By Steve Mickey
Ever since Charlotte Motor Speedway turned on the lights for the first night NASCAR All-Star race in 1992, the one constant was that you had to expect the unexpected. That very first night race produced one of the best finishes in All-Star history as Kyle Petty and Davey Allison traded paint coming out of the last turn to the point that Allison ended up in the wall and had to be flown out to a Charlotte hospital while his winning car was removed from the track on the back of a rollback truck.
That race came to be known as “One Hot Night” and since then every time the sun sets on another edition of the All-Star event, fans have come to expect the unexpected. Michael Waltrip won an All-Star race after racing his way into the event in a qualifying race held before the featured race. Kasey Kahne earned his way into the starting lineup of the event by winning the fan vote and he left that night with the win and one of those big All-Star race checks that now pay a million dollars to the winner.
The madness continued Saturday night as NASCAR introduced a new format for the event that was thought up by Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski. Over the years the format has constantly changed and evolved in an attempt to put on a good show for the fans and give the drivers the opportunity to push the envelope further than what they normally would during a points paying race.
Keselowski’s format turned out to be so complex that fans both in attendance and watching on TV had a hard time figuring out what they were seeing. The confusion wasn’t limited to just the fans as the FOX broadcasting trio of Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip were left to say they could not really explain what they were seeing. Drivers and crew chiefs were not immune from the confusion either as more than one after the race when interviewed said that did not understand how NASCAR managed some of the parts of the race.
The sanctioning body’s problems began in the first segment in which every driver was required to make a green-flag pit stop and take at least two tires. Every driver had made their mandatory stop with the exception of Matt Kenseth. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was on a strategy that had him not pitting until late in the segment. He was still on the track when with only a few laps left when Jamie McMurray spun out bringing out the caution flag.
The caution period did not give Kenseth time to pit so he was penalized one lap for not making a pit stop. This is where it gets confusing because he was technically still the leader of the race so it meant nearly half of the field was trapped one lap down and unable to take the wave around. It was not the way that NASCAR normally handles such a situation so that is where the confusion for the teams came from as they did not know their position on the track.
The field was eventually set but because of the situation with Kenseth, the highly anticipated last 13-lap segment that was to feature the fastest cars with new tires start behind a bunch of slower cars on older tires never really materialized. As it turned out because of so many cars going a lap down, only Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch started the final segment on old tires. That left the fast cars of Kyle Larson and Joey Logano on new tires to quickly move to the front and then put on a great show that lasted until two laps to go when Logano was finally able to get along side of Larson and make the pass for the lead. Larson got into the wall which took away any chance he had of getting back up to Logano and eventually finished sixteenth.
Logano who drives for Penske Racing was followed across the finish line by his teammate Keselowski which was the first time in All-Star race history that teammates have finished 1-2. It seems that while Keselowski’s format was confusing to some, Penske Racing had it figured out!
Event: Coca-Cola 600
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile quad oval, 24o of banking in the turns)
Date: May 29, 6:00 pm
Defending Champion: Carl Edwards