So it seems as if there were a lot of fans unhappy with the Sprint All-Star race last weekend. I personally enjoyed it - the drivers raced each other hard and the crew chiefs had to be on top of their strategy. Even the Sprint Showdown had a lot of racing, for as short as it was. I think everyone expected Martin Truex Jr. to win and race his way into the All-Star, but Jamie McMurray once again stepped up. They even had to plan out strategy a little bit and the top two earned their way to the big race.
NASCAR did a good job setting up the format for this year - both racing and qualifying. It was an interesting twist having the drivers be able to run as fast as they wanted onto pit road in All-Star qualifying. Not all of the drivers were able to keep control and it was surprising the drivers who did skid past. I was curious how they were going to handle when the pit crew could jump over the wall. In the end, it never noticeably held any of the teams up. I loved how they set up the lineup before the final segment/pit stop based off of the average finish! Admittedly, having the segment winners ride around in the back last year wasn't exactly exciting - now they really had something to fight for. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus still did exactly what they needed to in order to win though! The one thing I would change had more to do with the way the drivers and teams were introduced. I really liked having the crew members walk out on stage with the drivers instead of just walk up pushing the car (as they did Saturday).
The only chink in the armor, in my opinion, was the fan vote. I realize that Danica Patrick is popular and all, but she was in no way ready for the All-Star race - she was barely even able to keep up in the Showdown! At least she was still on the lead lap though (something I think should be a requirement). It was kind of funny how she rode in the back the whole All-Star race - I heard lots of funny (and clean) jokes over the course of the 90 laps. I'm sure David Ragan appreciated having somebody to be in front of. Not to tear down David and his team at all, because I'm happy they raced their way in via the Talladega win, but I think we all expected that they wouldn't contend for the win. Front Row typically runs around 20th-25th every week, which is about what Bobby Labonte (last year's fan vote winner) does. The difference between Bobby & Danica: he is a Cup champion and even though he's not been in the best equipment, he still 'deserved' to be in last year, to some degree. I suppose since Danica drives for a bigger team, it should be expected that she would run better than the underfunded teams - though something seems to just be off all the way around with Stewart-Haas Racing right now. Tony wasn't particularly spectacular either last weekend.
Random observations from the weekend of racing:
* All-Star weekend is the only one of the year where half of the Cup field takes on a Nationwide series feel. I forget which announcer it was that even said "Let's look at the Nationwide results" after the Showdown. Unless I missed something, I don't think there was a Nationwide logo on that page. Major fail!
* I really missed having the Pit Crew competition to watch as part of the festivities. Those guys deserve a couple hours in the spotlight all to themselves. They work hard each week and it's always fun watching them go head-to-head with their competitors. It always had a unique feel and gave us something different to see. I would have preferred Sprint putting the money into that instead of the former 'Bud Shootout', if they couldn't afford (or didn't want to cover) both.
* The Miss Sprint Cups took so long announcing the fan vote winner that it had me holding my breath, hoping they wouldn't say the name I knew they would. The #10 team clearly didn't question it since they had her car sitting next to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s after the Showdown.
* I found it compelling that Matt Kenseth's hauler has a 'Hefty/Reynolds Wrap' decal on it.
* Since Jimmie Johnson just became a four-time winner of the Sprint All-Star race (as it is currently known) - will we have a new four-time Indianapolis 500 champion this year? Both Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves certainly have a good shot at it!
* Speaking of IndyCar - after being in Indy for Opening Day, I went to see Iron Man 3 during the week and I found that Alex Tagliani and Tony Stark look stunningly similar!
* It was great having Justin Lofton back racing trucks this weekend! I'm sure his desire to defend last year's win was the big draw. Unfortunately that didn't happen, but he raced in the Stadium Super Trucks (which he won a race in earlier this season) the following night and finished 9th. He is apparently now tied for third in points.
* The ARCA race in Toledo on Sunday was pretty fun to watch too (a BIG thanks to Speed for airing it live). Ken Schrader had the field covered, with Grant Enfinger being the only driver who could really keep pace with him. Grant said after the race that he 'ran the whole race on seven cylinders'. I wonder how strong he would have been if he'd had all eight? Congrats to Ken Schrader on the win and for now being the oldest ARCA winner.
* Funniest moment of the weekend: On NASCAR Victory Lane Saturday night, Chad Knaus celebrated by pouring champagne over Kenny Wallace following Kenny's statement that he'd been doing it to somebody else. It was pretty funny when Kenny tried to get away. If it's not coming off as funny to you, I guess you just would have had to see it! Only on Speed Channel.
Well, that.s it for this week. This next weekend is undoubtedly the biggest one in racing each year and will leave us with plenty of things to talk about. I hope you all have your Sunday cleared to watch racing from start to finish!
My picks for Sunday's headliners:
F1 - Mark Webber
Indianapolis 500 - James Hinchcliffe (hey, he has a streak to keep up & I'd prefer he be on this side of it!)
Coca-Cola 600 - Jimmie Johnson
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