NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Outshines All-Stars

NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Outshines All-Stars

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Friday and Saturday marked the annual one-week break from the normal season to race for a million dollars. First it was the Sprint Showdown on Friday night, two ultra-fast 20-lap segments to promote the two segment winners to Saturday's main event. Those beneficiaries were Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer, but neither translated that success to Saturday's paydayin the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race. The traditional fan vote also promoted Danica Patrick to the big show, but she struggled.

The format for Saturday's race was four 25-lap segments, followed by a mandatory pit stop before a 10-lap dash for the win. The night might best be remembered for a terrible error on pit road, which threw away any chance Brad Keselowski had to win. The No. 2 car was one of the fastest throughout the night, but eclipsed the speed limit on the mandatory stop, forcing him to the back of the pack. He worked his way back into the top 10, but left Denny Hamlin with one less driver to contend with.

In the end, it was Hamlin who held off Kevin Harvick. The win is a big payday for the Joe Gibbs Racing team, the organization's first in this event. It may also give the team a significant boost ahead of the return to points racing in next week's Coca-Cola 600.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin - Hamlin put himself into the perfect position to win Saturday's All-Star race, and Keselowski's speeding penalty helped as well. The No. 11 won Saturday's

Friday and Saturday marked the annual one-week break from the normal season to race for a million dollars. First it was the Sprint Showdown on Friday night, two ultra-fast 20-lap segments to promote the two segment winners to Saturday's main event. Those beneficiaries were Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer, but neither translated that success to Saturday's paydayin the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race. The traditional fan vote also promoted Danica Patrick to the big show, but she struggled.

The format for Saturday's race was four 25-lap segments, followed by a mandatory pit stop before a 10-lap dash for the win. The night might best be remembered for a terrible error on pit road, which threw away any chance Brad Keselowski had to win. The No. 2 car was one of the fastest throughout the night, but eclipsed the speed limit on the mandatory stop, forcing him to the back of the pack. He worked his way back into the top 10, but left Denny Hamlin with one less driver to contend with.

In the end, it was Hamlin who held off Kevin Harvick. The win is a big payday for the Joe Gibbs Racing team, the organization's first in this event. It may also give the team a significant boost ahead of the return to points racing in next week's Coca-Cola 600.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin - Hamlin put himself into the perfect position to win Saturday's All-Star race, and Keselowski's speeding penalty helped as well. The No. 11 won Saturday's race by being the first car off pit road before the final 10-lap sprint. That effort continued the streak in the race's present format of first car off pit road winning the final segment. Hamlin has been hit or miss for much of the season so far, but had his ducks in a row for the All-Star event. He has never won a points race at Charlotte, but does have 11 top-10 finishes from 19 starts. That gives him an average finish of 13.5 at the track, and his form Saturday could be a boost for this week's 600 miles.

Brad Keselowski -
Keselowski made a brave call to take just two tires in between the first and second segments Saturday night. The move paid off. He gained track position, and he held onto a lead despite a strong challenge from Kurt Busch. That kicked off two segment wins for the No. 2. His race was undone by speeding on pit road, though. Keselowski has raced 11 times at Charlotte, tallying one win, two top-5s, and three top-10s. It took a while for Keselowski to understand how to get the most out of this track, but with two of his top-10 finishes coming in the last three races there, Sunday should be an opportunity for another.

Kasey Kahne -
Charlotte tends to be one of Kahne's best tracks, and he did nothing to disprove that history by going out and winning the first segment in Saturday's All-Star race. Kahne was relatively quick in practice, and his speed could be a good omen for success in this week's Coca-Cola 600. He wasn't able to maintain that same pace in the final 10-lap segment on Saturday, though, and he finished the big night in seventh position. Kahne has won four times in 22 Charlotte starts; putting together an average finish of 11.5 with 13 top-10 finishes. This week could be Kahne's opportunity to book an early entry into the Chase.

Kurt Busch -
One of the more consistently fast cars through Saturday's All-Star race was Busch. The driver challenged Keselowksi early in the segments, and then ran away to win the fourth to help get track position for the final 10-lap run. He had a front-row start for the final 10 laps, but didn't get as strong of a start as the competition. He ended the night in third position, and probably could have had more with a strong jump. Busch is a former winner at Charlotte, and has an average finish of 19.4 from 29 starts. He has been consistently quick since returning to the car earlier this season, and appears likely to add more victories to his tally before the Chase commences.

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick had a super fast car in Saturday's All-Star race. He wasn't able to win a segment, but was never far from the leader, and nearly tracked down Hamlin for the win. Were it not for a lack of grip between the first two corners Harvick may have been able to set up a pass for the victory, too. As it was, he lost the front and washed up toward the wall, losing valuable ground to the eventual winner. Have no fear, though. Harvick has been one of the fastest drivers on 1.5-mile ovals the past two seasons, and he should be a contender this week as well. His Charlotte record includes three wins and an average finish of 15.8 from 28 starts.

DOWNGRADE

Jamie McMurray - McMurray gambled on a two-tire stop after the second segment of Saturday's race, but it didn't pay off. While Keselowski was able to maintain his presence at the front, the two tires for McMurray dropped him in the running. It was a valiant effort, and a similar move paid off last year, but it wasn't to be last week. When the laps were done McMurray was classified in 14th position. In Charlotte points races McMurray has two wins, seven top-5s, and 10 top-10s from 25 tries. His average finish at the track is 16.6 in that time. Hopefully the 600 miles on hand this week will offer him some success.

Danica Patrick -
Patrick was virtually nowhere to be found Friday in the Sprint Showdown, but gained an entry into Saturday's event by virtue of winning the fan vote. She had a nice qualifying effort for the main show, not encountering any trouble on her first trip to pit road without a speed limit. Unfortunately, the problems didn't stay away, though. About halfway through the third segment of Saturday's race she just about lost control and subsequently drove her car to the garage. She returned to the track for the finish, but she was the 20th, and last finisher in the special event. Her average finish from five Charlotte points races is just 28.8, and that doesn't offer any more confidence for next week's race.

Kyle Busch -
Though Busch made huge strides by simply being able to start Saturday's race after recovering from injuries he sustained in February. Aside from simply returning, the night wasn't terribly successful for him. Busch will need time to reacclimatize himself to the cockpit, and Saturday will have done much for that effort. In terms of his results Saturday, however, a loose wheel in the third segment put him at the bottom of the running order and torpedoed his hopes for a strong average finish that would give him track position for the 10-lap final dash. He valiantly fought his way back to sixth, and that shows he has the fire still. The best news is that Busch is back, and it doesn't look like he has lost much speed due to his injuries.

Tony Stewart -
Despite being one of the true all stars of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, Stewart hardly made an impression in Saturday's race. The owner/driver continues to struggle with the new generation of car, and his struggles were amplified at Charlotte. He finished the event in 19th position of 20. Stewart is a former winner at Charlotte, but that was the fall race of 2003. It has been a long time since he has tasted success at this track, and it has been a few seasons now where he has not shown the same spark he once did behind the wheel. The fast track of Charlotte is going to be a challenge for Stewart in this week's 600-mile race, and fantasy players should take that into account.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Greg Biffle - Biffle surprised almost everyone by winning the first 20-lap segment of Friday's Showdown. That finish earned him an entry into Sunday's main event where he also started strongly. In the first few laps of the opening segment of Saturday's event he was fast and near the front. Ultimately he wasn't able to hang on to that speed, and was probably pushing too hard. He scraped the wall before the first 25 laps were complete, and he fell backward through the field. In 24 points races at Charlotte the No. 16 has never won, and only picked up six top-5s and eight top-10s. The machinery for Biffle to challenge for next week's win isn't there, but progress continues to be made.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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