Jimmie Johnson, back-to-back All-Star wins (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
It was exciting, furious, fender-banging side-by-side action, after a lengthy rain delay. Then it was confusion near the end, because of an unusual scoring system.
But at the finish line of Saturday night's annual NASCAR All-Star race, it was the same old story -- Jimmie Johnson, by a country mile, again winning Sprint's $1 million.
Johnson, castigated last spring for gaming the system to win, beat this year's new rules too, with a smooth final pit stop to get the front row for the final restart. Teammate Kasey Kahne, who won that race off pit road, picked the outside line for the restart, and that bit him.
Johnson needed two laps to complete the move to the lead. And once he got clean air, he was gone, finishing nearly two seconds ahead of runner-up Joey Logano, as Kahne faded.
However the night belonged to the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, who had the two best cars. They won all four of the 20-lap legs that set up the 10-lap dash for cash. They tied for 'best average finishing' in those four, and Kurt won the 'tie-breaker' by winning the fourth leg.
The 'best average finish' was used to determine how the 22 men still running would be lined up for the sprint to pit road for a mandatory four-tire stop.
Even though Kurt Busch was first in, and Kyle second, Kahne and Johnson won the race back to the track. That gave Kahne and Johnson the front row for the final 10 laps.
"Kasey and I ran side by side until I could get by him, and then I had clean air and could pull away," Johnson said.
"I really didn't think we had a shot at winning, starting 20th (after a poor qualifying effort Friday night).
"I don't know how we keep doing it."
Kyle Busch was dejected. He also had the fastest car last weekend at Darlington but lost.
"We had a really, really fast car. Awesome, probably the best car here," Kyle said.
"Ultimately it came down to pit road, where my guys always prove their worth. Unfortunately tonight we didn't have the best of stops, and come out third, and that was the race right there. You've got to be on the front row if you're going to win this thing.
"Unfortunately on the restart we were getting side-drafted and sucked around, and hit from behind, and loose, and everything else. I had to finally get straight and get everybody off me to be able to race. Once I could do that, I could go forward.
"Just another missed opportunity here with the best car....and come home without a win.
The novel 'best average finish' concept over the first four legs didn't work very smoothly. NASCAR did not provide those numbers to the fans at Charlotte Motor Speedway or apparently to television carrying the race. TV put up an graphic that was glaringly wrong in retrospect.
A fairly decent crowd, maybe 75,000, for the annual All-Star race. But NASCAR scoring didn't do fans any favors (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Logano made a surprising run at the end to take second. "It was entertaining, to say the least," Logano said with a grin.
"My guys did a great job calling the race -- keeping that 'average finish' up. I thought we were a fifth to sixth place car in the beginning of the race, and we just needed to get track position. I felt if we got our track position we could run decent.
"I think we 'averaged' fifth, and then we came down pit road, and beat one car out, which put us in the second row.
"In the back of my mind, before the race started, I felt I needed to be in the second row with 10 to go to at least have a shot at this thing.
"My guys got me what I needed, and then it was up to me to make of the most of what I had.
"But Jimmie was really, really fast. Once he got that clean air, he was gone.
"All I could do was hope for clean air and try to stack everything up and give it one more shot.
"Second is nothing to hang our head down... but it doesn't mean much when there's no points. It's all about the million bucks tonight."
Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went one-two in the Showdown preliminary to earn spots in the feature, but they weren't contenders. Danica Patrick won the fan vote for the final spot in the big race; she too was uncompetitive, finishing last among the 20 still running.
Brad Keselowski was the first out, breaking a transmission at the start.
The night's action was 30 minutes late starting because of sprinkling rain, and then it was red-flagged for 45 minutes for more rain. But the track was ready for racing to resume at 10:30 p.m. ET, and the checkered came just before midnight.
Jimmie's smokin' 'em (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)