CHARLOTTE, NC— The 2011 edition of the All-Star Race was far from perfect. With the field being spread out and hardly any battles for the lead at the end of the night, NASCAR made a change that would allow for an interesting strategy to take place for the 2012 running of the race.
A new rule that had winning and racing hard early rewarded late created close-quartered racing that saw drivers taking the corners at Charlotte Motor Speedway three-wide during various points of the night. What that new rule to the race also did was give the winners of the first four segments the top-four spots as the field dove to pit road for their mandatory stop.
Drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski all pull a “stop and go” pit stop to be assured of the front four spots for the final 10-lap dash to the finish.
Johnson, who won the first segment, was the race leader when the green flag came back out. Jumping out seemingly right away, the five-time champion cruised to his third All-Star Race victory.
With the win, Johnson ties Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon with the most victories in All-Star Race history.
“It means a ton. Those are two of the greatest guys to ever sit in a stock car,” said Johnson. “The only way you do that is by winning big races and piling up the stats.
“I just can’t say enough about our team, growth within our team, confidence within our team. The bond that has grown between every member of the team. All of that carries into race day and our performance on the track.”
After winning the first segment of the night, Johnson dropped to the back of the field immediately trying to save his car for the final ten lap segment. At times, Johnson would drop to nearly a full straightaway behind the pack heading to the green flag on restarts.
“We were trying, we were working our car,” said Johnson. ” I had to make sure to get a couple good laps in and check the balance of the car.
“My mind was on racing. Was the track changing? Were these guys getting stronger? I had to beleive in the system.”
But was the idea Johnson’s, or was it another game of his five-time champion crew chief, Chad Knaus?
“The biggest thing in any event that you got to do is limit your risk,” said Knaus. “We were fortunate to get of that first segment and attack and get the win. From that point on, all you want to do is maintain and be there at the end.
“We were pretty confident that if we could get one of those first few segments we could do a stop and go. We stopped a little too much. But, we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do.
“Now, if things had gone different, like we hadn’t won a segment or finished sixth or something like that, you just don’t know.
“We had a multitude of plans, but that was plan “A.”
In celebration of his record tying victory, Johnson took his owner Rick Hendrick on a victory lap after the race.
” That was one of the stupidest things I’ve done in racing,” said Hendrick. “I’ve done some pretty smart things, but that was the dumbest one.
“We were just so excited. I saw Jimmie. When I climbed in, I got my foot hung in the dash, had his knee pinned where he couldn’t get to the clutch. I thought, I’m going to be like a busted watermelon out here. It was a neat deal.
” I didn’t see anything, I didn’t get anything out there[by the grandstands]….and no beer cans.”
Results of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
- Jimmie Johnson
- Brad Keselowski
- Matt Kenseth
- Kyle Busch
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Kevin Harvick
- Marcos Ambrose
- Kurt Busch
- Kasey Kahne
- Ryan Newman
- A.J. Allmendinger
- Regan Smith
- Jeff Gordon
- Clint Bowyer
- Trevor Bayne
- Paul Menard
- Tony Stewart
- David Ragan
- Bobby Labonte
- Denny Hamlin
- Mark Martin
- Greg Biffle
- Carl Edwards