No points? No problem for all stars

BY foxsports • May 16, 2011

Long before NASCAR gave the command for boys to have at it and have a good time, there was The Winston.

The event debuted in 1985 and was called the Winston Select from 1994 to 1996. In 2004, it became known as the Nextel All-Star Challenge, which evolved into the Sprint All-Star Race three years later. With the exception of 1986, when the race was staged in Atlanta, NASCAR’s ultimate dash for the cash has been in front of the hometown crowd at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Not only were bragging rights on the line for this all-star extravaganza, but with no points on the line, the event became the best place to settle scores that accumulated throughout the first third of the season — or even before, depending on how deep the driver’s memory goes.

Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race promises to deliver more action and intrigue than the inside of the NASCAR hauler at Darlington.

Here’s my all-star fight card. You’ll wish you had a ringside seat for these bouts:

Main event: Heavyweights

Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch: Harvick dumped Busch at Homestead in the season finale because the No. 18 Toyota was racing the title contender too hard.

At the Darlington rematch, these two body slammed down the backstretch until Harvick pounded Busch from behind. While Busch took the high line on the track, Harvick stayed in the middle, and teammate Clint Bowyer, who attempted to avoid the melee, went low coming out of Turn 4. Seconds later, Harvick and Bowyer collided, sending the No. 33 Chevrolet into the pit-road wall. Harvick eased ahead but, Busch hooked his car on the frontstretch.

Harvick then stalked Busch on pit road after the race. Certainly, Harvick had his crew in his corner as he climbed from the car — with his helmet still on — and threw a haymaker through Busch’s window. Busch’s counterpunch? He hit the gas, plowed into the No. 29 Chevrolet and sent it into the pit-road wall.

This rivalry extends far beyond the track. Harvick offered Busch an open invitation to his race shop, Kevin Harvick Inc., as the young driver was assembling his own truck operation. How did Busch repay him? By hiring Harvick’s general manager, Rick Ren.

Yes, there’s bad blood between Harvick and Busch, and a little technicality such as a probation period until June 15 will not stop these two from going the distance on Saturday night — even if the sanctioning body cries foul.

Undercard: Welterweight grudge match

Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski: There’s so much bad blood between these two it’s hard to determine where the previous fight ends and the next one begins, considering their competition floats between both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup divisions. A short recap of last season began with Edwards flipping Keselowski at Atlanta in retaliation for being sent into the fence at Talladega in 2009 when Edwards had appeared destined to win. The adversaries battled again at Gateway, where Keselowski made contact with Edwards, whose car got loose. He gathered it up and dumped Keselowski.

On Saturday, Keselowski blamed Edwards for causing a wreck in the Nationwide race at Dover. Here are his comments from Twitter:

@keselowski Brad Keselowski
Sticking to my post race Comments. 60 ran over 20 intentionally (yes I no there was no contact, it's called an air pocket)

Followed by:
@keselowski Brad Keselowski
Damn, just saw 18 (Kyle Busch) incur (in car camera). Even madder now! Clearly audible he gasses up and drove thru us. He has one coming from me!

And:@keselowski Brad Keselowski
not mad at carl 4 racin hard. Just don't like stated innocence...

Edwards invited Keselowski to discuss the issue — as did Kyle Busch. Keselowski and Busch spoke later that night about their portion of the incident, according to representatives, but the battle between Edwards and Keselowski lingers. Alas, Keselowski will have to win the Sprint Showdown in order to go toe-to-toe with Edwards in the big show.

Undercard: Middleweights

Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Ryan Newman: Newman acted as NASCAR’s Welcome Wagon representative when Montoya made his Sprint Cup debut at Homestead in 2006 and ended up lighting up the night in a fiery crash.

There’s been a lot of history building between these two in the past five seasons. Both drivers are inside fighters. They’re relentless when it comes to passing competitors and refuse to give up positions when faster cars try to gain ground. That was the case when this feud was reignited at Richmond. Since then, Montoya has slid from ninth in the points standings to 15th.

Although Montoya asked for a meeting with NASCAR officials at Darlington, sources say Newman sucker-punched him in the trailer. We’re unsure whether Montoya threw in the towel or if both drivers received secret probation. If any penalties were incurred by these competitors, nothing was made public by NASCAR.

Montoya’s altercations have not been limited to Newman. He’s had the chutzpah to take on Newman’s boss, Tony Stewart, long before those two were teammates.

Certainly, Newman can hold his own, but picture Rocketman and Smoke tag-teaming Montoya under the lights at Charlotte. Pound for pound, my money would be on the Stewart-Haas Racing pair.

Undercard: Lighweights

Marcos Ambrose vs. Bobby Labonte: For whatever reason, these two drivers just don’t care for each other, and that became quite apparent at Darlington Raceway.

Ambrose qualified sixth at Darlington, while Labonte started 15th. Ambrose made contact earlier with Matt Kenseth, causing a tire to go down on the No. 17 Ford.

Then there was an altercation between Ambrose and Joey Logano on Lap 239. On the final lap, Labonte and Ambrose were running 11th and 12th, respectively, when Ambrose clipped the right rear quarter panel of the No. 47 Toyota and sent it into the retaining wall.

Labonte salvaged an 18th-place finish but, with the incident still fresh in his mind, approached Ambrose to discuss the incident. Labonte delivered his message — and a warning.

While they have been overshadowed by the Harvick-Busch feud, this pairing could produce some fireworks. Although neither of these drivers is entered in the all-star race, there could be a throwdown in the Showdown — or the former champ could wait until the tour arrives at one of the two road courses where Ambrose could be a contender.
 


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