Ah, All Star night. It's when the best of the best; past winners, former champions and All Star victors gather on a Saturday night to put on a 100 lap shoot out for the fans of NASCAR. It's the sports' Pro Bowl, held in its backyard, Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Both qualifying for the Showdown and All Star races were rained out, meaning the starting lineup was set by the qualifying draw. That sent Juan Pablo Montoya, who was on pole before the rain came, and other favorites like Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards, to the back of the pack.
The Showdown race was two 20 lap segments with a pit stop in between. Only green flag laps would count in the second segment. The first segment, domianted by Roush Fenway teammates David Ragan, and with three laps remaining, Regan Smith and Juan Pablo Montoya made contact and slammed hard into the wall.
“That's what happens when you start by lotery and not by performance, and he doesn't any,” an upset Montoya said afterward.
The field came down pit road between segments for mandatory pit stops, with Jeff Burton winning the race off pit road. However, Ragan, Biffle and Gilliland stayed on track.
On the restart, Gilliland and Ragan got together, and when A.J. Allmendinger made it three wide, Gilliland hit the wall and caution came out. After the lap two restart, it was Greg Biffle who took the lead.
With just eight laps to go, Truex, Jr. began making a charge on the No. 16, and began driving away from Biffle with six laps remaining. No caution came out for Clint Bowyer hitting the wall, and Truex, Jr. won his second career Showdown. He, Biffle and the fan vote winner, Carl Edwards, would transfer into the All Star race.
The main event All Star race was compromised of four different segments; a fifty lap segment with a mandatory pit stop at lap 25, followed by two 20 lap segments, then a ten minute break for teams to work on their cars before the final ten laps.
Kurt Busch took advantage of starting on pole, fighting off the hard charging Jimmie Johnson and younger brother Kyle Busch to an uneventful first segment. Johnson dominated the second segment, taking the lead with a two tire stop after segment one. He would stay on track afterwards,
But it was setting up to be a shoot out. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Busch and Denny Hamlin had kept the leaders within their sights, and Kurt Busch was hungry for his first All Star win. David Reutimann was a quiet contender, and Showdown winner Truex, Jr. was looking to make things interesting.
After the ten minute break, all hell broke lose.
Everyone hit pit road for tires (a change not permitted during the ten minute break), it was Hamlin off pit road first. He was followed by his teammate Busch, Johnson, Mark Martin, and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.
In the drivers meeting before the race, both Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch asked NASCAR to clarify that for the last segment, where only green flag laps counted, that the flag man, not the leader, would start the race. This simple rule would come into play in a big way.
On the restart for the ten lap segment, Hamlin spun his tires and chaos ensued behind him. Logano had looked to go slow, but then jumped up high and made contact with Martin, who slammed into the No. 00 of Reutimann as well as Stewart. Martin then slide back up the track and into Carl Edwards, Gordon and Earnhardt, Jr.
And the excitement wasn't over yet.
Hamlin once again got loose on the restart, and Rowdy Busch was looking to take advantage. But the No. 11 FedEx Toyota blocked his teammate, sending the No. 18 into the wall before pulling away. The contact between them, though, allowed the elder Busch brother to take advantage and go to the lead. Following behind was Jimmie Johnson, who moved past Hamlin for second. Logano, too, made his way past Hamlin for third.
Just before Busch was about to take the white flag, caution came out once again. This time it was for his younger brother Kyle, who lost a tire as a result of contact with his teammate, and collected Kasey Kahne, who had struggled with his car all night long.
"Somebody better keep me away from Denny Hamlin after this race. I am going to kill that mother (expletive). ... I had this race won. Won,” Busch vented over the radio. He would park outside the No. 11 hauler, and went inside to wait for Hamlin. After the race, a more than twenty minute meeting between the two and team owner Joe Gibbs was held.
Three laps remained when the field once again took the green flag, but once again the yellow flag would come back out.
Logano fell back on the restart, and Johnson came up to challenge Hamlin for second. Running on the inside of Hamlin, Johnson spun into the grass. That left just two laps remaining for Busch and the field.
They lined up as they did the previous restart, putting Logano alongside Busch, followed by Hamlin, Truex, Jr. and Bobby Labonte. Busch was able to pull away, and a charging Hamlin was trapped behind his young teammate, allowing the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge to take the checkered flag first.
"Man, this car was a rocket ship at the end," the former NEXTEL Cup Series champion said. "This is huge. This is one of the big marquee events. We were able to dodge the wrecks and, ultimately, we had the fastest car when it counted."
Thanks to NASCAR on SPEED, NASCAR.com, SB Nation, The Associated Press, and the Team Denny Twitter page for the quotes and information used in this piece.