The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race was one of the most exciting events of the season thus far, but the attention has now shifted to next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Veteran driver Jamie McMurray and the No. 1 car had what it took to win the Saturday night spectacle, but several other drivers proved to have the talent and equipment to contend for the victory as well.
Here are the drivers who built momentum in the Sprint All-Star Race and will carry it over into Sunday night’s main event.
There is no better way to build momentum than by winning a race, and McMurray has supreme confidence after stealing the show during the Sprint All-Star Race.
Using his patience and timing, McMurray ran well in each segment and gave himself an opportunity to win. Add in the elite performance of his pit crew, and the No. 1 car was put in a great position to succeed.
McMurray told The Associated Press, via ESPN, about how the victory at Charlotte has given him confidence:
As a kid, that is what you grew up wanting to do, is have a shootout like that and have a possibility to race for 10 laps. He got a little bit of a jump on me on the restart and I was able to hang on to his quarter panel, and when we kept entering Turn 1 and 3, I was like, ‘It is for a million bucks. If we wreck, it's not that big of a deal.’ It's so cool to come out on top.
While McMurray and his team don’t usually have the best car on the track—that was once again the case Saturday—he is one of the most consistent performers in the sport. With a unique mixture of patience and timing, he knows how to get into contention.
Sunday’s night race is 600 miles, and few drivers will perform as consistently over that entire stretch as McMurray. NASCAR fans shouldn’t be surprised when he is in contention for the win in the Coca-Cola 600.
Despite commenting during the Fox broadcast that he was driving “a dump truck” regarding how much the car was pushing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. salvaged a fourth-place finish and built serious momentum heading into the Coca-Cola 600.
Earnhardt has never won a points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (he won The Winston in 2001), but with some of the best equipment he’s had in his career, now could be the time to buck the trend.
After driving to an admirable fourth-place finish, Junior told Jared Turner of Fox Sports about his thoughts on the car he had and what the team can learn heading into Sunday’s event:
I tried to clean it up. Years ago I would have called it a POS, but the guys don't appreciate you calling their race cars names like that, but I just want Steve to understand that we've got an extreme issue on the front grip what we need to really work on. We have a way of communicating and we were clear on what things we need to work on going into the 600.
It was a good learning tool tonight to be able to race and get some laps, and we definitely uncovered some things that we can improve on, and I'm sure we will.
The key for Earnhardt is the adjustments his team makes, and the biggest possible adjustment is a different car. As he announced during a post-race press conference, the No. 88 team will be reverting back to a car that it won at Michigan with during the 2012 season.
Add in a veteran crew chief like Steve Letarte who knows the ins and outs of contending for wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Earnhardt will have the team and equipment needed to win.
It’s a long 600-mile race, and Junior's experience will give him the advantage when it comes to staying patient and staying in position to contend for the win in the waning laps.
Few drivers have been as consistently dominant this season as Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team—though the team has certainly seen its fair share of issues—and they continue building more momentum heading into the summer.
Harvick finished second in the All-Star Race, second at Kansas, seventh at Talladega, 11th at Richmond and won at Darlington. That’s an impressive five-run stretch for any team, but Harvick wants more.
Pete Pistone of MRN talked about the feat the driver achieved with his previous Coca-Cola 600 victory:
In 26 career starts at Charlotte, Harvick has an average finish of 16.9. He's won twice and racked up nine top-10 finishes. While he hasn’t performed as well as he’d like at this track recently, his second-place run Saturday should have his team brimming with confidence.
This will also be Harvick’s first Coca-Cola 600 since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has found immense success since joining the No. 4 team, and the team will be looking to translate the All-Star Race speed into a win in Sunday's points race.
*Stats via NASCAR.com.