Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Wonder what twists T. Wayne Robertson might want to add to 'his' All-Star race now?

   Kyle Busch didn't make it to the finish line in last year's All-Star race (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Maybe, maybe not.
   Sometimes. Sometimes not.
   The NASCAR All-Star race, created by the late T. Wayne Robertson, RJR's sports marketing boss, back in 1985, certainly lived up to the worries and the hype in those first few years: No points, no allies…no remorse, as the TV commercial says.

    The famous 1987 'Pass in the Grass' battle, Dale Earnhardt beating Bill Elliott, Geoff Bodine and Darrell Waltrip http://bit.ly/cEvj5W
    The bruising 1989 duel between Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip http://bit.ly/lapPtG
    And then the scary 1992 crash-marred finish that sent winner Davey Allison to the hospital instead of victory lane  http://bit.ly/j1PqMZ
    Those are the three best known.
    The rest, well, they've had their moments, but nothing like those three…and certainly nothing like the ones with Earnhardt in the field (such as 1996: http://bit.ly/mKxyun )
    But then maybe wild and crazy Kyle Busch, possibly the best pure racer in the sport today, can make some history in Saturday night's Sprint All-Star race, 150 miles of segmented racing, with a few odd rules, and $1 million to the winner.



    Doesn't look good right now for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88), Jeff Gordon (24), Mark Martin (5) or Carl Edwards (99) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So what will these guys do for $1 million?
   Actually the question may be what won't they do?
   Kevin Harvick here Friday afternoon threw out a bone, when he said he still wasn't sure if he really was on probation for this no-points race. Promoter Marcus Smith says he'll pay any NASCAR fines levied.
   Harvick and Busch have had some run-ins, most recently two weeks ago at Darlington. And Charlotte marketers have been billing this race as a Harvick-Busch showdown.
   For years NASCAR executives could only grit their teeth about this event, with its no-rules atmosphere and emphasis on mayhem and high-drama.
   Whether NASCAR itself has ever warmed to the race isn't clear. But it has to love the marketing.
   Another big issue: ticket sales.
   Two major events in just eight days at the same track? Well, Daytona does it in February, so Bruton Smith, the Charlotte track owner, wants to do it in May.
    And Smith has strongly resisted any ideas about moving the All-Star race elsewhere. The frequently cited point to that is the ill-fated 1986 All-Star race at Atlanta, poorly attended. However it should be pointed out that race was on Mother's Day Sunday itself, not Saturday of that weekend, which, as Darlington Raceway has shown, can be successful.


Jimmie Johnson too had trouble in the All-Star (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Some points to ponder – is there any relationship between winning the All-Star race and eventually winning the championship? Not lately. Jimmie Johnson, who did both in 2006, is the only man the past 10 years to get both.

   What to expect here this time?
   Egos are frayed in several camps. Take Kurt Busch – he won last year, but he appears ready to explode; he's been on overload for several weeks now, aggravated and showing it. And it only takes one angry driver to create a cascade of events.
   Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman…..Harvick and Busch….Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards….and others too are ripe.
   A worrisome issue, though, is that these drivers are feeling perhaps bulletproof these days.



Kurt Busch won the 2010 All-Star, but 2011 has been a rough season so far (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    One curious story line: Has Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, simply become irrelevant in this sport, during his long winless streak?
   "Everybody has a different opinion," he concedes. "On the race track I wouldn't say I've been too relevant."
    Earnhardt is certainly not on the short list of potential winners each week. But he's running better this season.
    "We're showing up with cars that are capable of running just inside the top 10," Earnhardt says. "We've got to get to another level. We've got to find another gear somewhere, and get a little more speed.
    "We've seen it flashing at certain parts of each race. There was middle point at Dover where we were really quick; there was a middle point in the Darlington race where we were really quick."
   Here, though, he's not getting his hopes up: "This is a good opportunity to try some things and give ourselves the best opportunity to maximize our performance next weekend."
   Still, Earnhardt seems to be moving ahead, for a change. "I really don't know whether ahead or behind. I just didn't want to do as bad as we had in the past. So I'm pleased we've improved.
   "We gave up some spots at Richmond…I gave up some spots at Darlington and Dover. Still, it was an improvement vastly upon last year's performance.
   "Man, we've been really quick. I don't know the last time I could say I've run the first 11 races and we've been a top-10 car every week."

   New paint scheme for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Better luck perhaps too? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Who's actually in the big race?
   Well, Trevor Bayne, the Daytona winner, is sitting this one out, still recovering from that mysterious illness.
   Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, David Reutimann, Regan Smith and Tony Stewart are in it.
   The 'showdown' heat winner is in it too, along with the runner-up. And the final spot goes to the winner of the fan vote.
   The feature is set to begin at 9 p.m. ET.
    The rules Saturday night:
    The first segment is 50 laps, with a mandatory green flag stop on lap 25 for four tires. At the end of that leg, the caution comes out, and teams can make an optional pit stop.
    The second segment is 20 laps, again with a caution at the end and an optional pit stop.
    The third segment is another 20 laps, followed by a 10-minute break. The finishing order sets the restart for the fourth segment….well sort of.
    The fourth and final segment is a 10-lap shootout, but only green flag laps count. Before the restart, every driver must pit for four tires, and the order they come off pit road sets the grid.

    Drivers of note in the 'showdown' include Keselowski, David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton, AJ Allmendinger, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers and Earnhardt.
    Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
    Yes, Earnhardt will have to race his way in, unless he gets the fan vote (which of course is all but a given).
    Earnhardt though he seems less than optimistic about any breakthrough any time soon, is running better this season than the past few. What that means this week?
   Well, first he's got to get in the All-Star field. So he's waiting on the fan vote. Of course it would be a major upset if AJ Allmendinger or someone were to beat out Earnhardt.
   And if he doesn't win the heat or get the votes, he says he'll just drink a beer and watch the action.

   Earnhardt was only 12 when his father made such fireworks in 1987. But he remembers…."When I was a kid, it just seemed like it was a little more of a circus than a celebration."
   Circus – check out those videos – is understatement.
   Tweak it for next spring? "From a fan's standpoint, I think the first segment is too long," Earnhardt says. "Something like 25-10 was a good lap structure. Make the event a little shorter…and make it a little more about the fireworks that the drivers provide in the event…make it a little bit more a stick of dynamite than a whole long row of 180s.
    "The All-Star weekend has changed over the last several years. It's a different race than it was in the mid-80s.
    "But it's still our All-Star event.
    "It's a celebration of the sport, a celebration of what the sport is about…a celebration of the characters in the sport, past and present.
    "It should be a fun and enjoyable experience for everybody, and kind of light.
    "But I know there is a race on the line, a million dollars…."


  Kimi and Kyle (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   First on tap here, though, Friday night's Truck race….with Formula 1 star Kimi Raikkonen making a debut for Kyle Busch:
   "I want to try different things. I was interested to see how it is and how it feels and how it is racing in NASCAR.
   "For sure, it’s a different sport.  Different type of racing than what we have in Europe.  It's very popular here…and maybe it looks easy, but it's not so easy to be fast."
   On the plus side, he says "comparing to Formula 1, it is definitely more relaxed and more open here."
   Well, until someone like Harvick or Busch or Edwards starts rubbing a little too hard….
   Earnhardt is interested in how Raikkonen does: "When a guy like that comes into the sport, you want to see how he's going to do.
   "I really want him to have success. I hope that he runs well and enjoys his experience.
    "I like to see people come in and get opportunities. I like to see people come in who have never seen our sport, maybe heard good and bad things about it, and come in here and leave with a great impression. That makes me feel good.
    "That makes me feel proud of being a part of it for as long as I have.
     "I think that he will get a good impression. I think he'll enjoy what he is going to get himself into."

    No shortage of fireworks in victory lane (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Title Reference

As always I enjoy your writing and insights but was disappointed after being drawn to this article by the title and reference to T. Wayne. I found nothing in the article that explored the title subject. I was expecting and interested in reading your thoughts for what 'twists' our friend T. Wayne might interject into the All Star Race to make it what it was in the beginning. Regards

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com