Saturday night at the Sprint All-Star Race gave as an incredible night of competition. I loved the fact that Sprint and NASCAR agreed to move qualifying for the race to Saturday and to keep that format the same where there was no pit road speed limit.
I don’t know how you fans felt about it, but as a racer I can tell you coming off Turn 4 and diving down onto pit road at 160 mph is about as exhilarating and fun of a ride as a driver can have. Then you are faced with the task of getting your car stopped in your pit box. As we saw Saturday night, some did it really well and others, ehhhhhh, not so much.
It’s a different scenario for the drivers. Remember, this is the only race all year long where they get to do that. The all-star race is supposed to be different, fun and spectacular. Qualifying with no pit road speed limit is just one of the components that goes into the evening. When it was all said and done, Carl Edwards and his No. 99 team were the best of the best when it came to qualifying.
Part of the other format change for the 2014 all-star race was they moved the Sprint Showdown race to Friday night as a lead-in to the Camping World Truck Series race. We had three cars transfer over from the Sprint Showdown race. It was the first- and second-place finishers and then they announced the winner of the Fan Vote and that driver also joined the all-star race on Saturday.
Clint Bowyer won the Sprint Showdown with AJ Allmendinger finishing second. Both had really fast race cars Friday night. I think the biggest surprise of Friday night was when they revealed that Josh Wise and his Dogecoin car had been voted into the Sprint All-Star Race by the fans.
I think this was a major upset in the history of fan voting when it comes to NASCAR. I heard some grumblings about it but, you know what, I wasn’t one of them. I was really happy for Josh, his sponsor and car owner Phil Parsons. I think what happened was a real eye-opener for a new way to market things. I say it over and over again: Social media has the loudest voice it has ever had. Friday night when they announced the results of the Fan Vote just proved it once again.
I think from NASCAR on down, this was the upset of upsets heard throughout the sport. Let’s face it: There were some really big names that folks assumed would probably win the Fan Vote, but it was a dark horse coming out of nowhere which once again proved that when it comes to the all-star race, anything can and probably will happen.
Saturday night was a lot of fun just from watching the strategy that the different teams approached it with. What we knew was four 20-lap segments would be run and your average finish of those four segments determined where you were in line entering pit road for the final pit stop. That then led into the final 10-lap shootout.
We had strategies across the board. How those teams got to where they were at the end of those four segments was fun to watch play out. We had teams all night going with four tires, two tires and even at times, no tires. Rookie crew chief Keith Rodden called the absolutely perfect race Saturday night. See, another upset in the all-star race at the hands of a rookie crew chief. Even before the start of the 10-lap shootout, I can’t say that I would have picked Jamie McMurray, Keith and that No. 1 car to win a million bucks, but guess what? They did.
Let’s connect a few dots of how they all got to that moment in time. Where did Jamie McMurray win his first race? It was Charlotte Motor Speeedway, so you know Jamie loves the place. Jamie won there again four years ago, so that’s one of his best racetracks.
Where did crew chief Keith Rodden come from? Before coming taking over as crew chief of the No. 1 car, Keith was an engineer on the No. 5 car from Hendrick Motorsports. So we know he has experience in winning at Charlotte with former driver Kasey Kahne. Did you happen to notice how well Kasey did Saturday night by winning two of the four 20-lap segments? Also, what was under the hood of that No. 1 car? It was a Hendrick Motorsports engine.
So when you connect the dots, it’s actually not hard to see why the Bass Pro/NWTF No. 1 Chevrolet was so strong Saturday night. The sum of all their parts shows a winning history at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I’m so proud and happy for Jamie. I don’t know if you sit down and list the all-stars in our sport if Jamie jumps into your thoughts. What can’t be ignored is the young man has won some of our sport’s marque events like the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, winning at Charlotte, and now he adds winner of the Sprint All-Star Race to his growing resume. I love the fact that when Jamie’s given the right car in the right circumstances, he doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of it. That’s what you want from a race car driver.
That’s what you saw from Jamie when the final 10-lap shootout began. Those opening laps were some of the finest racing you’ll ever see at track-record speeds. He and Carl Edwards put on one heck of a show, but Jamie wasn’t going to be denied.
You heard me last week say I felt so bad for Kevin Harvick at Kansas. Jeff Gordon’s pit stop was just a little better two weeks ago even though Kevin dominated the race and Jeff got the victory. It was almost identical Saturday night. I thought Kevin once again had the best car, but slow work in the pits cost him literally a million dollars. That’s just part of it. That’s why we run the whole race. It doesn’t matter if you lead every lap of the race. It only matters if you lead the last lap of the race.
You simply have to give car owner Chip Ganassi a lot of credit. The past few years his cars were struggling. So in the offseason they made some changes. Juan Pablo Montoya was replaced with rookie phenom Kyle Larson. Chip moved his engine program from Earnhardt-Childress engines to Hendrick Motorsports engines. He brought in some new crew chiefs.
So Chip has been very proactive in revamping and revitalizing his whole NASCAR program, and Saturday night was a great reward for all that hard work by a lot of people over there at Ganassi Racing. So a big tip of the hat to Chip and his partner Felix Sabates on what they are accomplishing right now.
Did you laugh like I did when Dale Earnhardt Jr. told his crew chief he felt like he was driving a dump truck? That’s old school right there. We used to say that back in the day when our car wasn’t very good. I just have to say, to finish fourth in the all-star race, well, that must have been one fast dump truck.
I loved the new format for this year of moving the Sprint Showdown to Friday and then holding all-star qualifying the same night as the all-star race. My only concern on Saturday was there seemed to be a lull coming off an exciting qualifying session and the time it took to get driver introductions going. It seemed like some of the built-up excitement dissipated somewhat, so I hope they take a look at that. Once the Sprint All-Star Race got started, quite honestly, it probably was one of the best we’ve seen there in awhile, so congratulations to Sprint and to NASCAR for putting on a great show for the fans. It definitely lived up to its name.
It’s a big week here in Franklin, Tenn., and specially in the Waltrip household. Our youngest daughter Sarah is getting married Saturday. Trust me, I am one very proud father of the bride. Needless to say, there is a lot of activity here as we build toward the big day.
Then Sunday is what I always consider the biggest day in motorsports. You have the Formula One race at Monaco. You have the Indianapolis 500 with an added twist of our own Kurt Busch doing the "Double" in that he’s racing Indy and the Coca-Cola 600 which just happens to be our longest race of the year.
For a racer and a race fan, Sunday is a dream day. By the time I get done Sunday night at midnight, I’ll be looking forward to getting back home on Monday Memorial Day, having a cookout with the family and reflecting on all those who gave and continue to give so much to protect our freedom.
So I get to enjoy a wedding, three races in one day and then honor those on Monday who keep us safe. That’s three really special days right in a row that I am so very excited to look forward to.