceway in the Bojangles' Southern 500 last weekend for his first Sprint Cup win in 16 races and his first in 2012. Johnson ties Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., with three All-Star wins.
- Jimmie Johnson leads all NASCAR drivers with over $4.2 career earnings from the Sprint All-Star Race.
- Kansas City hometown favorite Carl Edwards, the winner of the 2011 All-Star Race, his last victory in a NASCAR event, went out after 25 laps (five laps into the second segment) in the 2012 race with engine failure. Edwards, from Columbia, Mo., finished last (23rd) among the All-Star qualifiers after starting 13th. Clint Bowyer started 12th and finished 14th in the final 10-lap shootout.
- Edwards on his engine failure: "We were running really well the first segment, and I knew something wasn't right there," he said in his post-race comments. "I had red lights on the dash the whole time. We had it taped up too much trying to get too much downforce and we just broke it. We went all out, and it didn't work. I've never seen that water temp and that oil temp in a race car for that long and have it live. I'm pretty proud of Doug (Yates, his crew chief) and the guys that made it (last) as long as it did."
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