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Rules? Aw, heck with rules, it's the All-Star race!

Rules? Aw, heck with rules, it's the All-Star race!

Fireworks anyone? Keep an eye on Kyle and Kasey....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Okay, first the rules.
   Well, it's the All-Star race. Let's just make up some rules.
   Hey, nothing really counts, except excitement....which -- aside from those run-ins between Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne lately, and that ripping post-crash tirade by Ryan Newman -- has been generally hard to find in this sport this spring.
   The big rule for Saturday night's Sprint All-Star sprint, 135 miles, is the five-segment breakdown: four 20-lappers, and a final 10-lapper (green at approximately 9pmET).
   And the odds on rookie Danica Patrick not making the big race? Consider it a shoo-in...  even though she's averaging only 26th place finishes this season. She's in Saturday's 730pmET Showdown preliminary.
   This All-Star race hasn't really been an 'all-star' race for years.
   In fact, it's really debatable why they still have this race, instead of opening up this weekend for a real Sprint Cup race at another venue....say a second tour event, under the lights, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


   Jimmie Johnson won this thing last year....but his rope-a-dope tactics prompted a change in the rules.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   But that's all politics.
   A better political question might be Honda: with a gaping big hole in NASCAR's manufacturer's lineup, following the Dodge withdrawal, if Honda executives are really interested in getting back into major league racing, how did NASCAR executives fail to make a persuasive case for this Sprint Cup series?
   Honda just announced it will be getting back in Formula 1 in 2015.
   Why not NASCAR?
   Did somebody around here drop the ball?
   Or are Honda racing engineers simply scared to jump in the NASCAR waters?
   Gosh, wasn't Danica Patrick a Honda star not so long ago?

   In this sport, nothing is a lock, even on the last lap. But betting against Matt Kenseth right now probably isn't advisable (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Meanwhile Matt Kenseth continues his romp on the stock car tour. He's had one of the hottest cars this spring, his first run with Toyota's Joe Gibbs.
   But as hot as Kenseth is, and this being spring planting and home-building season, why aren't Home Depots around the country filled with those cardboard cutouts, like rival Lowe's has of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.
   Somebody in marketing isn't on target.

   Kenseth didn't have the best car at Darlington last weekend, but he was right there to take advantage when teammate Kyle Busch had yet another run-in with Kasey Kahne.
   That's the third time this season Kyle and Kasey have knocked heads. Each time Busch apologizes; each time Kahne just shakes his head.
   That two of the best drivers in this sport can't race each other any more smoothly is curious. It certainly doesn't bode well for either man running for the championship.

   This All-Star event will have 23 drivers: tour winners in 2012 and 2013, All-Star winners from the last 10 years, and champions....plus the top-two finishers in the 40-lap Saturday prelim, plus the fan vote winner, widely expected to be Patrick.

   Showdown qualifying is set for 515pmET; All-star quals, 6pm. At 8pm Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch take each other on in a 200-mile Truck event, with cameos by others, including 'celebrities of the moment' Jennifer Jo Cobb and Mike Harmon.

   For Kenseth and Gibbs, after several troubling weeks, things are finally back in order.
   NASCAR's appeals board reversed most of the draconian penalties on Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliffe. And Denny Hamlin is back in the saddle again, running a remarkable second in the Southern 500, his first full race since the California crash in late March.
   Of course now Gibbs has to deal with this Busch-Kahne deal....

  Kasey Kahne (L) and Kyle Busch, ah, discussing current events.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Wally Brown, Kenseth's crew chief at Darlington, while Ratcliff served his one-race probation, can retire with a perfect record atop the box.
   Of course with Ratcliff back at the shop but electronically hooked into everything at the track, the concept of NASCAR 'suspension' would seem rather out of date....perhaps much as some of NASCAR's engine rules.
   Kenseth has been an impressive driver ever since that very first day at Dover, when he filled in for Bill Elliott.
   Now he's got two Daytona 500 victories, and a lot of other big wins....and yet he calls this Southern 500 win one of his biggest.
    "Just to win the Southern 500...." Kenseth explains. "Obviously it's a little bit different since they moved it from Labor Day.  To me it still has the same meaning.
   "I remember when I first ran it Labor Day -- it was 90 degrees, the track is so slick and slow, a fivehour race.  It was just a crazy, grueling, difficult race.
   "It's a tricky track.  There's a lot of tradition. Man, it's big.  In my mind, it's one of the biggest races we have."

   As strong as Kenseth and Ratcliff have been, they should have more than just three wins.
   "We've led a lot of laps this year.  We've been up front... not really finished them all off," Kenseth says, with a nod specifically toward Talladega, where he led the final restart with two to go and got shuffled back to eighth.
   Kenseth has led 781 laps this season, more than anyone else....and almost twice as many as Jimmie Johnson, in an interesting twist, considering the Lowe's-versus-Home Depot marketing debate.
   At Darlington Kenseth was only third-best on the track down the stretch, trailing Busch and Kahne.
   "You'll never know if Kyle didn't have a problem whether we would have been able to beat him or not....but that certainly was our fastest run of the day," Kenseth said. "And it was incredibly fast when we needed it to be."

   One of the most surprising things about Saturday's 500 was that there was precious little action, little passing for the lead under green. Kyle Busch flat dominated.
    It's been that way much of the season, little real hot action. Bruton Smith, who owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, says it's not the wrecks that fans like but rather the 'trying to make something happen' that drivers strive for...and that sometimes, when they miss, leads to wrecks.
    Some might say it's simple -- these new 2013s are just too fast for good side-by-side racing.
   The 2013s are as much as five miles an hour quicker than last year's car, a remarkable advance in aerodynamics. And Goodyear generally has been using last year's tires, while learning about the quirks of the new cars.
    While the 2013s appear extremely stable, with plenty of downforce (except at Daytona and Talladega), drivers don't seem to be that comfortable racing around each other.
   Some of these drivers handle these speeds better than others. Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, for three.


   Yes, Zmax dragway would have been the perfect site for NASCAR's once-annual pit crew competition. Surprising that Bruton Smith couldn't put together a deal.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

excellent column

I think this is one of your better columns. I enjoyed your digressions into the larger questions of the sport. I would like to see them given more than a cursory glance.

Why did Honda choose F1 over NASCAR, and how obvious is the answer? Are the two series comparable in reach and technology?

Why does the All-Star race have have the field in it, and don't the stars already race head-to-head every weekend? Is the fan vote fixed? Does NASCAR already know the eventual winner even though polling isn't over? Why did they change the rule requiring the fan's choice to be on the lead lap at the end of the showdown? Is a 2nd race at Las Vegas what we want instead or would it be better to choose a nearby track like Rockingham?

Was Danica Patrick really a Honda Star or just a celebrity driving the Go Daddy car in the Indy 500?

Did Home Depot scrap all of their in-store NASCAR marketing after sliced bread got toasted every week? Does anybody really shop at Home Depot simply because some athlete does endorsements for them?

Shouldn't professional drivers be able to avoid running into each other on a green-white-checker? Should they be paid millions of dollars if they can't? Richard Petty and David Pearson rarely hit people and they still won races.

No comment on Jennifer Jo Cobb and Mike Harmon. That's like picking which side of the couple to be friends with after the divorce.

Why bother suspending crews if you're going to let them send e-mails to the track throughout the race?

Why the f is the Southern 500 not back on Labor Day by now?

Haven't we had enough excuses about how hard these cars are to drive? Ned Jarrett raced a car that was nearly identical to the one your grandma drove to the market. Without power steering. Without cool suits. Without a spotter or radio. With a flat bench seat. And a hangover. He ran for six hours and got paid $250 for 1st place. Then packed it up on an open trailer and drove 400 miles to another race the very next day. Ned Jarrett makes Jimmy Johnson look like Princess Sparklepony. Even Mark Martin is ashamed to boast about how hard he has to work.

Man, you're knocking home runs right and left.

Man, you're knocking home runs right and left. Excellent work. Gets me fired up. Opening up another can of Robby Gordon's purple SPEED: 'Gives a man the strength to get up and do what needs to be done'

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