NASCAR: Teams unsure about All-Star shindig
By Mike Mulhern
CONCORD ó If Saturday night’s no-caution, no-crash All-Star race is any indication of what to expect in next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs aren’t going to be very happy.
Kasey Kahne finally got a Dodge back into the winner’s circle, but analyzing this 100-lap race may take a while.
Well, maybe not for Jeff Gordon, who had a mediocre night, finishing 15th.
No yellows? “It’s unbelievable. I’m shocked, I’m absolutely shocked because I thought I was going to be the first caution in the first corner,” Gordon said.
“I’m pretty shocked there weren’t any cautions. But four 25-lap segments is a long way around this place, and you don’t have to be as aggressive to run 25 laps. So that might have contributed to it.”
No crashes? “It’s nice nobody had to crash,” Tony Stewart said. “Normally these things are wreck-fests.
“It’s nice to have one where nobody had to crash. You just had what you had (with each car). It wasn’t like you really had options. So you couldn’t run as close as you normally would, and that probably kept everybody from having problems.”
Stewart’s engine change before the race put him at the rear of the field for the start. “Nothing trick-and-fancy with us, we drove ourselves to fifth place, and I’m really happy with this finish,” Stewart said.
Kenny Francis, who runs Kahne’s team, was relieved, as was team owner Ray Evernham, to break that long losing streak. “It’s validation for all the hard work those guys on this team have put into this program,” Francis said.
Well, maybe so. But Kahne only made the All-Star grid by virtue of a special fan vote, and in the preliminary 40-lap showdown, for two spots in the All-Star lineup, Kahne was mired back in fifth at the finish, not very impressive.
But once Kyle Busch lost his engine after dominating the night’s first two segments, things opened up for Kahne, and he took advantage of engine problems that also hampered Busch’s Toyota teammate Denny Hamlin. Down the stretch, Kahne was pulling away from his only other two rivals, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.
The Toyota camp used the All-Star weekend as an opportunity to gamble, without risk of losing points. So Joe Gibbs guys brought out a new, more powerful engine design. It was fast all right, but it didn’t last.
Stewart discovered his engine problems Friday and went with a more conservative setup for the 150-mile race. And he wound up fifth.
Still, Stewart said he was nervous after he saw Busch and Hamlin both having trouble. “It was one of those deals where it was just like pulling a pin on a grenade,” Stewart said. “You didn’t know when it was going to go off.
“It was experimental stuff … and this is the night to try that stuff.”
“This is definitely experimental All-Star-only racing,” Hamlin said of the new engine. “We came out with our guns loaded … and unfortunately our gun went off a little bit before the end of the race.
“We knew this engine wasn’t going to go 500 miles; it was built for just a few more laps past 100.”
Busch said: “It was a great race car, but just nothing you can do with engine woes.
“We had a problem with it breaking when we were here at testing (two weeks ago). But they put over 800 miles on these things, so they felt pretty safe about it.
“I feel we gave it away, for sure. Carl Edwards was fast, but in clean air, out front, like we were the first couple laps of a restart I don’t think he could have caught us.”
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