Race Report: The All-Star Race
Matt Kenseth led Joe Gibbs Racing with a third place finish tonight in NASCAR’s annual Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Meanwhile Denny Hamlin finished ninth and an early accident left Kyle Busch to finish 21st in the non-points race.
This year’s Sprint All-Star race consisted of 90 total laps around the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 90 laps were run in five segments, including four 20-lap segments and a final 10-lap dash to the finish. Pit stops were optional through the first three segments. Upon conclusion of the fourth 20-lap segment the running order was adjusted based upon the average finish from the first four segments. Pit road then opened for a mandatory four-tire stop and the order of the cars returning to the track determined how they took the green flag for the fifth and final segment.
The All-Star Race also has a unique qualifying format with each team completing a three-lap circuit that also includes a four-tire pit stop. Kyle Busch put together the second best time during the evening’s qualifying session, while Matt Kenseth was eighth and Denny Hamlin slid through his pit box causing a slower time and leaving him to start the race in 22nd.
Kenseth started his No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota eighth and finished the opening segment ninth while battling to find the proper handle on his Camry. After a four-tire stop he would restart the second segment in the 15th position and was only able to gain four spots in the short 20-lap run to finish 11th. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff made the call to remain out between the next two segments allowing Kenseth to restart 2nd. The strategy paid off as he was able to remain in the top five despite running on older tires. Kenseth would run seventh in the final 20-lap segment which gave him an average finish of sixth. That is the position he would enter the pits for a mandatory four-tire stop and The Home Depot/Husky team delivered as expected picking up two spots and allowing him to restart fourth. Kenseth got a great restart and appeared to have a shot at the win, but was forced to lift off the throttle while battling the 4 car for second place. He would lose momentum and drop a couple positions, but battled back to finish third on the night.
Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in 22nd and was able drive his way to 19th while battling tight handling conditions during the opening 20-lap segment. Crew chief Darian Grubb made the call for track position and the 11 car did not pit when the remainder of the field came down pit road. That allowed the FedEx Camry to restart the race from the lead and Hamlin did a tremendous job holding the top spot for the opening five laps until his teammate Busch got in an accident bringing out a caution. With older tires Hamlin would drop several positions on the ensuing restart and felt a tire going down with two laps left in the segment causing him to drop to the back of the pack just before the completion of 20 laps. He would finish the third segment in 12th and tremendous work by his FedEx crew on pit road would allow him to restart the final 20-lap segment in ninth. Hamlin would complete that final segment in ninth which left him to enter the pits in 11th for a mandatory final four-tire stop. Once again his FedEx crew delivered making up an incredible four positions and allowing him to restart seventh for the final 10-lap segment. Hamlin would get caught in a three-wide situation on the final restart causing him to drop several spots. He would go on to finish ninth.
Busch only needed ten laps to move the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota from the second position into the top spot after the green flag dropped to start the race. He would hold the lead position through the completion of the opening segment. Crew chief Dave Rogers would bring Busch down pit road for a four-tire stop and he would restart the second segment in fifth behind his teammate Hamlin who elected not to pit and several others who only changed to two tires. Busch would race hard to try and get his M&Ms Camry back to the front of the field but five laps into the second segment he got into the back of the 15 car causing both to get loose and 18 car shot up the track and into the wall. The damage was too great to repair and Busch would finish the night officially in 21st.
Jamie McMurray won the race followed by Kevin Harvick, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. There were seven cautions for a total of 12 laps and nine lead changes among six different drivers.