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2024 NASCAR All-Star Weekend Part 2

As the clouds parted and gave way to beautiful yet blazing sun, Sunday evening’s All-Star Open gave us yet another small taste of the potential of this tire and this track. In the end, Ty Gibbs got out into clean air and led flag-to-flag in the 100-lap shootout to race his way into the main event. Bubba Wallace also raced his way in with a 2nd place finish while Noah Gragson got in via the fan vote. 


Don’t let that bit about Ty Gibbs dominating fool you. The battles were intense throughout the field for the duration of the race. There were 2 and three wide battles spread through the field unlike anything we had seen yet this weekend as well as plenty of typical short track contact (bump and run, rubbing doors, dive bombing the entrance to the turns to get use the nose to run your opposition up the track, etc). 


How did the new tire perform in the open, you might ask? There was a competition caution at lap 50. During that yellow, about half the field opted to use the soft tire. It did everything it has been touted to so far this weekend. Cars were faster but over the course of about 15 laps, the tire wear led to the field stringing out and slower lap times, further affirming that tire strategy could be a fluid yet crucial part of what determines how the race will go for each team. 


The main event started out with a little drama. On just the 2nd lap, Ricky Stenhouse Jr ran through a gap off the exit of turn 2 to go three wide, forcing Kyle Busch into the wall. After bouncing off the outside wall, Busch came back down into Stenhouse and hooked him, turning him nose-first into the wall and ending his day. The confrontation led to Stenhouse parking in Busch’s pit stall to show his displeasure, believing Kyle’s contact with him to be intentional. Stenhouse may have had a point as Kyle was definitely upset that Stenhouse ran him into the wall. 


“It goes back to the Nationwide Series when we were competing for wins. Went against each other week in and out and never had any issues. And then, I wrecked him one time at Daytona. And, he’s bad mouthed me ever since then. I’m not sure why he was so mad that I shoved it three wide. He hit the fence and came off the wall and ran into me. When I was talking to him, he kept saying that I wrecked him. There was definitely built up frustration with how he runs his mouth all the time”, said Stenhouse. 


“I know he’s frustrated because he doesn’t run nearly as well as he used to. I understand that. We’re a single car team over here. We’re working really hard to go out and get better each and every weekend. We had a really good game plan coming in. Our car was really strong and I was looking forward to running to the front. I was excited for the rest of the night and he ruined it”, he later added. 


At the end of the day, neither driver may have been in the wrong. After all, hard racing on a track where passing doesn’t come easy and track position is crucial is to be expected. But, perhaps the aggression, especially that early on in an exhibition race, was where the true problem lies? Who knows… 


Once the race went back under green, something surprising came to the forefront. The tire game showed itself not to be as big a deal as everyone thought. All the teams were mandated to start the race on a set of “reds” (the soft tire). The tire performed as it was intended, creating multiple viable grooves and leading to a lot of racing that was not a “follow the leader” like it was for the entirety of the event a year ago. After about 15 laps, the tires fell off and the field did get strung out, albeit still with some side by side action going on deep in the pack. 


As we got closer to the competition caution at the halfway mark (lap 100), there was no passing to be seen at all. That is largely due to the fact that regardless of which tire was being used, their lap times were almost dead even, meaning the soft tire did not produce the same wear it was thought to. To show just how frustratingly hard it was to pass, the last car on the lead lap during this run – Bubba Wallace, managed to single-handedly hold off leader Joey Logano for around 30 laps with him right on his tail all the way to the break. Even crazier is that during that whole stretch, despite Logano being held in traffic, then-2nd place runner Chris Buescher was unable to gain any ground. 


Following the break, Denny Hamlin briefly assumed the lead, taking advantage of contact between Joey Logano and Christopher Bell initiated by Bell getting loose on the entry to turn three. Within a lap, Joey Logano had gotten side by side with Denny and reclaimed the lead. From that point on, the race became like a race from North Wilkesboro’s former days – characterized by long green flag runs and searching for some kind of edge that may or may not ever come. There would be one more caution – the competition yellow with 50 to go, during which strategy could make the difference between being a million dollars richer or struggling to hang on for track position. 


Ultimately, as is usually the case, the most aggressive strategy was the winning one. That decision was not to pit under the last yellow, and in the end, that gamble proved to be the right one as the race went green the rest of the way. When the checkered flag waved, Joey Logano claimed his 2nd career All Star Race victory, making him the ninth different driver to win the event multiple times. It also marked Team Penske’s 5th ASR win and 2nd in the last 3 years. 


Following  the race in which he led all but 1 lap, Logano was quick to give all the credit to the team. 


“I said to you guys when we were here after qualifying. I feel like it’s the hardest pole to win because there’s so many factors that go into it, and it takes the whole team to do it all the way through and to earn that clean air. Then to be able to execute the strategy tonight with the unknown of what the option tire was going to be like and how long it would last, and then keeping me up front. I’m pretty proud of our race team today – really this whole weekend.” 


The story of the weekend would not be complete without mentioning the overall feeling on the biggest storyline – the tires. According to Joey Logano, the verdict is still out on whether or not they are a viable long-term solution. 


“Let’s be honest, it’s a new racetrack. It’s going to be really hard to get tire wear at any brand new racetrack. There’s a lot of fall off for a little bit, and then it levels out and stays the same. What would it be like at say.. Loudon {New Hampshire Motor Speedway} where there has been more fall off there in the past with an older surface? What would it be like there? I don’t know. I can’t answer that. I don’t think anyone can. I don’t even think Goodyear can answer it until they go there and run it in a tire test.” 


As far as this 40th edition of the All Star Race goes, whether or not it was a success is likely going to be tied to expectations. It was definitely more interesting than last year, and if the metric for success is that plus having battles throughout the field, it was a slam dunk. Joey Logano believes that it was a huge success. 


“I didn’t think the track would be as wide as it was. I figured it would be a single groove racetrack, just like most repaves, but they did a fantastic job building this racetrack to where it’s really ‘racy’ right off the bat. The fact that they made a racetrack that’s not single groove to me is a great success. I don’t think I’ve seen a repave of any size that has been able to be more than one groove. So, to see us three lanes wide – that’s crazy.” 


With All Star Week in the books, the schedule turns to one of the sport’s crown jewel events – the grueling Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. No doubt all eyes in the buildup will be glued to 2 storylines – Ricky Stenhouse vs Kyle Busch and the Kyle Larson Indy 500/Coke 600 double header. Green flag is scheduled to drop at 6:00 PM next Sunday night.

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