Updated: May 22, 2012, 3:31 AM ET

A lot to like on All-Star weekend

Blount By Terry Blount

Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCARDale Earnhardt Jr. thrilled fans with his dash to victory in the Sprint Showdown on Saturday. He finished fifth in the All-Star race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. can win again. Jimmie Johnson still can dominate. AJ Allmendinger can fight his way to the front. And the immediacy of short stint All-Star racing still can thrill at times.

Those are a few of the things we learned Saturday night at Charlotte when Johnson coasted to his third All-Star race victory in the final 10-lap segment, the only one that didn't have some exciting moments.

First, all the Dale Jr. fans can celebrate. He's a winner, sort of. Earnhardt won the Sprint Showdown to earn a spot in the All-Star race rather than relying on the obvious freebie of the fan vote. Bobby Labonte, no doubt a distant second in that count, got the fan-vote spot thanks to Earnhardt's victory.

"I think we showed what we are capable of doing here next weekend [in the Coca-Cola 600]," said Earnhardt, who finished fifth in the All-Star race. "We are probably going to bring the same car. We have a couple of ideas on how to make the car even faster, especially for qualifying, that I hope will work out.

"I am real pleased with our effort. These races are little sprints and you really depend on the team to put the car out on the line ready to go, ready to take off. You can't really wait for the car to come in or anything like that. My guys did that all night. They built a great car. I had a lot of fun."

So did Johnson, who was better than everyone else when he needed to be and sandbagging at the back when he didn't.

The four 20-lap segments showed how immediacy can improve racing and make drivers go for it, but it also had a flaw. The first three segment winners, who were guaranteed the first spots in the mandatory final pit stop, could coast after winning a segment.

"It's kind of strange to ride around back there," said Matt Kenseth, who won the second segment and finished third at the end. "Being drivers, we're always programmed to go as fast as you can and be up on that edge as far as you can without wrecking. It's really hard to run slow like that and try to save it."

Nevertheless, the racing up front was competitive, with a lot of side-by-side action.

It also was possible to go from the back to the front in a few laps, as Allmendinger proved in the Showdown. He was supposed to start on the front row in the qualifier race but had a flat on the pace lap.

"Man, to get a flat tire coming to the green," he said. "I don't know if we've got to sacrifice a goat or what I need to do or what I've done wrong to somebody to keep having the bad luck."

But Allmendinger powered his way to a second-place finish to earn the other transfer spot into the All-Star race, including some door-panel banging with Jamie McMurray at the end to get the runner-up spot.

"I'm not going to give up on these guys," Allmendinger said. "They work too hard. They deserve to be in the [All-Star] race. I knew if I got to [McMurray's] bumper, I was going to move him the heck out of the way because I wanted to be in this race."

The night was filled with passing up high and down low. Was it just the format or was it the technical changes NASCAR made earlier in the week? NASCAR raised the side panels on the cars to decrease downforce in an effort to improve on-track competition.

"I couldn't really tell much difference," Kenseth said. "It's a pretty small change. But I thought it was maybe a little easier for me to pass. When I caught the 11 [Denny Hamlin], I didn't think I was much quicker than him, but I was able to maneuver around enough to get by him."

How the change will play out in a 400-lap race next weekend instead of 20-lap segments is unknown. But it was an encouraging sign that the change is a step in the right direction.

"I think it's a penny in a situation where you're looking for a dollar," said Brad Keselowski, who finished second to Johnson. "So, yeah, you like it, but more would be better."

David Newton column: JJ and Mr. H | Live! rewind | Recap | Results | Highlights

Nationwide Series: Wallace impresses in series debut

Nationwide Series points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won for the third consecutive time at Iowa with his victory Sunday, but a couple of things happened behind him that were interesting.

Kurt Busch got punted (unintentionally) by Michael McDowell on the last lap, but Busch was all smiles afterward and handled the situation perfectly. It probably helped that McDowell, who finished a career-best third, walked down pit road and apologized to Busch, but Busch was all class in his response.

"I got loose and [McDowell] got into me," Busch told ESPN. "That's just hard racing. I don't care. We had a good day."

Rookie Austin Dillon had another good day. He finished fourth for his sixth top-5 in the No. 3 Chevy. Dillon is third in the standings.

But Darrell Wallace Jr. was the young driver who made the biggest impression. Wallace, an 18-year-old African-American racer who is a product of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, finished ninth in his first Nationwide Series start, driving the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

"Great day for us and for me," Wallace told ESPN. "We executed pit stops well and that was one of my biggest worries. And I have to manage my restarts better. Running with the big guys is tough, but I look forward to doing it again."

Recap | Results | Highlights

Camping World Truck Series: Lofton keep youth movement rolling

The youthful depth of the Camping World Truck Series is clear this season. The first five events have produced three winners who earned their first victory in the series.

Justin Lofton, 26, was the latest new winner Friday at Charlotte, which gave Lofton a 1-point lead over Timothy Peters in the season standings.

A couple of young rookies also are garnering attention. Ty Dillon, 20, is third in the standings, driving the truck his brother Austin guided to the championship last year.

Rookie Jeb Burton, Ward Burton's 19-year-old son, earned his first top-10 with an eighth-place finish.

If the young drivers want to know the proper way to handle things when they're angry after a race, Cup regular Brad Keselowski showed them Friday.

Keselowski felt Ron Hornaday Jr. didn't treat him fairly on the final restart, bumping him front behind, so Keselowski let him know it.

''I'm not [expletive] going to put up with it anymore," Keselowski told Hornaday.

Yes, Brad used a cuss word. But it was a private conversation between the two of them. Keselowski didn't throw a fit. He simply made his point and that was it.

Recap | Results

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.


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