Kyle Busch on the outside, Kurt Busch on the inside. The two best at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night...until the final 15 miles (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR
By Mike Mulhern
How in the world did Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch throw this one away?
They may be haunted by that for quite a while....at least till Charlotte Motor Speedway reopens in a couple of days for next weekend's Coke 600.
The Busch brothers, pretty much as expected, had the two best cars here Saturday night.
And they were the first two to come down pit road for the final, mandatory four-tire stop, to line up for the 10-lap Shootout.
But Jimmie Johnson's crew and Kasey Kahne's crew turned the tables, with faster stops, and the Busches never got back into contention. Kyle finished third, Kurt fifth.
Kahne was the leader for the final restart, but his choice of the high line was questionable, and it didn't pay off.
"My pit crew did a great job of getting us out first," Kahne said. "We knew if we could get clean air we thought we would be alright.
"But Jimmie just stayed right there, and I couldn’t get rid of him. And then he beat me off the corner and into three and on exit, and it was over."
Kurt Busch, who has had one of the best cars on the tour at most stops this spring, and who has learned to focus his famous temper, was calm afterwards.
"Winning a couple of segments in the All-Star race is nothing to be disappointed about," Kurt said. "You always want more... and when you lose to a guy like Jimmie Johnson, well those guys were just perfect again.
"We were just one click slow on our pit stop and one click off on the final adjustment. We came out fifth and got stuck in a little bit of that traffic. I thought we could race our way through that.
"But I couldn't race back through traffic. Even if we came out first, it would have been tough to hold those guys off.
"It's a million bucks out the window, but we are building our notebook up for the 600."
And it was Jimmie Johnson again celebrating a $1 million victory (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Johnson in clean is notoriously difficult to beat, on any track.
However most of the night he didn't have clean air.
It was Chad Knaus' pit crew that made the difference, putting Johnson on the front row for the restart for the final 15 miles.
And, again, that last 10-lap run did not provide much drama, once Johnson got around Kahne for the lead.
Knaus said if NASCAR and sponsor Sprint wanted to liven things up, they could ask Goodyear to provide teams with two types of tires, regular 60-lap tires and softer 20-lap tires, and let crews decide how to gamble.
This time it all came down to that final round of stops.
"We felt if we could come down in the top-5 and try to get a solid pit stop we would be solid," Knaus said.
"I really didn't think we would be able to have a stop that fast. Man, those guys just absolutely nailed it. My hat's off to them.
"They've been working really, really hard trying to improve. And we've had to switch some things the last month or so, and the guys really rose to the occasion.
"The pit crew is a really difficult thing to manage as a team, and especially as an organization. It's hard because a lot of the players -- much like you see in any professional sport -- get locked up under contracts and held for long periods of time.
"A step Hendrick Motorsports made a couple of years ago was to begin to recruit people straight out of college. We would have combines and pick a handful of guys or gals and run them through the paces... and then winnow them down to just a small few and work with those people.
"It's been a long process, and it has taken us quite some time. We've been fortunate over the last few years to start to develop and get that fruit from what we started four years ago.
"A lot of the individuals we brought in didn't know anything about motorsports but they were fantastic athletes. And now these athletes are starting to understand racing, and understand the pressures involved to pit a car for a guy like Jimmie Johnson.
"It's tough -- especially when you have cameras on your grille watching every move, and as soon as you make a mistake you get blasted in the media. These guys are starting to become numb to that type of pressure.
"We're fortunate to have a little bit of depth, and we've made three changes this year. We had a couple mistakes tonight on pit road, but they nailed it on the last one, and hopefully that's a good sign of things to come."
Chad Knaus' pit crew pulled it off in the clutch to help Jimmie Johnson win Saturday night's All-Star race (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)