Sprint Showdown completes All-Star Race field
L to R: Sprint Showdown segment winners Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle and Kyle Larson (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)
By AMANDA VINCENT
Roush Fenway Racing sent to of its drivers to Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., by virtue of segment wins in the Sprint Showdown that originally was scheduled for Friday night but postponed to midday Saturday because of rain at the track throughout the day, evening and night on Friday. RFR driver Trevor Bayne won segment one and tewammate Greg Biffle took segment two of the 50-lap, three-segment race (two 20-lap segments, followed by a 10-lap sprint to the finish). Kyle Larson won segment three.
After near wins that turned into second-place finishes is the first and third segments, Sprint Cup Series rookie Chase Elliott also advanced to the All-Star Race, courtesy of the Sprint Fan Vote. Rules changes for 2016 called for two advancers from the Sprint Fan Vote. The other driver getting into the Sprint All-Star Race through fan voting was Danica Patrick. For Patrick, this year’s event marked her third time to advance to the All-Star Race through fan voting in the last four years.
“I hate not to race your way in,” Elliott said. “That’s pretty frustrating on my behalf. I just didn’t do a very good job. Regardless, it was great to have some great fans to get us in this race, because I couldn’t get it done for us.”
Rain for days resulted in no qualifying or practice for the Sprint Showdown competitors before they finally took the green flag on Saturday. With no qualifying, the starting grid was set based on car owner points, putting Elliott on the pole and Austin Dillon next to him on the front row. Elliott led the way and Ryan Blaney took second at the start and the two ran first and second throughout the first segment until a caution with about five laps remaining in the first 20 laps.
Bayne restarted the race fourth and got to the lead on the restart with two laps to go in segment one. Meanwhile, Blaney was charged with jumping the restart, and as a result, started segment two in the back.
“That was pretty cool,” Bayne said after his segment win. “That takes me back to Texas in 2011 in the Xfinity race when I restarted fourth and pushed Carl (Edwards) out before winning the race. I was thinking about what I could do, and I timed the restart really good and got right to the 21′s (Blaney’s) bumper at the line and was able to get three-wide off of turn two. The car was pretty good, there. In clean air, I was alright. I was a little concerned with dirty air, but I got a run and went through the middle. It was a little sketchy squeezing through that hole, but it worked.”
With Bayne dropping out of the event with his All-Star entry secure after the first segment win, Elliott was back up front to start segment two after a mandatory two-tire pit stop. And like at the start of the event, Dillon lined up next to him in the front row.
Dillon moved into the lead and Biffle up to second at the start of the second segment. By the end of the first laps of segment two, Elliott was back to fifth. A few laps into the segment Biffle took the lead and a few laps later, Larson took second. They ran one-two the rest of the 20-lap segment. Biffle had four at least relative new tires to start the second segment while several of his fellow competitors had only the two that were mandated by NASCAR as a result of pitting for two tires during the caution that led to the restart with two to go in the first segment and then changing the other two during the between-segment mandatory stop.
“Brian Pattie (crew chief) is a very, very smart veteran crew chief in this sport, and it was his call,” Biffle said. “I was skeptical of it; trust me. But I tell you what, what really made the difference was we made a chassis adjustment, two left-side tires. The car was really fast the last single lap we made under green, and I was able to pass four cars in one lap. Then, we came down and the guys ripped off a great two-tire stop like a lot of other cars did and got us out third. Really, that’s what did it.”
With Biffle dropping out after his segment win, Larson, after another mandatory two-tire stop, restarted with the lead for the final 10 laps. By the start of the final segment, Blaney had recovered from his penalty to restart inside the top-five. While most front-runners took their mandatory two tires between the second and third segments, Elliott took four, and as a result, restarted 10th.
With four new tires, Elliott quickly raced up to the top-three as Larson continued to lead. As the laps wound down, Elliott took second from Blaney and closed in on Larson. The race between the two got physical on the final lap, but both survived and Larson was able to hold onto the lead for the win.
“We had a good Target Chevy,” Larson said. “I knew Chase was going to be good on four tires, and he was going to win the fan vote, and I probably wasn’t going to win the fan vote. So, I did what I could do.”