We had racing all over the world this past weekend. NASCAR’s Nextel Cup was at home in Charlotte for the annual crash-fest known as the Nextel All-Star Challenge, with the Craftsman Truck Series as the support event. Up in Circle City, they finally got qualifying in for the Indianapolis 500, but without any drama as the expected fast guys were fast and the expected slow guys slow. The Champ Cars and Atlantics were South of the Border in Monterrey, Mexico, while the American Le Mans Series and Speed World Challenge raced on the newly repaved Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course. The NHRA were just up the road in Columbus at National Trail Raceway, while the World Rally Championship raced on some national trails of its own in Sardinia for the Rally of Italy.
NASCAR: Johnson Wins All-Star Challenge
Jimmie Johnson has a remarkable record of success at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, having won seven races at the Charlotte facility since 2003 and four of the last five points races. He added to that legacy on Saturday night, winning the rain-delayed, crash-marred Nextel All-Star Challenge.
For the uninitiated, the Nextel All-Star Challenge is a special, non-points race open to race winners from the current and previous year; former series champs; former All-Star Challenge winners; the winner of the Nextel Open, held earlier in the evening (Scott Riggs, in this case); and the winner of a fan vote (Kyle Petty, who donated his winnings to the Victory Junction Gang Camp). The race is held in three segments 0f 40, 30 and 20 laps, respectively. The field is inverted by a number between six and 12 (10, in this case) after the first segment. The winner gets $1 million.
Johnson led early after starting alongside and then passing polesitter Kasey Kahne, but fell to the end of the lead lap after being penalized for speeding on pit road during his first green-flag stop. Kyle Busch went on to win the first segment ahead of Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle. After the top 10 were inverted, Ryan Newman was first ahead of last year’s winner Mark Martin and Kahne.
On a restart 10 laps into the second segment, Kahne and Martin were battling for the lead when Kahne, on the bottom, drifted up into Martin, setting off a chain-reaction crash that claimed both their cars plus those of Kyle Busch, Jeremy Mayfield and Jamie McMurray, in addition to Stewart, who was able to continue after repairs. Kevin Harvick inherited the lead and following a red-flag period for clean-up, led Johnson to the checkers for the second segment. Johnson passed Harvick on the outside two laps into the final 20-lap segment and was never threatened for the remainder of the race. Harvick took the runner-up spot, ahead of Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Newman. Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Riggs completed the top 10. No other cars were running at the finish.
The track was especially tricky, having been recently repaved. In order to keep speeds down, NASCAR mandated smaller, 13-gallon fuel cells and very hard tires from Goodyear that were treacherous when cold. Some teams will refine their set-ups this week for next weekend’s Memorial Day 600-miler, while others will affect repairs.
NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge Top Five:
1) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 90 laps
2) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 90 laps
3) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, 90 laps
4) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Racing Ford Fusion, 90 laps
5) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Penske Racing South Dodge Charger, 90 laps
Driver’s Championship: 1) Jimmie Johnson, 1686; 3) Tony Stewart, 1593; 3) Matt Kenseth, 1592; 4) Mark Martin, 1487; 5) Dale Earnhardt Jr., 1460.
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series: Kyle Busch Wins at Charlotte
Friday night’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway was eerily similar to last year’s event at the same venue: Kyle Busch made his first series start of the year and won the race, finishing ahead of Terry Cook.
Last year, Busch started third. This year he started 20th, and rocketed his way through the field to take the lead on Lap 38. He never looked back, other than one brief period when Cook got the lead on a pit stop. Cook did an outstanding job to keep the dynamic Toyota duo, teammates Todd Bodine and Ted Musgrave, behind him.
Ron Hornaday finished fifth, with David Reutimann, Dennis Setzer, Matt Crafton, Aric Almirola and Erik Darnell rounding out the top 10.
The series heads to Ohio next week for a good, old-fashioned short-track race at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway.
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Top Five:
1) Kyle Busch, No. 51 Billy Ballew Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado, 134 laps
2) Terry Cook, No. 10 ppc Racing Ford F150, 134 laps
3) Todd Bodine, No. 30 Germain Racing Toyota Tundra, 134 laps
4) Ted Musgrave, No. 9 Germain Racing Toyota Tundra, 134 laps
5) Ron Hornaday, No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet Silverado, 134 laps
Driver’s Championship: 1) Todd Bodine, 1017; 2) Ted Musgrave, 1000; 3) David Reutimann, 896; 5) Mark Martin, 844.
IRL: Hornish Takes Indy Pole
Qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 used to be one of the most drama-filled events in all of motorsport, but not any more. After last weekend got rained out and pushed qualifying back a week, there were no surprises. Sam Hornish Jr., who had been fastest all month, won the pole with a four-lap average of 228.985mph. His Team Penske teammate, two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, was second-fastest at 228.008.