Note: Pantagraph will be providing at the track reporting of the Coca Cola 600, and bringing back lots of race photographs.
Kyle Busch Looking To Repeat
As much as Kyle Busch wins – 187 victories in NASCAR’s three national series – he scored his only Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race win just last year. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is already on a hot streak to start the 2018 season, scoring three wins through the first 12 races.
So a victory in Saturday night’s version of the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) would be fitting of such a strong season start. Even for a former series champion (2015), being a part of the sport’s $1 million-to-win All-Star Race is both honorable and motivating.
“For us, being an all-star and being in the All-Star Race is one of the most fun things we get to do each year,’’ Busch said. “I’d say the Clash is another one of those and, with the All-Star Race, they are certainly two fun races where we get a chance to go after just a win and bring home the checkers or end up on the wrecker.
“It’s an exciting night and there’s a lot of energy there. It gives you the opportunity to run that many qualifying laps in a row. That’s all you’re doing – you’re giving it all you’ve got every single lap.”
History Says Winners Don’t Repeat
A look at the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race’s past winners list reveals a rare occurrence in the sport. Since 1998 only one driver – Jimmie Johnson – has scored multiple victories in the event. He’s the all-time best with four wins and despite a field full of past champions and weekly contenders, this event has hosted a wide range of drivers in its Victory Lane. One time each.
Ryan Newman (2002), Matt Kenseth (2004), Kevin Harvick (2007), Kasey Kahne (2008), Kurt Busch (2010), Jamie McMurray (2014), Denny Hamlin (2015) and Joey Logano (2016) all have an All-Star trophy.
Former series champion Brad Keselowski is 0-for-9 in the race. This year’s Martinsville Speedway winner Clint Bowyer is 0-for-8 and reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. is 0-for-6. Newcomers Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are both winless in two All-Star Race appearances.
Despite being one of the winningest drivers – and champions – on the circuit, Kyle Busch just picked up his first All-Star trophy last May.
Trying Something New
This year’s All-Star race will include a four-stage format (30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps and 10 laps) and for the first time ever, cars will run a restrictor plate similar to what’s long been used on the big speedways in Talladega and Daytona. Cars will also carry a six-inch spoiler on the rear deck, a 2014-style front splitter and aero ducts. The idea is to increase the passing opportunities and there has been success with this idea. The NASCAR Xfinity Series used a similar package on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year, producing a record-setting race in terms of lead changes.
The field will include all 2017 and 2018 race winners, plus former series champions and former All-Star race winners that are still competing full time. The three stage winners from the Open will also transfer to the main event.
No stage will end under yellow flag conditions and only green flag laps count in the fourth and final stage.
The All-Star Of The All-Stars
Not only does Jimmie Johnson boast the biggest championship haul in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, he is – fittingly — the all-time winningest All-Star driver with four race trophies (2002, 2006, 2012, 2013). And he is the only one in Saturday’s field with more than one victory in the big race.
Charlotte Motor Speedway has been a bastion of good results in the champion’s stellar career even beyond the All-Star race. He is an eight-time points-paying race winner at the 1.5-mile speedway, sweeping the 2014 and 2015 season races there and has led almost 2,000 laps (1,930).
In 16 All-Star Race starts, Johnson has four trophies and nine top-five finishes – including a runner-up finish in 2007 and a third-place showing last May in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. And in a race known for its hard-charging, win-at-all-costs style, Johnson has only one DNF in all those starts.
Tried And True-x
Sunday’s Kansas race runner-up Martin Truex Jr. set a mark of domination at this week’s venue, Charlotte Motor Speedway two years ago – leading an amazing 392 of 400 laps to win the sport’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, from the pole position. He is the most recent Charlotte winner, leading 91 laps in last fall’s victory during his championship Playoff run. He has five top-five finishes – and two wins – in the last six Charlotte points races.
But. … Truex is still looking for his first All-Star trophy. He has two wins in the Open (2007 and 2010) but his best finish in the All-Star Race portion is a runner-up in 2010 – his only top-five showing in six starts.
While obviously the big emphasis Saturday night is on the All-Star race itself, but the qualifying portion of the evening – the Open – will have plenty of intrigue as well. Winners from each of the three stages of the Open race will transfer into the big show.
Three of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers — Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and rookie William Byron – are among the Open field. Stewart-Haas driver Aric Almirola, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, along with this year’s Daytona 500 runner-up Darrell Wallace JR., will be among the star-filled starting grid for the Monster Energy Open hoping to transfer to the All-Star race later Saturday night.