UPDATED: MONSTER ENERGY ALL-STAR EVENT NOTEBOOK
THE LAW OF AVERAGES CATCH UP TO KYLE BUSCH - Kyle Busch, who ought to have won a half-dozen all-star Races, finally won his first Cup race of any kind at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Monster Energy All-Star Race.
How could that be? In NASCAR’s subservient touring series, Xfinity and Camping World Truck, the younger Busch brother has won a combined 15 times at CMS. He has won almost half the Truck races in CMS history, including the one run Friday night.
In any event, it gave the winner the big head. The man introduced as Kyle Busch in the post-race media conference was something of a human bobblehead, an impostor apparently sent in to kill some time while the real winner tarried. In due time, crew chief Adam Stevens, owner Joe Gibbs and Busch made their way in.
All Busch could figure was that his dominance in two series, and futility in the one that counts, was a coincidence of epic proportions.
“That’s the way I felt about it,” he said. “It was very frustrating. You can cite the level of competition, but I’ve gone out at this track and run against eight or 10 Cup guys in other series, and you figure you can do the same in Cup. Things just never worked out in Cup races.”
HISTORY IN THE UNDERCARD: It was a Joe Gibbs night, which, for the first time in recent history, was a mild surprise.
The premier Toyota organization hadn’t won all year – and still hasn’t, officially – until rookie Daniel Suarez captured the Monster Open, marking the first time the Mexican driver took a Cup checkered flag. Kyle Busch then followed up in the main event.
“Now we go with the big guys, so it’s going to be fun,” Suarez said after the win. “I felt like we learned quite a bit in the first, the first fifty laps. Definitely we have to make some adjustments to be strong, but the race track is going to change a lot. We’ll see what we’ve got.”
“I think each and every race for Daniel (Suarez), young guy and everything, is a new experience,” Gibbs said. “This is his first time here having a chance to do this. I think each and every one of these learning experiences, he seems to be stepping up bigger and better.”
SECOND, SCHMECOND: All-Star runner-up Kyle Larson inspired his fans by scoffing at his finish, drawing information from sprint-car great Donny Schatz. He said he’d watched a Schatz interview the night before the Charlotte race.
“They said, ‘Oh, second is good.’ But, no, he said, second (uh, two-word phrase for ‘stinks’). Today it (same phrase). Yeah, that sucks, but we had a dominant car all race.
“I thought, initially, our pit crew struggled that last stop,” Larson added. “Our jack post on the right side broke off at some point throughout the race, so the jackman had to make a couple more pumps to get the car up. It slowed the stop down enough that we got beat off pit road by three cars. That was kind of the difference in the race for us.”
A FUTURE FOR SOFT RUBBER? It’s difficult for the All-Star Race to maintain a niche, what with so many gimmicks originally used here now in place for regular point races. The most unique aspect of this race was the use of an optional soft tire that gave a short-term edge, or that was the intention, anyway.
A choice of tire compounds is most associated with Formula One and other forms of road racing.
Runner-up Jimmie Johnson considers the soft alternative a workable option for other races.
“In my opinion, yes,” he said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I have a favorable impression and don’t have a problem with it. It’s better than a button that a gives you a burst of horsepower.”
The so-called “push to pass” option is an innovation of Indy-car derivation.
GOOD DOESN’T CUT IT: Kurt Busch finished fourth, which, from his words, was richly deserved.
“You’ve got to do something special in the Monster Energy All-Star Race,” he said. “We did everything at an A-minus. The pit stops were good. The car was good. The restarts were good. The calls and adjustments were good.
“Nothing stood out as excellent.”
UPON FURTHER CONSIDERATION:
This all-racer TV booth might not be such a great idea. It is likely to boost ratings – since it’s an Xfinity Series race from Pocono, it could hardly hurt – but crafting a telecast around nothing but guest analysts may not be such a great idea.
The June 10 race is going to run through the descriptive minds of Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer from the booth; Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on pit road, and in the infield command center, a.k.a. Hollywood Hotel, Danica Patrick.
This might make for an exceptional Dean Martin Celebrity Roast (see YouTube, kids), but telecasts require the ability to switch smoothly to breaks, subtly insert commercial plugs, and pay close attention to the advice and information of off-air voices from the network command center.
This is sort of similar to the notion of term limits for public officials. On the one hand, there’s potential of a fresh new look. On the other, the possibility of a government run by amateurs.
The telecast is unlikely to be controversial, unless someone makes a notable boo-boo.
To his credit, Harvick seems to know what he’s in for as the anchor of this shindig.
“I don’t know that I’m actually ready to take the next step,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is just preparing a little more than I have in the past.”
On the other hand, it will push Michael Waltrip out of the telecast, so it’s got a chance to be better than the status quo.
THE SAFE CHOICE: As best is known, Regan Smith’s ride was a one-trick pony, or Fusion. Substituting for injured Aric Almirola was for the Open only.
Smith may be back for more. He may not. As of Saturday night, he didn’t know.
Smith has become the NASCAR version of a utility infielder, or a fifth starter, or a southpaw in the pen.
“I’ve learned I’ve got a hell of a polo shirt collection at this point,” Smith said. “I don’t know if there are any crew members in the garage who have been with more teams than I have.
SHADES OF BOBBY LABONTE: Regarding the lineup entering the night’s final burst of Monster Energy, Kyle Busch said, “You know, I was excited and I wasn’t excited, all at the same time.”
Labonte, also a younger sibling of Cup champion who went on to win one himself, was noted for rambling answers consisting, to paraphrase, of, “Here’s what I think, or, perhaps, the opposite.”
NOT GROOVY ENOUGH: For all the twists and turns in the plot, the All-Star Race was determined by pit strategy.
“Am I surprised? A little bit,” Stevens, the winning crew chief said. “There was a fair amount of speed difference, lap-time difference, between the sets in practice but everybody's cars weren't dialed in yet, and the track temps was way up. As it cooled off, it seemed like the discrepancy just got smaller and smaller.
“The groove didn't open up very much. Guys that tried to move up to the middle or the top, there just wasn't the grip up there that there was on the bottom. You really couldn't race two wide, three wide, as much as maybe you can after halfway on the long race here.”
Hope springs eternal leading into the Coca-Cola 600. Either that or Stevens wanted to raise hopes.
MAN OF THE PEOPLE: The fans earned Chase Elliott’s spot in the All-Star field as he was the winner of the slot reserved by popular vote.
“Well, I just appreciate it,” he said. “I sent out a tweet earlier, and I see the vote that came in on my Twitter timeline and I’m, like, man, that is so cool to see that. When they announced it a second ago, you hear the crowd, and as a driver, as a racer, being a part of motorsports, that is really cool. My frustration with not winning and making it in (from the Open) is certainly made up by all the people sitting up there (in the stands) and watching at home.”