Beyond the chance to win $1 million, boost your fan standing or bask in the All-Star spotlight, Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a well-timed test of the Gen-6 car at that track in race conditions.
The series returns to the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval Sunday for NASCAR's longest event, the Coca-Cola 600, and drivers said they received a good education in how the car will perform on the track.
For those such as winner Jimmie Johnson or segment winners Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, it certainly seemed like their teams had it figured out. For others, it was a learning process.
Jeff Burton, for example, didn't qualify for the 90-lap main event, but insists his Richard Childress Racing team learned enough in the Sprint Showdown qualifier that he expects to bring the same car back this week.
Third-place finisher Kyle Busch boasted the best average finish in the five-segment race (2.2) and was encouraged by the effort.
"We'll just take this -- good learning day," Busch said. "Hopefully, bring back some speed like this for the 600."
Pep talk. As it has for much of the season, the Stewart-Haas Racing team struggled Saturday night in the Sprint All-Star Race. Ryan Newman and team namesake Tony Stewart finished 13th and 14th, respectively, and rookie Danica Patrick was 20th.
Although the team may be off its game, owner and three-time Cup champion Stewart is nothing if not tenacious. And on Saturday night, he was even a cheerleader.
"Keep your heads up, guys," Stewart told his team over the radio after the checkered flag dropped. "We'll figure this out. Just have to keep working at it."
Stewart has had only one top-10 finish this season (at Phoenix), but he has a win at Charlotte (Fall, 2003) and a pair of poles (2002, 2011). His average finish there is 14th.
Look who's back. It's a good sign when Denny Hamlin is frustrated with a sixth-place finish. Granted the All-Star race doesn't count toward the championship, but it's his second straight top-10 finish -- including a runner-up effort May 11 at Darlington, S.C., in his first full race back since suffering a back injury March 24 at Fontana, Calif.
"I expected a little more out of us honestly," Hamlin said Saturday. "Disappointing night -- we just kind of ran mid-pack all day with the pit crew picking us up some spots there at the end. That's what got us our finish, but just disappointed with our run with our FedEx team. We should have had a little bit more than that, but just overall didn't have the front-end grip that we needed to compete with the front-runners."
Maybe next year. Much was made about Joe Gibbs Racing's winless mark in the All-Star race. And despite a valiant effort by Kyle Busch, who won two of the five segments, that 0-fer status remained unchanged.
Neither of Busch's teammates, Hamlin or Matt Kenseth, even led a lap. Hamlin finished sixth and Kenseth -- a three-time Cup winner this season who has four straight top-eight finishes -- ended up ninth Saturday.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
2.2 -- Average finish in the five segments by Kyle Busch -- best on the night.
2.6 ? Average finish in the five segments by Kurt Busch.
6.5 -- Average finish by All-Star winner Jimmie Johnson.
1 -- Number of top-five finishes since 2011 for Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray thanks to his win in the Sprint Showdown All-Star qualifying race.
$1 million -- Amount in dollars Charlotte Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith did not have to spend since no driver won all five of the Sprint All-Star Race segments.
THEY SAID IT
"Everyone knew we were here tonight."
--Kurt Busch on winning two segments and contending for an overall win.
"Been a rough few weeks for the 2crew."
--Reigning Cup champ Brad Keselowski said in a Twitter post. He completed only two laps because of a transmission problem on his Miller Lite Ford. He finished 32nd at Darlington last week and 33rd at Richmond three weeks ago.
"I am so fortunate to have all you great fans that voted me into the All-Star race. Thank you. I really wish I could of made you more proud."
--Danica Patrick on Twitter after the race. She finished 20th of 22 cars.
Back to points racing Sunday night in NASCAR's longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Chevrolet's Kasey Kahne is the defending winner and a two-time 600 champ. There hasn't been a repeat winner in this race since Jimmie Johnson won three straight from 2003-2005. And the last three points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway have been won by three different manufacturers -- Ford (Fall, 2011), Chevrolet (Spring, 2012) and Toyota (Fall, 2012).
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