Who’s in the headline: Kyle Busch had won 15 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway in national touring series but never once visited Victory Lane in a Cup car. That changed Saturday night when Busch made an aggressive move on the restart to begin the final segment and took the lead, holding on for the final 10 laps to secure the win. Kyle Larson won the first two segments and came home second while Jimmie Johnson took the green-and-white checkered flag in the third segment.
What happened: Larson dominated the beginning of the race, leading all 40 laps of the first two stages. Blaney managed to lead at the line after the restart to begin segment 3 but lost it to Johnson, who led the remainder of the laps. Brad Keselowski had a vibration with his option tires before the third segment began and made a trip to pit road to switch back to primes. His crew was told they could not put the option tires back on so he stayed out between the third and fourth segments. Old tires could not hold off new and Busch went to the bottom to make it three wide at the drop of the green. He cleared Keselowski, took the lead and ran away for the remainder of the race.
Why you should care: While there was some exciting racing in the pack all night long, the battles for the lead were short and uninspiring. The leading car still has too much of an aero advantage with these cars sealed off to the ground. The other item of note was the option tire. It was faster, gave up significantly at the end and allowed teams to make strategy calls. Unfortunately it wasn’t an “option” as all teams only had four sets of tires, including their qualifying tires. So they were forced to use the “option” set at some point during the race. It would be nice to see the teams have a little more flexibility
What your friends are talking about: The option tire was a nice baby step in the right direction, but there needs to be more advantage to using them. Putting on tires that only gain three to four tenths and fall off more than the primaries is not enough to entice teams to employ them for strategy. Give them a second a lap for 15 laps and then you’ll see some teams have an interest in trying them out.
Aric Almirola will miss eight to 12 weeks thanks to his broken back. You had to assume it would be something like that since it took Tony Stewart eight weeks to get back in a car after his back injury. The recent study of concussions and the danger of the sport has resulted in several drivers looking hard at the timing of getting back into race cars after they suffer an injury. Almirola noted that rushing back could expose him to greater injury that could negatively impact him for the rest of his life.
NASCAR announced the addition of a fourth stage to the Coca-Cola 600 next weekend. While it is a long race and there is certainly incentive to break it up into four segments, this precedent is a one to set. You now have an event that weighs more heavily on the season and the championship than other races in the regular season. The extra points awarded for that race could ultimately determine whether someone advances during the playoffs or not. It is a slippery slope having one race pay more in points than another.
The 2018 Cup schedule will likely see some shakeup. Hearing that Las Vegas will kick off the playoffs with the former New Hampshire date, replacing Chicagoland Speedway. The Brickyard is rumored to be replacing Richmond as the final race of the regular season. Richmond will move into the playoffs so that another short track will be involved in the run to the title. No mention of the Roval being utilized at Charlotte for the playoffs as of yet.
Who is mad: Matt Kenseth had another fluky occurrence at the All-Star Race. Right before they ended the first segment his car began smoking. After he left the pit box there was oil on the ground that turned out to be a leaking oil cooler that parked him for the night. 20 laps out of the whole All-Star race has to be frustrating.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans can’t be too thrilled with how things have been playing out with NASCAR’s most popular driver of late. Saturday night was yet another event where it seemed the No. 88 team was out to lunch. Junior Nation is clamoring for a run at a title in his last season and it seems as though Earnhardt has resigned himself to playing out the string.
Who is happy: Elliott has been popular among the fans since he first raced. The legions of Bill Elliott followers have naturally gravitated to the son. The vote to put him in the All-Star race was rewarded handsomely with a seventh-place finish, better than anyone else who transferred out of the Open. Look for the young Elliott to put a firm hold on the Most Popular Driver award once Earnhardt Jr. steps aside.
When the checkered flag flew:
Kyle Busch scored his first All-Star victory of his career in his 12th start.
That was the most starts before a win by a driver in the history of the race. The previous long drought was Tony Stewart, 11 years before his 2009 triumph.
The win is the second for Joe Gibbs Racing in the event. Denny Hamlin did it in 2011.
Jimmie Johnson’s ninth top five in the All-Star Race is the most by any driver in history.
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
As much as this race is hyped and they love to replay the videos of the “pass in the grass,” Rusty Wallace spinning Darrell Waltrip and Kyle Petty spinning Davey Allison across the line, the race just doesn’t have that kind of intensity anymore. The drivers absolutely race each other as hard as they can and there was some great fender rubbing in the Open, but in the end, the leader pulls away, the field gets strung out and nobody is wrecking nobody. Zero cautions outside of the ends of segments should tell you all you need to know. It was an average intermediate race, so it gets three Carolina Blondes from Foothills Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The longest race on the NASCAR Cup schedule is next weekend. The Coca-Cola 600 can be seen on Fox Sunday, May 26 at 6 p.m. ET. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate, goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.