Saturday, May 16, 2009

The history continues in the 25th NASCAR All-Star race as Tony Stewart wins $1 Million Dollars.

Armed with soda, chips, chicken breasts, BBQ sauce, snacks and a one seat, it’s a night to sit back, relax, leave the remote alone and just watch a sprint race on television, yes I am talking about the only night that there is no points on the line (not counting the Shootout at Daytona) the NASCAR All-Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

While I can do without the Shootout at Daytona, in my eyes, the All-Star race is a must have. This is a night that there are no points on the line, no points racing, it’s an all out sprint race and the winner, the one who survivors wins a $1 Million Dollars.

What I really can’t believe is that this is the 25th NASCAR All-Star race, the first thought is NASCAR actually kept this race all this time, of course time changes most events in life, and the All-Star race is no different. In 1985, the All-Star race had a simple format, around 10 cars started, 70 laps that included a mandatory pit stop and winner takes all.

I watched the highlights of the 1985 race earlier this week, that reminded me of the racing now, but you choice when you pitted, not NASCAR. Harry Gant pitted when his pit window opened, while Junior Johnson had his guy Darrell Waltrip and crew chief to wait, wait, wait, ok now pit, classic move, but what difference, once Darrell Waltrip had new tires and words from Johnson, he was off, chased down Harry Gant and on the last lap passed him and won the race and $20,000.

Of course this was also the race where Darrell Waltrip’s engine blowup just past start-finish line, oh yes, controversy, it wouldn’t be DW without it, however I don’t believe that DW would drive a car knowing it was going to blow up going into turn 1 on the cool down lap, especially when DW had his hand out the window pumping his fist in victory.

Looking back, what a history the All-Star race (formerly known as The Winston) has had, more importantly, what moments, how about 1987, better known to NASCAR fans as “The Pass in the grass”. That one was classic Dale Earnhardt. In the final 10 laps, Earnhardt traded paint with Bill Elliott and Geoffrey Bodine, but Elliott got tired of Earnhardt and bumped Earnhardt on the frontstrength, which sent him into the grass, of course with some luck and some skill, Earnhardt not only saved it, but came back on to the racetrack, keeping the position and winning the race.

How about the 1989 classic between Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip... It was a classic battle with two laps to go, but coming off of turn 4 to get the white flag lap, the young gun Rusty Wallace running second gets a good run off the corner, but spins out the veteran Darrell Waltrip into the grass. Rusty Wallace may have won the race, but I like what one announcer said in a round table, that one moment changed both of those drivers in the eyes of the fans, the young gun Rusty Wallace became the bad guy and Darrell Waltrip was now being compared to the likes of Petty, Pearson and Johnson.

Those were only three classic All-Star race, how about in 1992 when Dale Earnhardt and Kyle Petty was battling on the last lap for the victory, Earnhardt raced Petty down to the white line on the backstrength, went into turn 3 and Petty made contact with Earnhardt sliding up into the wall, Petty slows and Davey Allison running in second then came up right next to Kyle Petty, and edged Petty for the victory or in 2000 when the rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Dale Jarrett on the final lap to win the race.

Now we come to the present (2009) and NASCAR’s All-Star race. While the names, faces, teams, racecars and especially the format has changed, the racing in most cases (expect last in 2008) hasn’t changed.

In watching this 3 hours All-Star event and writing this article, I have been comparing the differences, in 1985, the format was one segment, 70 laps with a mandatory pit stop, but key there was, the pit stop had to made during the race when you wanted to.

Now compare that to 2009, 100 laps broken up into four segments, 50 laps with a mandatory pit stop on lap 25, 25 lap segment, 25 lap segment and a good edition, a final 10 lap segment. I don’t care about the mandatory pit stop, but don’t tell the teams that they have to pit on lap 25, they just have to pit by the white flag lap and that’s it.

I’m surprised that NASCAR hasn’t done a 70-lap, 20 lap, 10 lap format, anyway the jury in my eyes is still out on this new format except for the final 10 lap segment, keep that one.

With that said, what about the 2009 NASCAR All-Star race? Of course with the winner of the showdown a surprising Sam Hornish Jr., second place is Jamie McMurray and the winner of the Sprint vote was the rookie Joey Logano. I was surprised to see that that many fans included me voted in Joey Logano to the All-Star race.

The way I look at it, the first 50 laps is trying to figure out your racecar, get a good pit stop with no mistakes and stay on the lead lap. Segment two is 20 laps, it gives you another pit stop and another adjustment, segment 3 is really important, your racing to position yourself in the best place possible, hopefully in the top 3 spot, but the final segment, 10 laps, winner take all, $1 Million Dollars.

However now we come to the final 10 laps, and we are…3 wide coming off of turn 2, but Jimmie Johnson got spun and we will try it again (same order as before). So we try it again, this time Kyle Busch goes to middle, makes the pass in the middle, 3 wide, that was just funny (I know it was Kyle Busch, but it was funny especially since on the previous restart he went to the outside of Matt Kenseth and DW predicted it), but where did Ryan Newman come from, at one point he was one lap down and now he goes around Kyle Busch on the outside to take the lead and Gordon gets squeezed and wrecks.

At this point, we know this one isn’t over yet and with 8 laps to go…Newman out, he hit the wall hard on that three wide, Kenseth in for the lead, now it’s Stewart in 3rd, I don’t like when a caution comes out, NASCAR goes back to the previous lap for the restart lineup.

What a classic duel with 5 laps to go, Kenseth vs. Stewart, but once Smoke got out front, no one could caught him and…Tony Stewart wins the 2009 NASCAR All-Star race, one hell of a victory, great job Tony Stewart and Happy Birthday, he wins as an owner/driver, damn what a final 10 laps, worth every bit. Damn what was that, now that’s what $1 Million Dollars on the line will do to a driver.

(Photos by (1989 Wallace vs. Waltrip) Lowe's Motor Speedway Archives via NASCAR media and (Tony Stewart in victory lane - great photo my the way) Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)