Kurt Busch wins $1 million All-Star race
AP Auto Racing Writer
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) – As teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch lined up side-by-side for the final segment of the All-Star race, one way or another, a Joe Gibbs Racing victory seemed a mere 10-lap shootout away.
But with a cool $1 million prize on the line, neither driver had any intention of lifting off the gas in the no-points, dash-for-cash Saturday night showdown.
Of course, it ended badly.
Hamlin used defensive driving to protect his lead, Busch wrecked and his big brother, Kurt, sailed by both JGR drivers for his first career All-Star victory.
One Busch was celebrating, while the other was so angry he threatened to kill Hamlin over his team radio.
“That’s Kyle in the moment,” Hamlin later shrugged. “He’s said worse things about me other times.”
It was a salacious ending to NASCAR’s annual spectacular, which had been shaping up as a Jimmie Johnson rout until the young JGR drivers stole the show. Their late race dramatics and a post-race meeting with team owner Joe Gibbs overshadowed everything, even Kurt Busch’s big win.
“My game plan was to make big, bold moves,” Kurt Busch said. “I had Jimmie Johnson in the middle of the racetrack. I was digging underneath him. I saw some paint and sparks fly off Turn 2 when Kyle brushed the fence with Hamlin. I don’t know what happened there, but it hurt both their momentum.
“Big bold moves is what I was going to go for. It paid off.”
It did with Kurt Busch’s first career victory in the All-Star race, which will forever be remembered for his little brother’s incident with Hamlin.
Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who have combined to win five of the last seven Sprint Cup Series races for JGR, were racing each other for the lead in the final segment of the annual All-Star event when Hamlin tried to block Kyle Busch’s attempt at a pass.
The defensive move pinched Kyle Busch against the wall, and the contact sent him sliding back through the field. He later hit the wall again hard and bounced into Kasey Kahne to officially end his night.
“Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin,” Kyle Busch shouted. “I swear to God, I am going to kill (him). All his … fault. I had this race won! It was won!”
Instead of taking his car to his own team hauler, he drove it over to Hamlin’s and angrily punched the air after climbing from the car. Helmet and safety devices still on, he walked directly into Hamlin’s truck while team owner Gibbs followed closely.
Hamlin, after finishing fourth, was directed by his team not to go to his truck. He stopped his car at the entrance to the garage, where he was met by several team members who escorted him to the hauler. The doors were closed behind him after he entered.
After a lengthy team meeting, moderated by Gibbs and highlighted by a group viewing of a replay of the incident, a scowling Busch emerged from a side door and didn’t stop to comment.
Hamlin, after more discussion with Gibbs, came out smiling and said everything was fine.
“That’s Kyle in the moment,” he said of Busch’s radio threat. “I told him my job as the leader is to do everything I can to win that race. And this race in specific is a much different beast than what a points race is. I think he understands that now, from my standpoint, that we’re going to drive each other different. No doubt about it.”
Gibbs, who had to moderate a similar meeting several years ago between Hamlin and former JGR driver Tony Stewart, also tried to diffuse the drama.
“We’ve got good cars,” Gibbs said. “When you have good cars and good drivers, you’re going to be up front and this can happen. You can get a situation where two guys are racing each other hard and both of them have a burning desire to win the race.
“Basically, what we did is we just met, talked it over. I think the guys had a great discussion and, hey, we left it there.”
The incident opened it up for Kurt Busch, who had no trouble closing out the victory over several late restarts. He beat Martin Truex Jr., who won the preliminary Sprint Showdown to transfer into the main event, by 0.358 seconds.
Joey Logano, the third JGR driver, finished third and said he would avoid stopping by Hamlin’s hauler.
“I know nothing,” he laughed. “I am not going near them. All I know is they are cool with me.”
Stewart, last year’s All-Star race winner, finished fifth and was followed by Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. Matt Kenseth was eighth, Greg Biffle ninth and Bobby Labonte was 10th.
Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, dominated the race and led 56 of the 100 laps. But he was knocked from the lead by the quirky format. He was leading heading into the 10-minute break that precedes the last segment, which calls for teams to make one lap and return to pit road for a four-tire stop.
Johnson came out of the pit stop third behind Hamlin and Busch and never led again.
Racing late side-by-side with Hamlin far behind leader Busch, Johnson lost control of his car and spun through the infield grass. He finished 13th.
“Knew I had to clear the No. 11 on the outside of me, so I just kept my foot in it,” Johnson said. “I could feel them outside of me kind of pulling the back end of my car around, but I said ‘The hell with it. It’s the All-Star race.’ Kept my foot to the floor and hoped that I made it off the turn and I didn’t. It turned around on me.”