NASCAR SPRINT ALL-STAR RACE: WHERE WAS THE ACTION?

CONCORD, N.C._ By the look of Carl Edwards’ race winning car, it appeared the 2011 Sprint All-Star Race had lived up to it’s promises. But looks can be deceiving.

The television hyped the All-Star Race up as a race where “the gloves come off” and “revenge” could be had. Charlotte Motor Speedway used terms like “showdown” and called it a race where “it will all be settled for $1 million.”

Yet in the end, the only fireworks came from  Edwards’ botched celebratory spin through the grass.

There were no fights. There were no harsh words. There were hardly any wrinkled fenders.

Blame it on Edwards’ stout No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion. Blame it on the format that saw the cars get strung out during a 50-lap opening segment, before two 20-lap segments, and a 10 minute break before the final 10-lap shootout. Blame it on NASCAR’s clear warning to drivers like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya that there would be consequences for any questionable actions.

Or, do not blame anyone at all and simply call it ‘one of those racing deals.’

That is how Edwards preferred to look at Saturday night’s All-Star Race.

“You have to remember, you’re not always going to have side by side, three wide finishes,” he said. “I think that tonight our car was superior. It ended up being a race that we were able to pull away from (the field).

“But one little thing being different, one different bump stop combination, track bar height, tire pressure thing, it could have been a much different race,” he said.

That did not happen, however, and Edwards was able to cruise to victory. As impressive as his victory was and how surprising his post-race celebration ended up, the real story Saturday night in Charlotte was ultimately the lack of a compelling story.

The All-Star Race has been known to create some of the sport’s biggest and most memorable moments. Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s pass in the grass, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip getting together on the track leading to a brawl between their crews, the thrilling end to the ‘One Hot Night’ race in 1992 that saw Davey Allison win the race and head to the hospital instead of Victory Lane, the list goes on and on. This year’s race, however, will not be on that list.

“From my vantage point, it was kind of a tame race today,” runner-up Kyle Busch said. “I don’t know what that one caution was for, but I think there was only one or two interruptions besides the normal cautions that we have in this race. Sorry, we didn’t give you any scoop or drama.”

T.J. Majors, spotter for Dale Earnhardt Jr., posted a tweet after the race saying, “One of those races where it singles out & you look for guys racing hard & there (sic) just wasn’t anyone doing it.”

Perhaps most frustrating, was the long delays between the Sprint Showdown qualifying race – which saw more excitement than the main event – and the start of the All-Star Race, along with the 10 minute break between the end of the third segment and the final 10-lap shootout to the end.

With the fans anticipating the final dash to the checkered flag, the 10 minute break killed the momentum of the race – which was already approaching midnight. For the teams, it added an element not typically seen during a race.

“That’s obviously unique to what we do,” Edwards’ crew chief Bob Osborne said of the break. “It is very nerve wracking to have to do it that way. Normally we’re making really split decisions and we’re used to doing it that way so there’s no time to second guess yourself. There was a lot of discussion about changes, what to do, why we should do this, a lot of back and forth. It was more, like I said, nerve wracking than what we’re usually experiencing on a pit cycle.”

Earlier in the weekend, Dale Earnhardt Jr. indicated he would like to see a format change to the annual All-Star Race. Shorter segments that forced the drivers to push the envelope even more to give the fans more bang for their buck.

“Try to take the All-Star Race and make it more like a stick of dynamite than a whole row of 180s,” he suggested.

Teammate Jeff Gordon echoed those sentiments as well. With Saturday night’s lackluster show, perhaps it is time to heed some of the suggestions Earnhardt Jr. made and reexamine the overall format.

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