Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 All-Star Race Recap

The Key Moment: Kasey Kahne blew past Denny Hamlin’s ailing Toyota on lap 9 of the final segment of the All-Star Race and drove off into the distance.

In a Nutshell: Forget checkers or wreckers; this one was laps and naps.

Dramatic Moment: The first 10 laps of the final segment featured the only real competitive action of a long evening.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

You need any more evidence this Ugly Dog new car is ruining racing? Time after time at Charlotte, the lead car in clean air simply drove off into the distance. Single-file racing was the norm all night, and once-dominant cars couldn’t go anywhere once they got caught back in traffic. Somewhere tonight, they’re talking Humpy Wheeler down off a ledge. If there’s going to be 600 miles of this type of racing next weekend, it’s going to be a real long night.

Is all this All-Star foolishness outlasting its usefulness? With all the convoluted rules, it’s getting harder to figure out what the Hell is going on. I mean, come on, AJ Allmendinger in the All-Star Race? My suggestion is to prepare equal cars for the competitors and run them at the dirt track at Charlotte instead; I mean, anything has to beat the monotony of the current format with the new cars. Burnout competitions, pit crew challenges, heat races and fans voting a driver into the show? To heck with all that; I just want to see some good racing again!

Did it seem like Greg Biffle was forcing himself to sound upbeat after losing the race? Last week, he threw his crew under the bus at Darlington, igniting a firestorm of rumors he was looking to leave Roush Fenway Racing.

What in the Hell is wrong with the No. 24 team? If they’re going to run that bad next week, they might as well stay home.

Are there going to be enough parts to fix all the cars damaged at Indy this week?

No rain at Charlotte in the month of May? Maybe there is something to this global warming thing after all.

I guess Jack Roush laid down the law after Darlington; I noticed his teams were using torque wrenches to ensure the wheels were all tight on his four cars during the 10-minute break. Unfortunately for the Roush teams, you can’t do that during a race; there were rumors that the No. 16 car had another wheel left loose on its final pit stop.

Kyle Busch might have replaced the Chase as fans’ favorite thing to hate. I actually felt bad for his crew guys having to listen to those cheers as they pushed their wounded car into the garage area; it seems people forget that they aren’t the ones that wrecked Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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The other teams really have to be worried about this experimental Toyota motor. Even on seven cylinders, Busch was faster than most of the other cars running full song. If JGR ever finds a way to get that new engine to last, look out.

Tony Stewart driving for Earnhardt Jr. in the Cup series next year? The Silly Season has officially gone insane.

With all the sizzle leading up to the event, you had to think there had to be some steak somewhere… but it was not to be. Give SPEED some credit, though; they showed each segment in its entirety without commercial breaks. FOX normally gets at least two breaks in during 25 laps of racing.

Call it the Hammond Factor: There is no program so poorly conceived, insipid, annoying, or pointless that it can’t be made even more unendurable by bringing Jeff Hammond into the picture.

Sprint decided to use their big show to honor their loyal customers. Maybe next week they can honor those of us who refuse to own or use a cell phone for all the traffic accidents we don’t cause driving while distracted, and the all the motorcyclists we don’t kill text messaging our buds at the wheel?

They discuss what the stars show up wearing at the Oscars, so I guess we need to discuss all those special one-race paint schemes used in the All-Star Race. My nod for the best of them goes to the No. 88 car’s tribute to the Gray Ghost, the car that Buddy Baker used to finally won the Daytona 500 in 1980. Nothing else was even close.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Busch once again appeared to have the field covered, but lost an engine near the end of the second segment.

Hamlin, Busch’s teammate, also gave up the lead as his Toyota’s mill expired with just 16 laps left.

Dale Jarrett’s final ride resulted in a 22nd-place finish in yet another hopelessly uncompetitive Michael Waltrip Racing entry. Maybe he should have raced that Big Brown Truck instead Saturday night.

With the old car, four tires might have been the right call – but Earnhardt Jr.’s chances of winning another All-Star Race evaporated in the pits due to conservative strategy, as Charlotte’s track was a no-passing zone on this night.

Richard Childress Racing‘s three Chevys looked off song all evening. Considering Kevin Harvick won this event last year, it looks like they’ve got some work to do before next weekend.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Some would argue that Kahne didn’t even belong in the All-Star Race, having failed to win a race the last two years or earn his way in through the heat race. But the fans voted him in, and I’m never going to run counter to the fans’ wishes. Maybe Earnhardt Jr. isn’t all that popular after all, and the fans just like the Bud car? Nah.

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Sam Hornish Jr. managed to race his way into the big snore – I mean show – via the heat race, but hit the wall a ton early in the main event. He bent up his car and lost two laps because of it, but still managed to post a seventh-place finish when things were all said and done. It just goes to show the value of never giving up, especially while having a car with the body so askew on the chassis it looks like a dog-trotting ’70s Nova.

Jack Roush’s Fords didn’t win the race, but they still looked strong on a midsize track, as they have all season long. The Roush Fenway drivers now look to be the favorites heading into next week’s 600. I know what you’re about to say; but do you really think a Gillett Evernham Dodge is going to last 600 miles? Not going to happen.

As bad as he ran in the first three segments, Jimmie Johnson has got to consider a fourth-place finish in the last one as a gift.

Stewart was fortunate enough to have his JGR engine expire prior to the race, allowing him to finish the night in the top five instead of in the garage.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): A skunked can of Iron City. That was absolutely pathetic. If this “event” doesn’t cause NASCAR to tweak on the new car, then it appears certain this sport is headed right down the toilet. There’s only so much of this crap fans will put up with.

Next Up: Next weekend features three of the most dramatic and high-profile racing events of the year; the Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indy 500 and the nightcap, the Coca-Cola 600.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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