Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2011 NASCAR All-Star Race Recap

The Key Moment: Carl Edwards‘s crew got him off pit road first after the final mandatory four-tire stop with 10 to go. The No. 99 cruised to an All-Star Race victory from there.

In a Nutshell: For all the pre-race hype concerning bad tempers, revenge, no remorse, paybacks and the gloves being off it was a pretty sedate date at Charlotte Saturday night (May 21).

Dramatic Moment: This event was devoid of drama… utterly soulless without a hint of excitement.

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

How in the Hell did we allow the All-Star Race to become such a bloated mess? Four hours? You’ve got to be kidding me. The first two Winstons lasted less than an hour. The original concept was simple: Drivers who won a points race the previous season qualified. That’s it; there were no “qualifier” races, past champion provisionals, or Fan Votes to take pity on others.

Yet over the years, we have endured such gimmicks as field inversions, a do-over when Jeff Gordon wrecked in the rain and giant pachinko machines. Can we trim the fat, please, and get back to a single 50-lap race for drivers who won a race the previous season that’s over in 90 minutes? Either that, or let’s just enjoy another weekend off.

See also
Full Throttle: All-Star Stinker - What Can Be Done to Bring Excitement Back to Charlotte

Can you imagine if Edwards had actually managed to get his car over on the roof, as he felt it might end up while celebrating a victory? You know there’s something to be said for just driving to victory lane without the histrionics as if you expected to end up there.

Maybe they should have had another fan vote Saturday night: seeing what percentage of people wanted to use the giant remote to watch something else on the giant TV by the midway point of the All-Star Race.

An absolute minimal rule change I’d recommend if they want to continue this silliness next year: abandon the rule that requires all teams to stop for four tires prior to the final 10-lap segment.

I think I’ve had meaningful relationships that lasted a shorter period of time than driver introductions Saturday night.

So why wasn’t there more physical racing, fist fights and other such hooliganism Saturday night? As a crew chief once explained to me the afternoon before a Winston, “We don’t need that car next week, but I gotta have my driver in one piece and ready to go.”

Wow, what were the odds? Somehow Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the field for the main event based on the fan vote. That was twice I was shocked out of my boots on Saturday. First, Junior made the field. Secondly that right-wing, media savvy nut job was wrong and the world, in fact, did not end; it just felt like it during driver introductions. (For the record, had the world ended at 6 p.m. Saturday the Motor Company would have been providing the Sweet Chariot to carry me home. I was somewhere north of Eagle on 100 at the time.)

The tedium wasn’t confined to Saturday, either. Friday, Kyle Busch won another Truck race with ease. If you didn’t see that coming, seek a second opinion from a passenger before driving through any railroad crossings. Clint Bowyer’s frustrated comments over the radio after the race were priceless.

Though it was a SPEED event (though it was hard not to notice all the cameras said FOX on the side) Saturday night’s event might have been a preview of on the on-air and pre-race lineup for FOX going into the future. That just makes me shudder in horror. We’re stuck with these Bozos through at least 2014.

OK, I’m off topic (and that’s never happened before) but this drives me nuts. Why doesn’t that moron cowboy in the Viagra ad just engage four-wheel drive in his Dodge to pull out of mud that is barely rim deep? Sure, unloading the horses is a more practical solution. Absolutely.

And don’t even get me started on the idea of pouring ice cold water into the radiator of a badly overheated Camaro. It’s not like that would crack a head or blow a head gasket. And there’s no sense in checking for a blown hose, leaking water pump or stuck thermostat while you’re under the hood, right? You’re only driving back into the desert in a 42-year-old car, vulture-bait.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

So Edwards wins the race with nary a scratch on the No. 99 car, but still manages to tear the front end completely out from underneath it with a celebratory spin through the grass after the win?

Kasey Kahne had a solid run going when he slipped up and nailed the wall.

Brad Keselowski lost his brakes early in the main event and was forced behind the wall.

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Holding a Pretty Wheel: The Time is Now for Penske Racing to Stay Relevant

Kurt Busch endured yet another one of those nights with a bad pit stop and a penalty for having his crew come over the wall too early. At one point, Busch was suggesting to his spotter he go have a boat drink. (I think a lot of folks at Penske South better hope the Captain wins the Indy 500. If he doesn’t, he’s likely to be in a bad mood this June and clean house in his stock car racing organization.)

A fat lot of good the fan vote did for Earnhardt Jr. His car continued wallowing like a wounded walrus trying to get back to the sea all night long.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Kyle Busch didn’t win the All-Star Race but he finally finished one. And the entire Busch family ought to be able to spend a much more pleasant Thanksgiving weekend this year as a result.

David Reutimann was able to capitalize on a spectacular effort by his pit crew on the final stop to drive on to a notable third-place finish.

Greg Biffle skated through several close calls en route to a fifth-place finish.

Jack Roush saw all four of his drivers manage a top-10 result in the big show. (And, as icing on the cake watched Nationwide Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. claim his first win at Iowa on Sunday.)

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 finishers drove four Fords, three Chevys and three Toyotas. Kurt Busch in 13th was the top-finishing Dodge driver.
  • Tony Stewart was the only driver to post top-five finishes in the 2010 and 2011 All-Star Race. Stewart has finished in the top five in this race in every event since 2007.
  • Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick had top-10 results in this year’s and last year’s All-Star Race.
  • Stenhouse’s Nationwide Series win at Iowa Sunday was the first by a series full-timer since Justin Allgaier won at Bristol in March of last year.

What’s the Points?: This race is an exhibition and is pointless… increasingly so each year.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): Give this one two cans for a thoroughly ordinary race. No race was going to live up to the network’s pre-event hype but this one was more sedate than most. Nice TV they built there at Charlotte, though. Will they tune it to Indy for early arrivals next weekend?

Next Up: From one of the shortest events of the year to the longest, the World 600 presented by some soft drink company or another. Oh, and I hear they’re having an open-wheel race of some sort in the Midwest as well. Then there’s another open-wheel race over in Europe on the streets of some ancient tax haven principality. Yep, Memorial Day weekend is the best weekend to be a race fan. Ladies and gentlemen, start your coffee makers.

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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