Stewart Ignites Late-Race Fireworks In All-Star Race
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Concord, N.C. – After 90 laps of relatively uneventful, follow-the-leader racing in the Sprint All-Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s finest decided to put on a slam-bang show for the final 10 laps.
But it was Tony Stewart, with hardly a scratch on his car, who passed Matt Kenseth heading to the white flag to score his first victory as a driver/owner in NASCAR.
Kenseth finished second ahead of Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.
“We were just too loose all night,” Kenseth said. “For the long run we were really good.”
But the race boiled down to some short runs, and Stewart just drove by him to get the win.
“I can’t believe he gave me the bottom. I just cannot believe he gave me the bottom,” Stewart said. “But I’ll take it. Matt (Kenseth) is a guy you can trust. We got to second there, got by the No. 18 and I thought all right, we have a shot at this thing.
“We weren’t that good until the last run. Darian Grubb (crew chief), I mean he made some awesome calls there at the end to get us where I could drive that thing the way I could. Man, it was fast.”
For most of the race there was basically one all-star, the driver who started at the front and had the aerodynamic advantage that comes with clean air, and a bunch of also-rans.
But as soon as the green flag flew to start the final 10-lap segment, the sparks started flying – literally.
Kyle Busch bolted in between the Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth at the drop of the green flag, and the leaders ran three-wide into Turn One.
Jimmie Johnson’s spin set up another try, and this time it was Ryan Newman, at one point nearly two laps down, who made it three wide with Busch and Gordon, but Gordon spun as the three raced side-by-side-by-side off Turn Four.
“That was just a bunch of guys racing really, really hard,” Gordon said, adding that he believes Busch could have cut him a little slack.
Busch retook the lead for a restart with eight laps to go, but his car was wounded, leaving the race for the win to be decided between Stewart and Kenseth.
Kyle Busch, who faded to seventh at the end, said clear air clearly was the key throughout the race. “Clean air has been big,” he said. “It’s kind of pitiful, but it is what it is.”
Johnson, who drove back to 13th after his spin, made the same point, using different words. “Track position is more important than anything,” he said.
Johnson opted to start the race from the outside pole and bolted past Kurt Busch on the start. By Lap 10 he had a three-second lead over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, while another Hendrick driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was fighting handling problems and had dropped from fourth to ninth, more than seven seconds behind Johnson. He wound up 10th .
Rookie Joey Logano, added to the race by a fan vote, was up to 11th, from 20th, by Lap 15 and eventually finished eighth.
Johnson led the entire 25-lap opening run, and maintained the lead through a mandatory green-flag pit stop at Lap 26. Kyle Busch slid through his pit stop but only dropped from fourth to sixth. Kurt Busch, Gordon, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch held the top-five positions at the end of the opening run.
Kyle Busch and Kenseth took the front row for the second run ahead of Jamie McMurray and Sam Hornish Jr., who raced their way into the event through the Sprint Showdown earlier in the evening. All four took only two tires, while the rest of the pack took four.
The fresh air at the front seemed to be of more benefit than a new set of left-side tires as Kyle Busch and Kenseth held onto the top two spots through the second, 20-lap segment. Johnson ran third ahead of Martin and Gordon.
When the caution flag flew at the end of the second segment, leader Kyle Busch and seven other drivers stayed on the track, while Johnson and rest opted for four fresh tires. Johnson restarted 14th.
The first caution flag for an on-track incident occurred on Lap 72 when Sam Hornish Jr. and Greg Biffle collided off Turn 2.
On Lap 81, Jeff Gordon made the first green-flag pass for the lead, driving by a suddenly bobbling Kyle Busch. Once out front, Gordon bolted to a three-second, nearly the length of a straightaway, lead.2 Comments