THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT ON SATURDAY NIGHT
Jamie McMurray survived the first four segments of NASCAR's Sprint All-Star race and launched himself into a commanding lead for the race's final 10-lap segment. It was yet another example of the veteran driver coming up big when a large paycheck is on the line.
McMurray and Chip Ganassi Racing have been threatening on multiple occasions so far in 2014, and finally put everything together Saturday night. While he walks away with a million-dollar paycheck, McMurray will probably be wishing this had been a regular-season race to have put one foot through the door to a spot in the season-ending Chase for the Championship.
Saturday's race was a battle of survival, but the unique rules of the segmented distance meant that some of the fastest cars throughout the distance weren't in position to truly challenge for the win. Now the series looks ahead to next week's Memorial Day classic, the Coca Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race.
Jamie McMurray - McMurray finally broke the seal on his victory bottle Saturday night in the Sprint All-Star race. He ran up front for all four segments preceding the final 10-lap dash for the cash, but put the pedal to the metal when the final green flag flew. After overtaking Carl Edwards, McMurray had no fears as Kevin Harvick simply did not have enough laps to chase down the streaking No. 1 car. This win will be a huge boost to the team that has been on the wrong side of success for the past few seasons. The No. 1 crew is a team that has been working hard to improve each week, and despite encountering some back luck at a few races earlier this season, McMurray and company finally got it done.
Denny Hamlin - After running toward the front in Saturday night's second segment, Hamlin came into slight contact with Greg Biffle, which caused a flat tire and dropped him through the field like a rock. Due to the rule of the All-Star race Hamlin couldn't pit immediately to make the fix, which further dented his ability to recover, though he only had to hang on for less than two laps. By the fourth segment, Hamlin had worked his way back forward and was running in the top 5. Hamlin's ninth-place finish on Saturday is a suggestion that he could match, or even out-perform, his 5.2 finishing average in the last five Charlotte points races next week.
Kasey Kahne - Kahne finally showed some fight and pushed his way to the front of the field in Saturday's All-Star race. Fantasy players have been waiting for Kahne to come alive all season, and he may have done just that in the All-Star race. The No. 5 car went door-to-door with Carl Edwards in the second segment, taking the lead, and winning the 20-lap segment. His car was clearly one of the fastest as the race went on, and that could be ominous for the other drivers as Kahne is a past winner of the Coca Cola 600 in 2012. Late trouble in the fourth segment caused damage that virtually ruined his night, though. Saturday was a case of what might have been for the Washington native.
Clint Bowyer - Bowyer picked up an important victory to kick off his All-Star weekend. He took Friday's Sprint Showdown and automatically transferred into Saturday night's main attraction. The win was great news for the driver who has had a tremendous run of bad luck in early 2014. He said the effort on Friday gives him great confidence about having a fast car for next week's Coca Cola 600. Saturday's race didn't come without its challenges, though. The No. 15 was involved in contact with Kyle Busch that wrinkled some of the car's sheet metal, and sent Busch careering into the wall. When all was said and done, the No. 15 finished Saturday's festivities in seventh position, which should be a buoy to the team's hopes for next week's race.
A.J. Allmendinger - By finishing second in Friday's Sprint Showdown Allmendinger raised his stock even faster than it had been rising, and simultaneously raced his way into the All-Star race. Saturday's effort didn't end quite as well, though. While running 10th, Allmendinger was turned on the backstretch after contact with Brian Vickers. The impact lifted Allmendinger's car off of the ground, a measure of the severity of the damage that ultimately forced him out of the race. He finished 20th, but can still walk away from the weekend with a lot of momentum behind him. This JTG Daugherty team continues to push forward, and Allmendinger could become a surprise race winner before the season comes to a close.
Kyle Busch - Despite turning in one of the fastest qualifying efforts for Saturday's All-Star event, Busch didn't progress past the second 20-lap segment. The No. 18 car bumped Bowyer on the backstretch, which caused Bowyer to lose control and clip Busch, sending the M&M's driver into the wall. Busch's ride wasn't over, though. Joey Logano was still coming at full speed and smashed into Busch's front fender, ending both drivers' nights. Busch left the event clearly disappointed, but not last in the field by virtue of being ahead of Logano when the accident happened. His four top-five finishes in the last five Charlotte points races gives him something to look forward to this weekend, though.
Joey Logano - Saturday's All-Star race was a disappointment for Logano. He was somewhat of an innocent bystander after Busch and Bowyer got together in front of him. The young driver made a move to the bottom to avoid Busch, but the No. 18 car was already heading back down the banking. The unavoidable contact almost ripped the front-right wheel off of Logano's Penske Racing machine, and ended the night for both drivers. Logano was classified last in the running order, but his speed prior to the incident could be a good indicator that he will be a driver to watch in next week's return to points racing. He has two top-10s and an average finish of 13.4 in the last five Charlotte points races.
Ryan Newman - Newman suffered right-side damage after collecting the wall in the fourth segment of Saturday's All-Star race. The veteran driver was running decently for much of the race's distance, but not among the fastest. He was essentially holding station for much of the race before he scuffed the wall and ended any chance he may have had at pulling forward in the final segment. The No. 31 was forced to pit before completion of the race's fourth segment, but the real damage to Newman's chances was the heavy right-side damage he endured with the contact. After pitting for repairs and working his way off of pit road for the final segment, Newman only worked his way back to 16th position when the checkered flag waved.
Jeff Gordon - In the fourth segment something broke on Gordon's car, causing him to glide up into the wall, taking Martin Truex Jr. and Greg Biffle along with him. It looked like a typical tire failure on the right front, but the cause was not immediately confirmed. Regardless, Gordon was out of the running too early and forced to focus forward on next week's 600-mile marathon. The veteran said he liked his car up until the point it went into the wall, and with his recent 2014 win under his belt, he could be in store for more. His pace has not slackened since the drop of the green flag in Daytona, and we don't expect any decline in performance this week.
Josh Wise - Perhaps the biggest surprise of the NASCAR All-Star weekend was Wise winning the fan vote to earn a spot in Saturday's main show. The Phil Parsons Racing driver has happened across the power of social media, which funded his effort at Talladega Superspeedway and also voted him into the All-Star Race. This vote was no small feat, though. Danica Patrick, who was widely expected to win the popularity contest, reportedly garnered more votes than the prior year when it earned her an entry. Instead it was Wise who worked his way into the All-Star night, proving that the power of social media can unseat even the mightiest monarchies. Wise put his berth to good use, avoiding all trouble throughout the evening, finishing a confident 15th place.