Crunching numbers for the Sprint All-Star Race

May, 13, 2009

Considering the assortment of all-star events across America's major professional sports, I think NASCAR has done the best job of getting it right.

Little to no defense is played in the NFL's Pro Bowl or in the NBA's and NHL's All-Star Games. The MLB All-Star Game starts strong, but when the game hits crunch time, the second-tier All-Stars are those who decide it.

Oh yeah, and it ended in a tie a few years ago. A tie!

But NASCAR is on to something. The Sprint All-Star Race track is in NASCAR's capital city of Charlotte, N.C. The race features an elite group of drivers. The 10-lap sprint at the end is reminiscent of local short tracks. Consider me a fan of the dash-for-cash format.

And what a load of cash it is. A million dollars is enough to get these guys revved up and racing their hardest.

We get some side events as well, much like MLB's Home Run Derby or the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest. The pit crew challenge is a cool idea, but I'd prefer to see a full night of events out of it. Let's start a discussion about what you'd like to see at NASCAR's all-star weekend. Let us know in the comments section below.

Burning out

Kyle Busch appeared to have one of the cars to beat in each of his three career All-Star Races, but each time he ended in failure.

In 2006, Busch was involved in a multicar crash after leading 21 laps. The next year, he was involved in an infamous incident with his brother Kurt and finished next to last. Last year, he finished last after blowing an engine.

In those three starts in the All-Star event, Busch has led more laps (83) than any other driver. But three DNFs and a 20.0 average finish later, he has yet to cash in on any of these strong runs. Still, he remains one of the drivers to beat Saturday night.

Here are Busch's rankings in the past three All-Star Races:

Category -- Result -- Ranking
Green-flag speed -- 179.594 mph -- first
Fastest laps run -- 35 -- second
Driver rating -- 105.7 -- second

Cold truth about hot laps

Last year, Kasey Kahne won after a nondescript fifth-place finish in the Sprint Showdown, the qualifying race. Obviously, getting those extra laps of practice and feedback for his crew chief paid dividends, because he had the fastest lap on 11 of the 100 run, fourth-most among all drivers.

Sam Hornish Jr., one of the qualifiers from the Showdown, had the fifth-most fastest laps, running the quickest on 10 of the 100 circuits.

The highest number of fastest laps run in the 2008 Sprint All-Star Challenge:

Greg Biffle -- 23
Kyle Busch -- 17
Carl Edwards -- 15
Kasey Kahne -- 11
Sam Hornish Jr. -- 10
Matt Kenseth -- nine

We've already recapped Kyle Busch's trials and tribulations at the All-Star Race, so please don't make me repeat myself. I have only so much space in these entries. (Why am I wasting words like this?)

But the other three cars that were fastest most often belonged to Roush Fenway Racing. Looking for the Roushketeers to snap out of their funk this weekend.

Catch the bull by the Hornish

Hornish did not inspire much confidence with his finishes last season, but whether it's his improvement or the team's (most likely a combination of the two), he has made great strides during the past few weeks.

Consider the 77 a dark horse this weekend. As shown above, he ran the fastest laps on 11 percent of the circuits last year after finishing second behind A.J. Allmendinger in the Sprint Showdown.

He steadily moved up during the race. Hornish was 24th -- dead last -- at midrace, 10th with 10 laps to go and seventh at the finish.

He had a similar performance in the Showdown. He started eighth, was up to fifth at the midway point and went on to finish second.

You could say he had a Mobil car during the race. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Shall I wrap it up on a sponsor-related pun? Yes, I shall. Enjoy the race!

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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