Kyle Busch used a great late-race restart to capture Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the $1 million first-place purse.
The victory was Busch’s first in the All-Star Race and just the second for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, with the first coming in 2015 with Denny Hamlin. Here are the four biggest surprises of the all-star race:
LAT ImagesNigel Kinrade
While Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing shined, other stars of the sport struggled mightily. Martin Truex Jr. won last year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, leading a record 392 of 400 laps. And Truex won a week earlier on a 1.5-mile track in Kansas. But in the All-Star Race, he fought tire issues with his Furniture Row Racing Toyota and finished a disappointing 12th. An oil-cooler failure left fellow Toyota driver Matt Kenseth last in the 20-car all-star field.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who in his final all-star appearance was 18th. Afterward, Earnhardt took to Periscope to describe his displeasure. “I’ve got to smile to keep from crying, because that was ridiculous,” Earnhardt said. “Pretty embarrassing.”
LAT ImagesNigel Kinrade
Not an option
Goodyear gave the teams a choice of two tires: The traditional tire known as “prime” and a softer option tire that carried green lettering instead of the normal yellow. The choice of tires was supposed to add a whole new element of strategy. The option tire was about three-tenths of a second faster than the prime tire, but the option tire also fell off faster. Surprisingly, none of the 10 drivers who made it to the final round used the option tire then. All 10 were on prime tires for the $1 million shootout.
USA TODAY SportsJim Dedmon
No passing zone
The biggest disappointment in the race by far was a lack of passing up front. Kyle Larson led wire to wire in each of the first two 20-lap stages. In the third stage, Jimmie Johnson led 19 of 20 laps, and in the final stage, Kyle Busch took the lead at the restart and led all 10 laps. Throw in the single lap Ryan Blaney led in stage three and you had just four leaders in a four-stage race, which was not the desired outcome in a race that used to be billed as “checkers or wreckers.”
LAT ImagesMatthew T. Thacker
On one hand, no one should have been surprised that Kyle Busch won the race. After all, he’s a past Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and one of the sport’s truly elite drivers. On the other hand, it took him 12 attempts to win this race, breaking the previous record of 11 set by Tony Stewart in 2009.
On top of that, Joe Gibbs Racing has struggled at 1.5-mile tracks this season and was winless in the first 11 points races of the year after posting six victories in the first 11 races of 2016. So, yeah, Busch’s win was something of an upset.