By Jared Turner
5 Lessons Learned In All-Star Race
JGR Is Gaining On It
After not showing much speed all season at the mile-and-a-half tracks, Joe Gibbs Racing showed major improvements in the All-Star Race where Denny Hamlin captured his first victory in the $1 million, winner-take-all event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hamlin led from flag to flag in the 10-lap money segment, holding off a spirited charge from the Chevrolet of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick. So does Hamlin’s win mean that JGR has magically fixed all that has been wrong with its Toyotas at the mile-and-a-halves so far this year? Not necessarily, but it’s a really good sign that the organization has made significant gains.
No One’s Guaranteed To Be An All-Star
Among those who failed to make the Sprint All-Star Race were second-place points driver Martin Truex Jr., 2014 Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year Kyle Larson, and former XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series champion Austin Dillon. Truex’s absence from the 20-car All-Star field was particularly notable since the Furniture Row Racing driver has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the 11 points races this season. The bigger lesson to be learned here, however, is that making the All-Star Race is not a forgone conclusion — even for drivers and teams that are one top of their game.
Rowdy Made The Right Decision
While some observers questioned if Kyle Busch returning in the Sprint All-Star Race was the wisest move, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver quieted his critics by running all night long and finishing a solid sixth in his first start of any kind since the Feb. 21 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway where he suffered significant leg and foot injuries in a head-on collision with a wall unprotected by SAFER barrier. Busch thought that the All-Star Race – just 110 laps and featuring multiple breaks – would be a better race to make his return than this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 that is the longest event on the Sprint Cup Series schedule.
All-Star Race Isn’t A License To Cheat
While drivers are often prone to take liberties in the All-Star Race – a non-points event – that they otherwise wouldn’t, NASCAR wasn’t exactly in a lenient mood this past weekend as multiple drivers rang up penalties for speeding on pit road and having too many men over the wall. NASCAR also announced after the race that it was looking into the possibility of penalties against the No. 48 team of Jimmie Johnson after a member of the No. 48 bunch allegedly manipulated the side skirts on pit road Johnson’s car during the All-Star Race. The practice of pulling out a car’s side skirts – which increases downforce – was banned after last season.
All-Star Race Doesn’t Mean Much For 600
Several drivers expected to contend for the win in the All-Star Race made minimal noise and surprisingly were non-factors. Among the notables who struggled were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and 2014 All-Star Race winner Jamie McMurray. So should Junior, Jimmie, Jamie and others who didn’t run well in the All-Star Race be concerned about what this could mean for their chances in the Coca-Cola 600 – a race held at the same track? Not at all. Many drivers treat the All-Star Race as little more than a glorified test session for the 600, and it’s quite possible that this year’s All-Star stragglers weren’t exactly giving it 100 percent.