Tires taken to the limit with all-star setups

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.


The Nextel All-Star Challenge is a fun race, and if you blow an engine or wreck, you'll walk out of Lowe's Motor Speedway in the same position of points that you are right now. But, trust me, everybody will approach it just like it's the next points race because it's very short, and it's all about winning a million dollars. Not to knock other sports, but the NFL's Pro Bowl and the NBA's All-Star Game have a light atmosphere. People smile and cut up. Don't get me wrong. The Nextel Cup drivers and teams have fun too, but when they hear, "Gentlemen, start your engines," these boys will put on their gamefaces. Nobody remembers who finishes second, and 90 laps for the million-dollar first prize is a pretty potent combination.

Who to Watch

  • Greg Biffle: Sitting second in the points, only 41 points behind Johnson, this type of racetrack is Biffle's cup of tea. He ran well and won at Texas, and he's running well everywhere right now. The only place where they may have looked a little weak was Martinsville.
  • Carl Edwards should run well. He won the race at Lowe's Motor Speedway's sister track, Atlanta in March.
  • Kasey Kahne: If you go back to last year's fall race at Lowe's, Kahne pretty much spanked the field before a blown tire took him out of contention. Remember, though, he dominated in a Dodge Intrepid with a bigger rear spoiler, a different tire and a different surface so I tend to look at who ran well at similar tracks this year rather than who ran well last year.
  • Jimmie Johnson: The 48 team led 500 of the 600 miles in last year's Coca-Cola 600 and swept The Winston and the Coca-Cola 600 in 2003, and they were also good at Charlotte this year.
  • Kevin Harvick: The 29 team's program continues to step up a little bit more each week.
  • Ryan Newman: Lowe's may be the place where Newman can put together a race from beginning to end and improve on his consecutive top-five finishes at Darlington and Richmond.
  • NASCAR Live

  • Friday, 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET with Steve Byrnes, John Roberts and Bob Dillner
  • Saturday, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. with John Roberts and Bob Dillner

  • Friday on SPEED
    1 p.m. ET: Nextel Open final practice on SPEED
    2 p.m. ET: Nextel All-Star Challenge final practice on SPEED
    3 p.m. ET: NASCAR Live on SPEED
    5:30 p.m. ET: NASCAR Live on SPEED
    6 p.m. ET: Nextel Open qualifying on SPEED
    7 p.m. ET: Nextel All-Star Challenge qualifying on SPEED
    8:30 p.m. ET: Craftsman Truck race on SPEED
    11 p.m. ET: Trackside on SPEED
    Saturday on FX/SPEED
    5:30 p.m. ET: NASCAR This Morning on SPEED
    6 p.m. ET: Nextel Pit Crew Challenge on FX
    7 p.m. ET: Nextel Open/All-Star Challenge on FX
    11 p.m. ET: NASCAR Victory Lane on SPEED
    Midnight ET: NASCAR Performance on SPEED

    What to Watch

  • Tire concerns: At the Busch and Cup tests at Lowe's Motor Speedway, tires were the biggest concern, and they seem to be the story going into this weekend. We may get out there, and we may not see one problem, but we saw an awful lot of issues in both divisions during testing. That's a concern on everyone's part.
  • New track: I hate second-guessing anything that a track or NASCAR does, but I question why Lowe's Motor Speedway decided to grind the track. Why fix something that isn't broken? At the end of the day, the drivers and teams may like it because it's smoother, and it has more grip. It's going to be faster. But it definitely threw Goodyear a curveball because the tire company had already done its tire test there on the old configuration. They had to go back and do a tire test in a very hurried way.
  • Less aggressive setups: Teams are going to have to lay off aggressive setups, especially when it concerns the right front because of the issues that we've had with that tire this season. It sounds like there's going to be a very fine line between a car that pushes or a car that's loose. There always a fine line, but these tire issues make it even narrower than before. It's going to be very important for teams to practice in the heat of the day (Friday, 1 p.m. ET on SPEED) and do long runs. Put as many laps as you possibly can on your tires to make sure everything looks good and you don't have a problem.
  • Expect the unexpected: When the track cools down, it's going to gain grip, and the cars are going to be even faster so things could show up on Saturday night that don't show up in Friday's long runs. It's going to be a challenge for these guys. You have to really have your act together during Friday's practice sessions Friday to maximize. You want to make sure you are as fast as you can be. You want to make sure your car drives as well as it can, but if I was a crew chief, I would check the tires on long runs.
  • Nextel Open/7 p.m. ET on FX: All of the teams in the Nextel All-Star Challenge will be watching the Nextel Open very closely. It'll be a crap-shoot for the teams in the Nextel Open because they won't have any notes or information to go off of other than Friday's practice.
  • Challenge pit stops: Teams try to build as much adjustability in their cars as they can during the two practice sessions. During the 10-minute breaks between the first and second segments and the second and third segments, they will get pretty aggressive with changes. Heading into the final pit stop before the third segment — which isn't a mandatory pit stop but it's one that probably everybody will make — teams roll the dice and change two tires to keep that track position.
  • No impound

    Speed Mail Larry
    NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby told me that this weekend won't be an impound race because of the pit stop that teams make during qualifying (Friday, 6 p.m. ET on SPEED). With possible gear, transmission, driveshaft and lug-stud problems, NASCAR wants to make sure teams can rectify anything they encounter on that pit stop. Of course, they can't change transmissions because there's a rule against it, but they can fix gears, driveshafts and lugstuds that could break during the pit stop. Teams won't practice for qualifying because of that pit stop so they will be totally focused on their race setup. Knowing the track's characteristics as it cools down at night, especially after the recent test sessions, will give them a lot to go on. Teams rarely get practice time at night during a race weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway. I'm tickled to death that the Nextel All-Star Challenge is in the NASCAR on FOX/FX half of the season because it's a fun and intense race to do. This won't be our last night race — we still have the Coca-Cola 600 — but it will be the last Saturday night race in our half of the season.

    FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at

    "Larry McReynolds: The Big Picture" is on bookstore shelves now, or you may order your own autographed copy from

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