It wasn’t about Championship points at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week it was all about the money, or to be precise $1 million. The annual All Star event sees the all the winners since last years event duke it out for the big payday. But from a fans point of view it is also a night where there are two races for the price of one, as the drivers who haven’t won get one last chance to make it through by finishing in the top two of the Sprint Showdown race.
I’m not going to go back through the schedule of the race and how it all breaks down, if you are unsure how it works than please see my previous article All Star Beginners guide.
First up on Friday evening was qualifying for the Sprint Showdown which saw Martin Truex Jr take the pole with a time of 27.918 seconds (193.424 mph) narrowly edging out second place Jamie McMurray. Immediately after the Showdown qualifying was the All Star qualification and it was to take a slightly different approach than the usual qualifying procedure of 2 flying laps. Now the drivers would have to complete three laps and come in for a four tyre pitstop. Too add a slightly more exciting angle to this there was to be no pit row speed limits which would mean extra pressure on the drivers to be able to stop the car in their box. Sure enough there were a few drivers Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano to name but two who came in too hot and overshot their pit box ruining what was otherwise a fast time. But it was Carl Edwards who got everything just right and would start at the head of the pack on Saturday night.
As the green flag drops on the first half of the Sprint Showdown Truex Jr and McMurray run side by side into turn one but the 56 doesn’t have the grip in his tyres to hold the bottom line and Jamie McMurray makes the high line work as he breezes round the outside and takes the lead. The top four McMurray, Truex Jr, Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Juan Pablo Montoya quickly establish a gap from the rest of the chasing field. But there is no doubt who the fastest car on the track is as McMurray quickly pulls out a one second lead, although he reports that he is only running at 80% as he is unsure of how much grip the track has. Even at that pace he soon comes across backmarkers and is lucky to avoid being taken out by ‘Front Row’ Joe Nemechek as the 87 seems to move down the track just as McMurray also tries to take that line. But the 1 reacts just in time and is able to swap lines and avoid a crash.
A competition caution is thrown on lap 20 and not a moment too soon as the top 10 has remained the same for pretty much all 20 laps, with the top two looking like they will come from the top four. Now is the time for the teams to work on their strategies, to pit or not to pit, to take 2 or 4 tyres, get the decision wrong and the shot at money has gone. Casey Mears takes a gamble and stays out while the rest of the field all come to pit row. Truex also takes a gamble and takes four tyres while everyone else takes two, so the 56 will restart in 5th, but will the extra tyres pay off? Disaster for Montoya as he is too fast entering pit row and is sent to the back of field and with only 20 laps to go his chances of making the big show seem to have gone.
When the race restarts McMurray makes his fresher tyres count over Mears as he eases by him to retake the lead as the old tyres just don’t work for Mears who is starting too loose touch with McMurray after only one lap, and has the chasing pack quickly bearing down on him. He tries in vain to keep the 17 and 56 at bay and manages for a couple of laps as Stenhouse Jr and Truex Jr duck and weave around the rear of the 13. The 56 slightly misjudges the high line and brushes the wall but is able to keep control. Eventually they find a way past the 13, but the hold up has allowed Jeff Burton to join the battle and he takes advantage of the situation to slip by the 56 and 13 for third place and set off in pursuit of Stenhouse Jr.