by Jason Ferris - 05/24/2005
Last Week's Recap - Nextel Cup All-Star ChallengeSaturday night's All-Star Challenge starts the most exciting week in auto racing, or at least in my eyes. I know that all-star events aren't that exciting to most viewers. Well, this is not like the no-blitz Pro Bowl, or the dunk-fest NBA All-Star Game, or even the check-less NHL All-Star Game. This race is a free-for all! The entire race is only 90 laps! It contains half the racers! Also, the first prize is $1 million! Those are the ingredients for one exciting race.
The evening started with the Nextel Open, which featured the 28 drivers that failed to qualify for the All-Star Challenge. Also, the winner of this race, along with the fan favorite, gets to join the $1 million All-Star Challenge. This led to one of the most exciting finishes of the year. Coming around the final turn of this 30-lap shootout, Brian Vickers spun out Mike Bliss to take the checkered flag. Later, Vickers hinted that he wouldn't normally race like that, but it was for a shot at the $1 million. Although Vickers night was not over, he had his work cut out for him in the All-Star race, because he and fan choice Martin Truex Jr. started in the last row.
After a lengthy delay between races that included driver and pit crew introductions, the race I had been waiting for got started with Grand Marshall Pam Anderson's "Gentlemen, start your engines." As the 22 drivers started the race, it was quickly known that there were only a couple of contenders.
Mark Martin's first segment victory was overshadowed by a wreck on lap 35 that knocked out eight drivers. Before the second segment started, the top six places were inverted, putting Martin back, but not out. It didn't take long for the 46-year-old Martin to challenge for the lead. Before 10 laps had passed, he was fighting for the lead with Elliot Sadler and Ryan Newman. But with 20 laps remaining, Sadler changed 2 tires, Martin changed 4, and Newman had a slow pit. This eventually led to a sentimental yet blowout victory for Martin.
This Week's Preview - Coca-Cola 600Ten years ago, the Coca-Cola 600 took a backseat to the Indy 500, now it is THE race to watch on Sunday. With the steady drop in interest for Indy Car racing coupled with the skyrocketing interest in NASCAR, we may soon be discussing the Coca-Cola 600 as America's favorite, next to the Daytona 500 of course.
This year the Coca-Cola 600 has an added element, a new surface. The track was refaced since last year and the lines that drivers are used to have changed. This looks to be a severe disadvantage to the seasoned veterans who are so accustomed to the track. However, Mark Martin showed that some veterans can and will adjust, as he won the All-Star Challenge at Lowe's last weekend.
Due to the new surface, NASCAR and Lowe's Motor Speedway have really created an interesting track that evens the playing field between the vets and the young guns. Is the strength of NASCAR a new group of elite drivers - speed junkies if you will -- that includes Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle, to name a few? Or will the cagey veterans show that NASCAR is still a skill sport? Either way, the Coca-Cola 600 could be the start of something special in NASCAR racing.
Ride to VictoryJeff Gordon (7/1) You either love him or hate him. But in big races you bet him. Jeff is a competitor that gives it his all in every race. His Coca-Cola 600 stats tell the story: three wins and six top five finishes in 12 races is impressive. Although he did nothing spectacular in the All-Star Challenge, he still snuck into the top five. Also, being teammates with Jimmie Johnson doesn't hurt. He should have a solid outing, as usual.
Mark Martin (12/1) He is making the most of his twilight tour and this should be no exception. He was dominant in the only race driven on this surface, which makes him a good bet. Expect him to run up front most of this race. If he has the lead late it will be tough to overtake him.
Elliott Sadler (15/1) Sadler is quietly having a tremendous season. He is in fourth place in the standings and doesn't look to be going away anytime soon. Oh, I forgot to mention, he had THE best car on the track Saturday night. Look for Sadler to make a run at his first victory of the season in Charlotte.
Brian Vickers (40/1) I am a sucker for long shots, but I am truly amazed at this line. I say jump on it before it changes, because it will. He was dominant on the track on Saturday, and showed he will do what it takes to win the Coca-Cola 600. Not only did he win the Open, but came from 21 to finish third in the 90-lap race. For the money, he is a great bet.
Jimmie Johnson (5/1) Johnson is on fire and it is hard to say anything bad about him. He has proven time and time again that he deserves your bet. Oh, by the way, he has won this race twice in three tries. Being under Jeff Gordon (they are teammates) will always bode well for Johnson.
Tony Stewart (12/1) Stewart is the only driver that wrecked his car on Saturday that I would put money on to win. Most drivers brought their best car last Saturday, and will consequently be without it on Sunday -- Stewart included. However, his record in this race is very good and deserves a look. However, wait until qualifying to decide on Stewart.
Steer ClearGreg Biffle (12/1) Biffle didn't run well last weekend and lost his car for Sunday. His lack of experience at the Coca-Cola 600 and adding a new car to the mix makes him risky at 12/1.
Carl Edwards (20/1) I think he is the most intriguing new driver on the circuit, but not this week. He looked lost on the track Saturday. His car wasn't running well to begin with, and the crew couldn't fix it. Maybe it is a blessing for him that the car will also be out of commission due to a wreck. His backup car may be better, but not on my dime.
Anyone from Dale Earnhardt Inc. The DEI team of Dale Earnhardt Jr (15/1), Michael Waltrip (25/1) and Martin Truex Jr (Field 40/1) have never won this race. All three drivers wrecked their cars on Saturday. This doesn't look like a good week for the DEI team.