BUSCH FINISHES STRONG
Late move wins All-Star Race, but changes are on the way for Coca-Cola 600
For Kyle Busch, Saturday night's Monster Energy All-Star Race was a highlight. For about everyone else, it was back to the drawing board.
Busch drove to his first win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series vehicle - yes, really - in the non-points exhibition event thanks to a crafty move at the start of the race's fourth and final 10-lap segment.
"This race was kind of born off of exciting events that were in the race, bold moves, things like that," Busch said. "We did one of those tonight to win the race."
Busch outwitted restart leader Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson as the green flag waved with a slash to the inside of Keselowski at the edge of the infield grass.
"Once we got to start/finish, I started closing the gap on (Keselowski) and knew I needed to cut out as soon as I could make a move," Busch said.
By Turn 1, Busch was in control and driving a stake in this year's new ideas to make the annual event a thrill-a-minute extravaganza. He led each of the final 10 laps as Johnson couldn't close the gap on Busch and the $1 million payday granted the race's winner. Busch now has 16 major event wins at the Charlotte track.
The wrinkle that officials produced for Saturday night's race involved the very rubber that meets the road. For the first time since the tire wars of the mid-1990s, teams were afforded their choice of tires to race on. But instead of competing manufacturers vying for speed and eyeballs, it was Goodyear bringing its regular race radial - organizers called them "prime" tires - plus an "option" variant that featured a lab-created softer rubber compound that was expected to be faster but not as durable. Teams were limited to one set of the option tires for the whole event and presented with the dilemma of starting the final segment behind any drivers on the prime tires should they choose to use them at that point.
Ever seeking the advantage by going contrary, leading teams instead used the option tires earlier in the race to improve their net average finish in the first three segments because that was the metric NASCAR planned to use to set the field order before the final round of pit stops. Combined with limited practice - each team was allocated just one set of prime tires for Friday practice - the expected fireworks of slower tires in front of faster, grippier tires never materialized.
"It seemed like as the nighttime kind of progressed there, the tires equalized more than maybe some would have hoped for," Busch said. "But it was just a guess. They didn't necessarily pull a tire test here. I thought they did a good job testing. They tried to make sure they were on the safe side in order to have a good tire here that would last."
The race left Johnson satisfied with his team's speed before Sunday's return to the same track for the Coca-Cola 600 -- natural, considering it's a race he's won four times -- but also lamenting the situation caused by modern engineering and rules to enforce field parity.
"Pit road is so important. The short run when the tires are cool, how the car acts and behaves, two to three laps, it's where the race is won or lost now. It's just the environment we're in," Johnson said. "It's a credit to the garage area being smart, not in a negative sense, but the damn rulebook is too thick. There's too much going on. We're all running the same speed."
Is there a fix to Johnson's concerns?
"I don't have the answer. I guess I say that in trying to not say that it's the track's fault or something that's going on here," Johnson said. "Mile‑and‑a‑half racing is mile‑and‑a‑half racing. It's kind of that way. When all the cars are qualifying as tight as they do, we can't pass as easily as anybody, we have to logically look at it and say, 'Hey, we're all going the same speed, no wonder we can't pass.' "
The concern about the All-Star event and its ability to manufacture exciting racing led to a quick action Tuesday when NASCAR officials announced it would add a substance to the top groove of the speedway to benefit passing.