Thinkin’ Out Loud – All-Star Race – Denny Hamlin’s Star Shines Brightest

Who’s in the headline – While most of the stories will be written about Denny Hamlin winning the race, it is his pit crew that really should be in the spotlight. On the mandatory stop before the final 10 lap segment, Hamlin’s crew threw down a 10.4 second pit stop. DJ Copp told Frontstretch in 2013, that the current equipment made a 10 second pitstop possible. The No. 11 team is very close to making that a reality. They also turned in the fastest pit stop during the unique All-Star qualifying format which put Hamlin in the number one pit stall and ultimately gave him the pole position for the final restart which secured the triumph for him.

2015 Charlotte All Star Denny Hamlin burnout credit NASCAR vis Getty Images

Denny Hamlin enjoying his win (credit: Getty Images)

What happened – NASCAR’s annual showcase of its best drivers, race winners and most popular vote getter who doesn’t fit into the first two categories, took the rag late on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. There was some aggressive racing on each restart until the cars spread out and then it was mostly a single file parade. Kurt Busch looked to be the class of the field near the end of the event but he stumbled on the final restart and came home in third. Busch’s teammate Kevin Harvick was equally strong and pressured Hamlin as the laps wound down but fell victim to the vagaries of clean air. The entire event was caution free, which begs the question: “Are the drivers really laying it all on the line for a million dollars?”

Why you should care – NASCAR was going to try and run their current idea of the 2016 rules package in the All-Star race but backed off of that notion. The sanctioning body is now talking about staying with the 2015 package next season. There were four passes for the lead on the track, although two of them were generated by Kurt Busch beating Brad Keselowski to the line by a bumper on lap 33. The current package has corner speeds up and the benefit of clean air is still too great. If the sanctioning body can’t get these cars off of the ground there isn’t going to be any difference in the racing next season.

What your friends are talking about Joe Gibbs Racing won their first All-Star race. The organization has been running in NASCAR since 1991 and has three Cup series championships, one XFINITY championship and two K&N East titles. With 116 Cup series wins to their credit, it is amazing that they had never tasted the champagne after the All-Star race. There isn’t much left for Coach Gibbs bucket list but now there is one less item.

Roush Fenway Racing owned mile and a half tracks years ago. They have struggled mightily the last couple of years, only scoring five wins. The last mile and a half win was Matt Kenseth at Kansas in 2012. Greg Biffle did win at Michigan in 2013. The organization is working hard, just like every other one in the garage, but they have to be feeling the pressure at this point. Greg Biffle was the only Roush car in the All-Star racing, having raced his way in with a segment one win in the Sprint Showdown. Unfortunately for Biffle he pancaked the right side of his car early in the event and was a non-factor from there on.

Denny Hamlin’s pit crew ripped off an amazingly fast pit stop to set him up for the win. They also had a loose wheel earlier in the race. Kyle Busch, Hamlin’s teammate, also had a loose wheel. While the JGR teams have modified their pit guns to a point where they seem to be faster than everyone else on pit lane, they also seem to be lacking in torgue. Spinning the lugs at a high revolution can certainly make the stops faster but if the guns don’t seat the nuts solidly it can leave wheels loose and ultimately cost teams wins.

JGR may have won the battle but, to this point, Hendrick Motorsports is winning the Intermediate war. Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson have won all of the mile and a half races this season. Kurt Busch has been very fast on those tracks as well. The majority of the tracks in the Chase are mile and a half tracks so excelling on them is going to be a huge factor toward winning the title. The sport ebbs and flows for sure and this domination might not last but, for now, the other teams have to step it up or the HMS teams and satellite operations are going to run away with the hardware.

Timing and scoring is a challenge at a race track. With the electronic telemetry that the cars utilize it isn’t as difficult as it was when scorers used a piece of paper and wrote down times from a clock at the start/finish line. Amazingly, with that advanced technology, it still takes race control 10 minutes to figure out the average finishes over the four segments in order to bring the cars down pit lane for the final pit stops. Most college freshmen who have taken an Excel class could throw together a spreadsheet and calculate the lineup before the pace car grabbed the field when the final caution flew. Not sure what the difficulty is but the powers that be might want to hire a new intern to do the data input next season.

There were rumblings after the All-Star race that a member of Jimmie Johnson’s crew may have attempted to modify the side skirt of the No. 48 during the race. NASCAR announced that it was illegal to modify the skirts at all during races this season. The video is being reviewed and an announcement of any penalties should be made on Tuesday.

Speaking of penalties, Kasey Kahne won the Truck race by inches on Friday night. He was then found to be too low in the front and too high in the right rear. NASCAR has never taken away a win from a post race technical violation but this instance screams to be the first time it happens.

The 2016 Cup series may have more than just Chase Elliott as a new face in a full-time ride. Roger Penske says he wants to see if his organization can work out a situation where they can secure a sponsor to help the Wood Brothers run Ryan Blaney for all 36 races in 2016. Ty Dillon is going to complete his second full season in the XFINITY series this year which was the length of his brother Austin’s career in the series. Dillon says that he and his grandfather, Richard Childress, have a plan for his Cup career and it looks like 2016 is when it is supposed to happen.

Ed Clark, the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, confirmed that he has submitted a formal request to NASCAR to receive a different race date for 2016. Clark admits the track would love to have a date in late April and again in late September. He said he does not want to see another track give up a date that they consider a good date but he would like a better option for his track after the temperature for his race date in March was quite brisk and hurt the walk-up crowd which is always a big part of the attendance at AMS.

Who is mad – Kevin Harvick went for it in qualifying and failed. Overshooting the pit stall resulted in Harvick starting the event in 20th, dead last on the field. He clawed his way forward and managed to enter the pits in the top 5 for the final stop. He had the fastest car on the track when the laps wound down but Hamlin pulled in front of him and took the air off of his nose with three laps to go as they raced through turns one and two and that ended his shot at scoring the victory.

Brad Keselowski came into the pits with the best average finish over the first four segments so he was the first car to hit the line. Hamlin’s crew ripped off their amazing stop and Keselowski saw the No. 11 pulling out of his pit ahead of him. The 2012 champ goosed it to try and beat Hamlin to the timing line. Unfortunately that caused his average speed over the final segment of the pits to be too fast and he was penalized. Keselowski was able to race his way back to 10th during the final 10 laps but that moment of exuberance cost him any shot he had at scoring the win.

2015 Charlotte All Star Kurt Busch Jeff Gordon racing credit NASCAR vis Getty Images

Kurt Busch holding his own on the track (credit: Getty Images)

Kurt Busch embraced the no holds barred attitude of the All-Star race more than any other driver Saturday night. Busch went four wide on the start of the fourth segment and put his car in multiple scenarios that could have ended poorly. Unfortunately for Busch, with Keselowski’s speeding penalty Busch had to start on the outside for the final restart of the race and the outside line was not strong on any of the starts all night. Busch fell back at the drop of the green and was unable to get past his Stewart Haas teammate Harvick and take a shot at Hamlin.

Who is happyAJ Allmendinger continues to reap the benefits of his Watkins Glen triumph from last season. Having qualified for the All-Star race Allmendinger started 13th and ran from there to seventh for the majority of the race before finishing 11th. Allmendinger was decent on mile and a halfs early this year after a poor 2015 and is hoping to ride this momentum to another win in the near future.

Matt Kenseth did not qualify well, starting the race in 17th. His team took a shot at two tires in the middle of the race but it didn’t pay off like they hoped. The 2003 Cup champion pulled off a top five finish with his daring moves over the final 10 laps and salvaged a good finish out of an average night at bes.

Jeff Gordon is a four-time All-Star winner and, with his pending move out of a full-time seat, knew this is most likely his last All-Star race. For the first time since 2006 he was able to finish in the top 5 thanks to a very solid run all night that never saw him outside of the top 10. The salutes to Gordon continued during driver introductions as fans and drivers alike held up thank you signs to let Gordon know how much they appreciate him and his career.

With GoDaddy leaving the No. 10 next season, Danica Patrick is pitching hard for a potential sponsor. The fact that she won the fan vote for the All-Star race shows that she can still move the needle. While it doesn’t pay enough to sponsor the team for a year, it does give the organization a statistic to highlight to entice a potential sponsor with the power of her popularity.

When the checkered flag flew:

With the All-Star race being all about running for the money and nothing about points we’ll ignore the point standings and Chase locks.

Denny Hamlin’s win was his first career victory in the All-Star race.

The win is also Toyota’s first score in the All-Star event.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s previous best in the All-Star race was second on four different occasions (1997, 1998, 1999 and 2011).

Takin’ it to the Bank:

Cup winners this year have pocketed $4,644,293 in 11 points races, while the last place finisher has taken home $922,850.

In the Xfinity series it has been $813,806 for the winners and $163,882 for last place after 10 races.

After five Truck races the winner has $286,711 and the last loser has banked $51,901.

What is in the cooler

Charlotte Motor Speedway is a mile and a half track and the All-Star race is run at night. Put those two things together and you have a recipe for boredom. The 25 lap segments provide the opportunity for plenty of excitement on restarts but that is the majority of the excitement on any Intermediate tracks with this race package. A couple of drivers put on shows carving through the field but the action at the front of the pack, where the broadcast is generally focused, was uninspiring at best. The end result is three cold Carolina Blondes from Foothills Brewing Company. It wasn’t thrilling but it wasn’t horrible either.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – Next weekend is the greatest day of racing in any calendar year. The Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. It is a non-stop cornucopia of auto racing excitement. After watching Monaco and Indy you can see the 600 on Fox. It is the final broadcast on Fox of the season. The remainder of the schedule on the Fox family will be on Fox Sports 1. You can also hear the race on SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. It is also available on your local PRN affiliate. The green flag should fly shortly after 6:00 PM Eastern.

Tracking the Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200

In a Nutshell: Kasey Kahne and Erik Jones started side-by-side on Friday night, and that’s the exact same way the duo finished the race. The pair qualified 1-2 but were forced to start from the rear after each had a pre-race issue (Jones – missed drivers’ meeting; Kahne – unapproved adjustments). As soon as the green flag dropped, though it was clear this duo was the class of the field, weaving their way through traffic and charging to the front within the race’s first 50 miles. The two frontrunners from that point on, a green-white-checkered finish gave Kahne one more shot against Jones. The duo ran door-to-door across the start / finish line, separated by a mere 0.005 seconds but in the end, Kahne emerged the victor. Matt Crafton scored his fourth consecutive top-5 finish with a third-place result while teammates Tyler Reddick and Brad Keselowski crossed right behind him.

Who Should Have Won: Simply put, Erik Jones had the truck to beat. After starting at the back of the field, the driver of the No. 4 Toyota wasted little time showing the field his speed. By the time lap 10 rolled around, he had already climbed well inside the top 10, running sixth and charging. He took the lead for the first time on lap 26 and at times, jumped out to as much as a seven-second advantage. Jones led four times for a race-high 88 laps before being edged at the line by Kahne.

Race Rundown

Another Race, Another Heartbreak for Erik Jones

For the second week in a row, Erik Jones had the strongest truck on the track, but once again, he did not end up in Victory Lane. Last weekend at Kansas, it was an empty fuel tank that dropped him from the lead to an eventual 11th-place finish in a race where he led all but 16 laps.

This week, after starting at the back of the field, the 18-year-old once again looked poised to snag his first win of the season. However, a late spin by Daniel Hemric set up the green-white-checkered ending that allowed Kasey Kahne to side draft and edge the rookie by one of the closest margins in series history.

Following the race, Jones was clearly upset as he was seen on camera storming away from his truck to the No. 4 hauler. He did emerge and speak with the media but was clearly very upset and sounded almost on the verge of tears.

“I can’t believe that the lapped cars just can’t let us finish a race. It sucks when it has to come down to a green-white-checkered. The fastest truck loses the race again two weeks in a row,” Jones told FOX Sports 1. “I just can’t believe we lost it. I don’t even know what to say. It really, really hurts. I can’t believe it. It’s nice to have fast trucks, but I wish we could win. I really, really wanted this one and it’s hard to come up second.”

First of all, I have to applaud Jones and how he handled his disappointment. While the teenager was upset and the last thing he probably wanted was a camera and microphone in his face, he headed back to the hauler and took a few moments to collect his composure before answering questions like a professional. You can’t really blame him for being disappointed after working so hard to get to the front of the field after starting in the back.

With that said, a runner-up result is a pretty spectacular one to be that upset about. The performance is Jones’ fourth top 10 in five races this season and allowed him to gain ground on point leader Matt Crafton. It just goes to show just how much winning means to Jones when he’s that upset about a second-place finish.

(Credit: Amy Henderson)

Kasey Kahne may get the last laugh this week, likely keeping his Truck Series victory despite the No. 00 Chevrolet failing NASCAR’s post-race inspection. (Credit: Amy Henderson)

Kasey Kahne’s Winning Truck Fails Post-Race Inspection

Following a trip to Victory Lane in only its second Truck Series race, JR Motorsports has now been left to wait and see what penalties might await it come next week. During post-race inspection, Kasey Kahne’s winning truck failed for being too low on both sides and for being too high in the right rear.

NASCAR has made it a policy that it won’t strip a driver of their win despite failing post-race inspection, citing that fans should know when they leave the track who the winner is. That seems like a logical explanation for a casual fan, but in this day and age of social media, there would be little confusion anyway since there are now so many ways to get news as it happens. Aside from that, is it really the right call not to strip a win from a team whose car was deemed illegal?

For a team like JR Motorsports that is only running a handful of events and won’t even be in serious contention for the owners’ championship, there’s no other penalty that will hold any ounce of meaning. Sure, the organization will probably lose some points, pay a monetary fine and perhaps even find its crew chief on probation, but the bottom line is that each of those potential penalties is meaningless.

The real solution here is to create a no-tolerance rule that states if a driver fails post-race inspection, in particular due to a violation that is not related to potential race damage, that win should be stripped. Period. Sure, there may be a different winner in the record books than fans saw, but the message would be sent that bending the rules beyond the rulebook is absolutely unacceptable. And, as a bonus, it would bring back some of the integrity that the sanctioning body has lost over the years with a history of subjective calls.

Quick Hits:

* Kasey Kahne’s victory marks the 200th for Chevrolet in the Camping World Truck Series. Mike Skinner won the inaugural Truck Series race behind the wheel of a Chevrolet in 1995, a season where the manufacturer won 16 of 20 events.

* For the second week in a row, James Buescher was initially entered behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet for NTS Motorsports only to have a late-week announcement come out that Scott Lagasse, Jr. would be piloting the truck instead due to a lack of sponsorship. Owner Bob Newberry said late this week that he would have fielded a third truck for Buescher, even at the last minute, if financial backing were available.

* Kyle Busch Motorsports put all three of its trucks inside the top 10 at Charlotte Friday night. The trio of Erik Jones, Matt Tifft and Justin Boston finished second, eighth and ninth, respectively. Only Jones and Boston are running the full season; Jones is second in the standings and Boston sits eighth.

* Seven drivers dropped to the rear of the field before the race began. Kasey Kahne, Spencer Gallagher and Justin Boston were hit for unapproved adjustments, while Kyle Fowler, Erik Jones, Jordan Anderson and B.J. McLeod got dinged for being late to the drivers’ meeting.

Truck Rookie Report
2015 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 4 Erik Jones
No. 07 Ray Black, Jr.
No. 08 Korbin Forrister
No. 13 Cameron Hayley
No. 14 Daniel Hemric
No. 23 Spencer Gallagher
No. 50 Cody Ware
No. 54 Justin Boston
No. 94 Wendell Chavous

No. of Rookies in the Race: 15 (add Jordan Anderson, Kyle Fowler, David Gilliland, Brandon Jones, Tyler Tanner and Matt Tifft)

No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 5; Erik Jones, finished second; Tyler Reddick, finished fourth; Matt Tifft, finished eighth; Justin Boston, finished ninth; Spencer Gallagher, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Erik Jones

Points Update: Matt Crafton maintains the top spot, now 16 markers ahead of Erik Jones. Tyler Reddick dropped to third, followed by Johnny Sauter. John Wes Townley, after a solid top-10 effort at Charlotte rounds out the top 5 in series points. Timothy Peters sits just two points outside the top 5 in sixth, followed by rookie Cameron Hayley in seventh. Fellow rookies Justin Boston, Spencer Gallagher and Daniel Hemric round out the top 10.

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series takes a weekend off before heading to Dover International Speedway Friday, May 29. Last season, Kyle Busch dominated, leading 150 of 200 laps en route to the win over Ryan Blaney. Coverage for the Lucas Oil 200 begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.

Kasey Kahne Edges Erik Jones For Truck Series Victory in Charlotte

.005 seconds. That’s all that separated Kasey Kahne and Erik Jones after 139 laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kahne nipped Jones at the line to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NC Education Lottery 200. The win was the first for JR Motorsports in Truck competition, the 200th for Chevrolet, and Kahne’s fifth victory in six Truck Series starts.

The win came at the end of a great battle between Kahne and Jones. Both drivers came from the rear of the field — Kahne for unapproved adjustments, Jones for missing the drivers’ meeting – after qualifying in first and second, respectively. Jones showed that he had the dominant truck early on, rising to the lead on lap 26 and dominating the midway portion of the race. He continued to hold first place until a restart with just over 30 laps remaining. Kahne and Jones were side-by-side for several laps afterwards, with Kahne securing the top spot when a caution fell for a spin by Mason Mingus with 18 laps left.

Kahne then took off on the ensuing restart, but Jones was able to track him back down, taking the lead with four laps remaining. Jones began pulling away and was cruising to the white flag when the caution fell once again, this time for Daniel Hemric‘s crash.

Kahne and Jones again battled side-by-side in a green-white-checkered finish, staying side-by-side right up to the start/finish line in a heart-pounding ending for all involved.

Behind Kahne and Jones, Matt Crafton was able to work his way around Tyler Reddick on the last lap to come home in third. Reddick finished fourth, followed by team owner Brad Keselowski, who led early on but later lost track position due to a lengthy pit stop.

John Wes Townley, Timothy Peters, Matt Tifft, Justin Boston, and Spencer Gallagher rounded out the top-10 finishers.

Crafton’s point lead dropped by a single point with his third-place result. He now holds a 16-point edge on Jones and an 18-point cushion on Reddick.

The field was slowed for 25 laps as the result of five cautions. There were 12 lead changes amongst six drivers.

The Truck Series will return to action on May 29, a Friday afternoon affair when the field heads to Dover International Speedway for the Lucas Oil 200.

UPDATE: Kasey Kahne’s race-winning Truck failed post-race technical inspection at Charlotte. No word as of 11:45 p.m. ET on possible penalties for the team.

Kasey Kahne Takes Truck Series Pole at Charlotte Speedway

Kasey Kahne is well on his way to a fifth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win. Making the most of the draft, the Sprint Cup veteran captured the pole for tonight’s NC Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kahne got the top spot after turning a 29.778-second lap.

Erik Jones will start on the outside of the front row after posting a lap .055 seconds slower than Kahne. His Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Matt Tifft will start third, while Brad Keselowski and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top five. Scott Lagasse Jr., Tyler Reddick, Ray Black Jr., Matt Crafton, and Ben Kennedy complete the top-10 starters.

While Kahne rode the the round three pole, a few contenders never made it out of round two. After a few drivers made laps, the entire field waited on pit road for the final minute in order to go out in a group and use the draft. When they waited too long to start going, Timothy Peters, Cameron Hayley, Brandon Jones and others failed to reach the start/finish line before time expired.

The field that made it to the line was scrambling to put down a time when Spencer Gallagher spun out of turn four, forcing a caution. All teams that failed to reach the finish line before the caution also had their times disallowed, leaving Kahne advancing to the final round based off of his round one time.

The field was slowed for caution twice in qualifying, once when Justin Boston spun off of turn four in round two and again for Gallagher’s round-ending spin. Boston and Gallagher were able to save their trucks, but failed to complete a lap in the round.

Ryan Ellis, Todd Peck, and Brandon Brown failed to qualify for Friday night’s race.

Coverage for the NC Education Lottery 200 will begin at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon Quickest During All-Star Practices at Charlotte

The Sprint All-Star Race weekend has finally arrived, and the much-anticipated non-points events are set to kick off on Friday evening with the Sprint Showdown. As the sun beamed down on Charlotte Motor Speedway early Friday afternoon, two extended practice sessions – one for each event – provided an opportunity for teams to test setups for next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

Making his return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series following multiple leg injuries at Daytona, Kyle Busch was quick right off the truck. The No. 18 car sat inside of the top 10 throughout practice, but in a final qualifying run, he put up the fastest time out of the 17 cars that are already locked into the All-Star Race.

Posting a time of 28.589 seconds, Busch edged out Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick at the end of practice. He is running his first event since the NASCAR XFINITY Series season opener, and it is the first time he is driving a Cup Series car in race conditions with the tapered spacer, among the other aero changes that NASCAR implemented this season.

Kurt Busch held the fastest time for the majority of the session, but fell to fourth by the time practice concluded. Kasey Kahne ran the most laps with 56, with Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon each running over 50 laps as well. At the conclusion of practice, NASCAR gave the 17 teams 10 minutes to practice getting onto pit road in preparation for the All-Star Race qualifying format, which enables cars to not have a speed limit entering the pits.

Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon was the fastest driver on the day, putting up a 28.528-second lap in the early session for the Showdown. Running 49 laps during practice, the No. 3 car also had the quickest 10 consecutive lap average out of nine cars. In his lone Showdown race, Dillon started on the pole, but faded to eighth after leading three laps.

Greg Biffle was a mere 57 one-hundredths of a second off Dillon’s time as he attempts to make it in the All-Star Race. Biffle is running the Showdown for the first time since 2010; back then, he was able to transfer into the main event. Martin Truex Jr., who sits second in the championship standings, was third in practice, followed by Paul Menard and Danica Patrick.

Sprint Showdown Practice Speeds