For one weekend every year, NASCAR takes the reins off for a race. For one night, the points will not matter. For one night, every driver in the Sprint Cup Series will go head on and leave it all on the race track.
For the driver that takes the checkered flag, it means a paycheck of $1 million. It’s the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But, before the drivers who earned their way into the main event, the drivers who wanted to earn their way in had another chance in the preliminary event. It is known as the Sprint Showdown. Two segments, 20 laps each, and the final segment only has green flag laps count.
With qualifying rained out on Friday night, positioning was determined by the qualifying draw, unlike a usual weekend where it would be done via points. So, that left David Ragan and Max Papis on the front row.
But, from the drop of the green flag it was near calamity. Cars were going three-wide on the straightaways, into the corner and out of the corner. Cars banging off the wall into each other. It was just the showdown and the drivers were going for it as if this race was going to win them the big money.
Through the first segment of the Showdown, it was Roush teammates David Ragan and Greg Biffle leading the way. Cars on the move were A.J. Allmendinger and Regan Smith along with Juan Pablo Montoya. But, while battling for the fifth position, Montoya got into Smith and the two collided in the outside wall. It appeared as though Montoya squeezed off the No. 78 of Smith, but in any case both cars were done for the night.
Ragan and Biffle stayed on track as the segment ended under yellow, however the rest of the field came into pit road for tires when the yellow flag flew for the wreck. It looked as though the Roush teammates were now sitting ducks.
Biffle got a great jump, but Ragan had a lot of issues. He made contact with David Gilliland in turn 3, slid into the outside wall and opened the door for Allmendinger and Jeff Burton. Soon, Gilliland found the outside wall right at the start/finish line and brought out the caution for the second time tonight.
When the field went back to green, Biffle got a great jump and pulled away, but slowly but surely it was Martin Truex Jr. making some noise as he drove his NAPA Toyota into the top two. That would be enough to get him in the show.
But, Truex wasn’t settling for second, he wanted a victory. Sure enough, he got enough momentum and made the pass for the lead with just over eight laps left. That would be enough to hold on and win the Sprint Showdown. Biffle would hold second and transfer into the All-Star race as well.
All that was left was the fan vote. Sprint customers sent texts, more fans voted online and the winner would be…the No. 99 Aflac Ford and Carl Edwards.
A total of 21 of NASCAR’s best drivers earned the right to go all out in the most unique race of the entire year. Each driver was ready to put it all on the line in order to win $1 million. No points, no excuses. It was all about the money.
Busch brought the field to green and got the jump right away on the field, while Jeff Gordon smacked the wall coming out of the fourth turn. Meanwhile, the cars that were running hard early in the first segment were Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano. Johnson finally got the advantage and took the lead on lap 10. The track may have a new name, but many still considered this to be Johnson’s “yard.”
Johnson would hold his lead as the field came to pit road for the mandatory green-flag, four tire pit stop. But, problems on pit road caused him to lose the lead, and gave Kyle Busch his first opportunity to lead the All-Star race as he led coming off pit lane.
Kyle would hold on through lap 48, mainly because his brother was coming in a hurry and made the pass to get the lead on lap 49. He held on to win the first segment, pocketing a nice $25,000.
The ensuing break gave teams a chance to come to pit road for service, with many different strategies playing out. Some took new tires on all corners, while some decided to take two right-side tires. Coming off pit road, the top five cars decided on strategy and went right-sides only, with Johnson getting the lead followed by Jamie McMurray.
For the second segment, the amount of laps went from 50 laps down to 20, with all laps counting towards the completion of the race.
Johnson had a strong run when the green flag came out, and he looked to check out, but the car moving up was Kurt again as his four new tires were working extremely well. He would make it up to third and began to challenge for second while also bringing Mark Martin with him.
But, no one was catching the No. 48 car in the second segment as he went on to cruise to a $25,000 paycheck for his win.
With another 20-lap segment coming in, strategy was the idea for many drivers, as the front seven cars decided to stay out on track, while the cars that did come to pit road used many different ideas to get their cars working better.
The third segment would be the same as the second, 20 laps but following the completion of the segment, there would be a ten-minute break.
Johnson again got the jump, but the car on the move this time was Denny Hamlin, and he was taking no prisoners. He would jump into second, and began giving chase to the Lowe’s Chevrolet of Johnson.
But once again, the guy who calls Charlotte “his yard” was on a rail and just appeared to be going away from the field. He was the quickest car on the track. He was nearly three seconds ahead of his competition, and this time the paycheck was for $125,000.
Following this segment, there was a ten-minute break where teams came to pit road for adjustments. However, teams were not allowed to change tires. The reason being, the teams would line up how they finished the segment, however under caution the entire field would return to pit road and make a four-tire pit stop. The way they would come off pit road is how they will line up for the final segment.
That segment would be ten laps, but only green flag laps would count. The normal procedures for the green-white-checkered finishes would be in effect, and the man taking the checkered flag would get the $1 million paycheck.
On the pit stop, the Joe Gibbs teams of Kyle Busch and Hamlin both had excellent pit stops and got out ahead of Johnson, with Hamlin barely beating his teammate out of pit road. His team won the pit crew challenge the Wednesday and had the best pit selection, and the team put it to good use.
It was all about the money as the Gibbs teams brought the field to the green flag, and like everyone expected it got ugly right away. Joey Logano got into Martin as Logano got into the infield grass. Before the field made it through the first corner, seven cars ended up with damage.
However, because the field never completed a lap, the field restarted with 10 laps to go. Kyle got a good restart, but Hamlin had a better run through the first turn. But, the No. 18 was coming and had a run high in the first turn. Suddenly the block was on and Kyle got into the wall. Meanwhile, both Kurt Busch and Johnson got the jump, putting them in positions 1 and 2.
Kurt held the spot and was pulling away, but almost as if it was meant to happen, the caution came out when Kyle lost his right-front tire, hit the turn 1 wall and then took out Kasey Kahne. Both cars were completely demolished, and Kyle was fuming. But not at the wreck, at his teammate.
Radio communication caught him saying to his crew, “Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race.”
Kyle then pulled his wrecked car to Hamlin’s hauler, climbed out and went inside, as if he’s waiting for a confrontation.
Kurt brought the field to green and got a great jump on the field, but the caution flew again when Johnson got loose out of the final turn, and the field did not come to the white flag.
Because of that, the green-white-checkered rule was not being used, and the field would restart with two laps remaining. When the green flag dropped, Kurt took the jump and went ahead through the first turn and simply never looked back. After smacking the wall twice in segment three, the blue No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge and Kurt Busch came back and took the checkered flag, winning the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
After all that, to celebrate his first win in the race, Kurt did his trademark victory lap, in reverse and celebrated with his team in victory lane.
This race was a sprint, but next Sunday it will be a marathon. Flanked with the United States Armed Forces, NASCAR gets back to points racing as they will return for the second consecutive week to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Instead of 100 laps split into four segments, this race will be a 400-lap marathon.
It’s NASCAR’s Memorial Day tradition as next Sunday will be the annual running of the Coca-Cola 600. This will be FOX’s last race of the 2010 season with coverage starting at a special time. Because of the length of the race, coverage will begin at 4:30 p.m. ET, with the race set to go green at approximately 5:45 p.m.
Sprint Showdown Results: 1-Truex Jr* 2-Biffle* 3-Burton 4-Menard 5-Ambrose 6-Ragan 7-Hornish 8-Allmendinger 9-Kvapil 10-Edwards**
*Transferred to All-Star Race
**Fan Vote winner
SEGMENT ONE: 1-Kurt Busch 2-Kyle Busch 3-Johnson 4-Logano 5-McMurray
SEGMENT TWO: 1-Johnson 2-McMurray 3-Martin 4-Hamlin 5-Kurt Busch
SEGMENT THREE: 1-Johnson 2-McMurray 3-Martin 4-Keselowski 5-Kyle Busch
FINAL RESULTS: 1-Kurt Busch 2-Truex Jr. 3-Logano 4-Hamlin 5-Stewart 6-Harvick 7-Keselowski 8-Kenseth 9-Biffle 10-Labonte
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Earnhardt Jr. 13-Johnson 14-Kyle Busch 20-Gordon
CAUTIONS: Lap 90 (No. 00, 1, 5, 14, 24, 88, 99 accident-T1), 97 (No. 9, 18 accident-T1), 98 (No. 48 spin-FS
LEADERS: Kurt Busch 1-9, Johnson 10-25, Kyle Busch 26-48, Kurt Busch 49-50, Johnson 51-90, Hamlin 91-92, Kurt Busch 93-100
AVERAGE SPEED: 168.469 mph
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.358 seconds