NASCAR drivers have their moments of sensitivity.
Jamie McMurray cried in victory lane after winning the Daytona 500 earlier this year. Denny Hamlin chocked up after winning for his Grandmother who had passed away before the Pocono race last year. And there were smiles all around seeing Jeff Gordon holding his newborn daughter in victory lane at Talladega in 2007.
But when you put 21 drivers on track with nothing at stake but one million dollars they become sensitive in other ways.
Saturday night in Charlotte, NC at the Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR’s best prepared to battle it out in the Sprint All-Star race. Nothing on the line but 100 laps to a large check and bragging rights.
Some call it “checkers or wreckers,” others say “don’t bring anything back but the steering wheel,” and after tonight there will be those that say, “who needs teammates?”
Normally it takes 500 miles at Bristol and Martinsville to get drivers riled up but not anymore. Beginning with the Sprint Showdown race that offered 29 drivers one last chance to get in the big event, nearly half the drivers left the track unhappy.
Martin Truex Jr. won the race with Greg Biffle finishing second to transfer in. Carl Edwards, after finishing 10th, benefited from the fan vote to advance to the main event.
It didn’t come easy for Edwards though; during the race he radioed his crew that Scott Speed, “is trying to kill me out there.”
Everyone survived on that end but Juan Pablo Montoya and Regan Smith’s cars didn’t. While racing for position heading into turn one the two appeared to crowd each other with Montoya’s spotter, Tad Boyd, telling him "That boy's not used to being up there. Make him lift."
It didn’t work and instead the two ended up in the wall, both drivers losing their chances of advancing and racing for a million dollars, Boyd radioing, “Stupid. Piece of sh** blocked up for four laps and then tried to wreck you.”
Montoya also wasn’t happy saying that Smith shouldn’t have been there.
The Furniture Row driver didn’t see it that way and took to his Twitter page after retiring from the race to say, “Not going to give up positions in race when only two transfer, (JPM) was trying to chop me off. Wasn’t having it.”
The exchange between the drivers set the tone for the rest of the night.
Telling racecar drivers that they can do what they want because they’ll never use the car again is a recipe for disaster, but that’s what the All-Star race is all about. Put the pedal to the metal and go for it. Nowhere will you see more exciting race than on a Saturday night in May at the Charlotte.
Sure, the first 90 laps will be remembered as the Jimmie Johnson show, a common theme on the Sprint Cup circuit, except the last ten laps of the 2010 Sprint All-Star race will go down in history.
It’ll join races like the 2007 edition where Kurt and Kyle Busch wrecked each other, making their grandmother sit them down to work it out at Thanksgiving.
Or the 1997 edition where Jeff Gordon stomped the field in his T-Rex car that was later ban by NASCAR for being too good. And don’t forget the night that Kyle Petty and Davey Allison wrecked coming to the checkered flag that had Allison celebrating his win at a local hospital.
On this night things were going well for 90 laps, drivers keeping their cool and trying to save their cars for the final sprint to the finish. After completing their mandatory pit stop and lining up for the start of the last segment, everyone knew that the calm was over and the storm was coming, even Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “I’m ready to brawl,” of course that could have been for any number of reasons.
Except it took 30 seconds for chaos to break out after the green flag was shown.
Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., and others were all caught up in the All-Star big one. Triggered when Joey Logano tried to get on the inside or Johnson who shut the door, a few continued hoping to throw caution to the wind and see what happens.
Others hung their heads and headed for home where they would see the biggest fireworks of the night that didn’t come from the victory lane celebration.
Racing for the lead, teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch used up every inch of racetrack in turn two leaving Busch in the wall and free-falling through the field. Hamlin soldiered on but was overtaken by the other Busch, Kurt, for the win. A few laps after the contact with Hamlin, Kyle found the wall again, collecting Kasey Kahne in the process.
Busch thought he had the race won before he and Hamlin got together. Over his team radio Busch made the statement of the night and left an everlasting memory of the 2010 All-Star race.
“Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race, I am going to kill that mother *&^%$.”
Upon driving his car to the garage, Busch parked behind Hamlin’s hauler, then went up into it to wait for his teammate. After the race was over, Hamlin was advised by his team to not enter it while Busch was there. He later did along with officials from Joe Gibbs Racing who said they all watched the replay and talked it out.
Busch left the No. 11 hauler through the side door and didn’t speak to the media. Hamlin emerged and spoke to the large crowd saying, “Kyle is the most talented person in this garage and he gets it. He just gets a little hot under the collar sometimes.”
Understatement of the night and theme of the race because who knew that racing for a million dollars would be such a big deal and have so many drivers up in arms. On this night no one is themselves, risks are taken that aren't normally seen, points racing doesn't exist.
If only every race was a Sprint All-Star race.