NASCAR

Nextel All-Star Challenge Viewers Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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There's a big difference between the Nextel All-Star Challenge and All-Star games in other sports. For example, I'm more interested in the slam dunk contest than I am the NBA All-Star Game. I can watch about a quarter of the NFL's Pro Bowl. It's cool that it's in Hawaii, but I don't think anybody really plays that hard. But the Nextel All-Star Challenge isn't even about the million-dollar prize to the winner. As some drivers would say, the dirty little secret is you could put a six-inch trophy out there, and they would race the same way. Unlike the NBA All-Star Game where nobody plays defense, we've seen guys go out of the All-Star Challenge with torn-up racecars, and emotions are always high. On All-Star night, the race is all about the drivers. Certainly, a lot of preparation and hard work goes on at the shop, and he pit crews are part of the equation on qualifying night. But once the green flag falls, it's so much about that driver. They like that pressure because they are all so competitive. In fact, one of the guys on Kasey Kahne's team told me that Kahne wants to be the fastest driver in every practice, every qualifying session and every lap during the races. Saturday night's race will tape into that competitive nature because it's all about who's the best driver among the All-Stars on that night. That's how the All-Star Challenge differs from the other major league sports and their all-star events because it's every driver for himself, and there can only be one winner.

Who to Watch

There is no way to predict a winner because, remember, Michael Waltrip had never even won a Cup race before and he won the 1996 all-star race. He just drove by everybody at the end of the race, and that night, he was the best of the all-stars. That's what makes it fun and so compelling. Joe Nemechek could win and none of us would be surprised. Jimmie Johnson dominated the 600 there last May, but does that mean he's got more of a shot than Kasey Kahne to win? Absolutely not. I'll make one prediction. In a race as wild and crazy as the Nextel All-Star Challenge, it wouldn't surprise me if Greg Biffle won. Not because he has three wins this year, but it's the kind of race in which a driver who isn't afraid to let it all hang out is so dangerous. That makes him a threat.
Inside Info on RyansRacecar.com
Prior to Saturday night's race at Richmond, I asked Bob Askin, the tire specialist on the number Nine Dodge what it would take for Kasey Kahne to nail down his first win in that car. "He's been so close," replied Askin, a 12-year veteran NASCAR mechanic. "It's mental for him. You can't tell a driver how to close the deal. He has to win one to figure it out." I saw Bob in victory lane and he gave me the thumb's up. Kasey figured it out.
  • For more, go to RyansRacecar.com
  • What to Watch

  • Pit stops: In the 10-minute breaks between segments, the teams don't have to make a snap decision. They have a little bit of time to play as opposed to the Coca-Cola 600 when they've got to make a decision under a green-flag or yellow-flag conditions. We're used to seeing guys throwing spring rubbers and making wedge adjustments quickly. Instead when the driver comes down pit road, the teams are very methodical.
  • Staying out: For the "trophy dash", you can't really talk about track position. Everybody is going to put on four tires in any event.
  • Final adjustments: Drivers do things on the racetrack that you won't see any other time all year. That's the big adjustment. It's not a mechanical adjustment but a mental adjustment.
  • Pit Perspective

    Speed Mail Steve
    I've talked to several drivers and crewmen about the new surface at Lowe's Motor Speedway, and they all say the same thing, "It's wicked fast." 2005 has been the season of the great unknown, and it will continue this week because nobody seems to know what the new track will do to the racing. Sometimes a faster track makes a better race; sometimes it doesn't. One crew member said to me, "I don't know why they wanted to change that racetrack because they've had great races there over the years." From what I have heard, the Humpy Bumps are still there. I don't think anybody really knows yet how higher speeds will affect entries or exits in the corners, but Joe Nemechek did tell me that it's really fast.

    Finish Line

    If you are running in the top five, and you know you've got a great racecar, do you go for the win or do you bring it home in the top five and save it for the 600? Each team has its own agenda, and a lot of teams take their best Charlotte piece to the Nextel All-Star Challenge now. Some teams say they're going to experiment a little bit for next week's Coca-Cola 600 (next Sun., 5 p.m. ET on FOX), but it all depends on how badly the driver wants to go for the win and risk bringing the car home in a basket or get a good finish, load up the truck, buff it out at the shop and come back for the 600.


    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED Channel host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years, and he gives kids a close look at a real stock car and its driver with Ryan's Racecar, a 30-minute video/DVD. For more information, go to RyansRacecar.com

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