Five segments gave way to four different winners on Saturday night in Charlotte. But when the marbles settled, it was Denny Hamlin that won the crucial fifth leg to claim $1 million and the first Sprint All-Star race victory for Joe Gibbs Racing.
It was an exciting night for Hamlin, but it didn’t exactly live up to the hype for NASCAR fans hoping to see an all-out brawl for that seven-digit check. Here’s a look at all of that and more from Charlotte after the first event in the 10 Days of Thunder.
1. All-Star Dud
Just 24 hours after a thrilling finish in the Camping World Trucks Series, the All-Star race had a lot to live up to. Not only did the Cup race not compete with the CWTS event, it barely even made an attempt.
Sure, the qualifying was interesting. But the current rules package in NASCAR can’t be masked by throwing in a simulated pit stop during qualifying and having five different segments to decide a winner.
The entire race for $1 million boiled down to which driver had the best pit stop prior to the 10-lap shootout. Following a speeding penalty for Keselowski in the pits, the Penske driver told his crew, “There was only so much I could do. I had to get the lead.” And, to be honest, he was right. With so much importance on clean air in NASCAR, he did need to be out front.
Here’s the thing, pit crews should help gain driver positions—not secure wins. Races should be won on the track by drivers in the equipment their teams built—not on pit road.
2. Hamlin Happy With Intermediate Package
Take nothing away from Hamlin, while the race wasn’t exactly enticing for fans, it was Hamlin that clearly deserved to win on Saturday night. Keselowski may have been in the fastest car, but Hamlin and his pit crew did everything correctly to set him up for a win.
After the champagne was sprayed and the confetti was cleared, Hamlin spoke about just how happy he was with his team’s progression at intermediate tracks. Gibbs said “Hopefully this is a shot in the arm” for the team on similar courses. The Coke 600 next weekend will be a true test of that improvement for the No. 11 crew.
3. Harvick Sick of Second
Ricky Bobby once said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Yes, he was a fictional character. No, second place is not typically a negative for NASCAR points races. But in an exhibition race for $1 million, no one remembers who finished second.
That’s exactly the position Kevin Harvick found himself in for a second straight season. The No. 4 machine wasn’t dominate all night, but neither was the No. 11. When the checkered flag waived, however, it was The Closer once again coming up just short.
One thing Harvick can still boast that Hamlin can’t is a championship. And when the points races get started up again next Sunday, #4TheWin will start again.
4. Two Up
Kyle Busch – Normally we do three up and three down, but only 20 drivers were in the All-Star field. Given those numbers, Kyle Busch was clearly a standout. In his first race back after suffering a broken leg and foot, Busch looked solid all night and finished sixth overall.
Kyle Busch following All-Star race: “I’ll be sore tomorrow … from here on out there’s only going to be an upward swing.” #NASCAR
— Chicken Bone Alley (@CBoneAlley) May 17, 2015
The true test will be the grueling Coca-Cola 600 as to whether or not Busch can hold up in a full race. But after his performance on Saturday night, it’s clear that Busch hasn’t lost a step—even though he might limp a little.
Kasey Kahne – In the early portion of the All-Star Race, it looked like Kahne would run away with the $1 million check. He ran down Hamlin in the first leg and never looked back. While the final check went to Hamlin, Kahne proved he has the speed to compete in next Sunday’s race and potentially join his Hendrick teammates in the Chase.
Kasey Kahne’s pit stop following the first segment of the #SpritAllStar. #NASCAR A video posted by Cory Smith (@rcorysmith) on
5. Two Down
Tony Stewart – What hasn’t gone wrong for Tony Stewart in 2015? Smoke only made it into the All-Star field based on his 2009 win in the event. The Stewart-Haas Racing owner went an entire season without a win for the first time in 2014. With disappointment continuing to mount, he’s heading toward a similar fate again.
Carl Edwards – At some point, Carl Edwards has to turn a corner with Joe Gibbs Racing, right? Despite the success of JGR teammate Hamlin, Edwards was unable to find a similar groove, rhythm or whatever it took to get close to the front. A two-time winner last season, Edwards still has Sonoma coming soon to potentially change his Chase fate.
6. Three Tweets
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) May 17, 2015
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