New tires are king at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and so is Joey Logano.
A NASCAR All-Star Race gimmick conceived by driver Brad Keselowski put six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and defending Cup champion Kyle Busch at the front, but on old tires, for the final segment.
They held those spots for less than two corners.
Kyle Larson and Logano, two of the first three cars on new tires, quickly overtook the cars on older tires.
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After a three-lap, side-by-side battle for the lead, Larson slid up and scraped the wall between Turns 1 and 2 with three laps to go, and Logano ran away for a 1.142-second victory.
“He ran me hard, and I had to run him hard, but it’s for a million bucks,” Logano said.
The first-year format, which put drivers on older tires at the front and those on newer tires at the rear for the final segment after a random inversion, created weirdness that lasted all evening.
With no shot at getting to the front in the second segment, it became a battle for which driver could be 12th – the first car guaranteed not to be inverted. Johnson dropped to that spot, with Busch 13th, and sat there for the final five laps of the segment.
When Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen – I am not making this up – drew the envelope that inverted 11 cars, that put Johnson and Busch first and second, on old tires.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The cars on old tires couldn’t hold off Larson and Logano, or much of anyone else.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third, Carl Edwards fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.
When Matt Kenseth missed his required pit stop during the first segment, his rule violation also trapped six cars a lap down, creating confusion with the inversion in the final segment. When the final segment started there were four cars at least a lap down, plus Johnson and Kyle Busch, at the front of the field.
Three who mattered
Matt Kenseth: His failure to pit under green in the first segment because of Jamie McMurray’s spin caught six cars other cars a lap down, confused nearly everyone and set up a chance for cars a lap down, on old tires, to win the race.
Jimmie Johnson: Seeing that he couldn’t get to the front, the six-time Cup series champion, parked himself in 12th near the end of the second segment, knowing that would put him near the front to start the third. He got to start the final segment out front.
Joey Logano: After a two-lap battle with Kyle Larson, he pulled away for an easy victory.
▪ The 12 Air Titans and 12 jet driers used to dry the track were impressive. They dried the frontstretch first so the pre-race show could be held, and finished the backstretch during driver introductions. From the start of the rain until the cars started rolling: 2 hours 38 minutes (and it would have been faster if not for a persistent pit-road puddle).
▪ The green flag was originally scheduled for 9:26, and came at 10:11.
▪ Kyle Busch’s Toyota carried No. 75 instead of No. 18, in honor of the 75th anniversary of his sponsor, M&M’s.
▪ The rain forced the cancellation of qualifying. The lineup was set by car owner points instead of practice speeds because NASCAR deemed the practice, shortened because of the condensed schedule, incomplete.
▪ Danica Patrick passed leader Kyle Busch on new tires on Lap 29 of the first segment, a clear indicator of the old-tire/new tire dynamic for the third segment.
▪ Jamie McMurray’s spin brought out the caution on Lap 46 in the first segment, and Matt Kenseth’s car had not yet pit under green to save tires. That cost him a lap – and any realistic shot at winning.
▪ Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart’s crash early in the second segment ended their nights.
They said it
▪ “We need to start calling timeouts in football games to check everybody’s shoelaces.” – Matt Kenseth, on the lug nut check after the first segment.
▪ “I don’t know what’s going on but it’s extremely entertaining. Guys are punting on second down.” – Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, the honorary pace car driver, on the Fox television broadcast.
▪ “It’s the most screwed up All-Star Race I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad it’s the last one.” – Tony Stewart, who’s retiring from Cup series racing after this season.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord
When: 6 p.m., May 29
Radio: Performance Racing Network