Thursday, May 17, 2012

NASCAR's All-Star event laps other sports

As professional all-star sporting events go, they often brag about putting their best athletes on the court, or field, or ice, together in one game, but rarely do we get to see their real talent put on display.
The NBA and NHL games are similar. While those players' contracts are guaranteed, it does give fans a chance to see what happens if they didn't really try to play defense in those respective sports. But again, who wins or loses,  doesn't really matter.
Baseball's game has the most relevance of these four sports. In order to add some juice to it, the league that wins the game gets home field advantage in the World Series. It's a silly plan (why doesn't the team with the best record get the home field advantage?) but whatever it takes to make their all-star game relevant. But still even with that,  let's not fool ourselves. The days of Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse in the all-star game are long gone. Just by the nature of the game, the baseball players can play with more effort than the guys in other sports. But still there is that risk and generally speaking, baseball players have more of a business sense of the game than players in other sports. They know their careers can last long, so if it means running into the wall to make a big catch in the all-star game, that's probably not going to happen. Again, too low of a reward for the risk involved.
And that risk is just what makes NASCAR's All-Star event the best. That's because there are times during NASCAR's points races that some drivers will play it safe in order to have a solid top-10 finish. There's too much at risk for them to take a chance and not make the Chase for the Championship, or if it's small budget team, to wreck their car beyond repair.
But Saturday's Sprint Cup Showdown and Sprint All-Star race at 7 p.m. on SPEED, is all about taking risks. It's a non-points event, so playing it safe means nothing. The only goal is to win and really that's it. There will be four 20-lap segments to the race, with the four winners starting in positions 1-4 for the 10-lap finale that will be worth a million dollars to the winner. Not too shabby.
The event also gets the fans involved. There are 20 drivers guaranteed spots in the race and  three more will make it with the top two finishers in the pre-all-star race Sprint Cup Series Sprint showdown and the top vote getter in the Showdown from the fans also making it in. So, basically that guarantees Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make it in. If he doesn't finish first or second he's a virtual lock to win the fan vote. But that means only two out of  a group that includes Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray will make it in.

But no matter who gets in, there will be an all-out battle to win the all-star race. Second won't matter.
"Checkers or wreckers" is a common theme in this kind of race. That's because, unlike the other sports' all-star events, there's no risk in going all out in this one. There will be no time to wait and see how the track is driving or feeling out the race atmosphere.
It will be time to go for the win. It will be an all out, no holds-barred, and maybe no cars spared,  rush to get to the front. No worries about contracts, just worries about winning.
They way  it should be...
OK, even though this is not a points race, and I won't count these selections in my overall results for the season, you can't help but try and pick a winner here. With a smaller field, we'll go with three selections this week instead of the usual five.
1) Jimmie Johnson - Anytime he's driving a car at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he has to be a pick to win.
2) Kyle Busch - He likes taking risks, so this seems like the perfect race for him.
3) Brad Keselowski - He's another youngster who's not afraid to go for it.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Darlington.

Greg Biffle: 12th. He contended for the win for a while, but faded after the track cooled off.
Jimmie Johnson:  1st. Well, it was going to happen sometime. He had been running too good for too many races.
Denny Hamlin: 2nd. He contended for the win late and added to his other strong showings at Darlington.
Tony Stewart: 3rd. He never led a lap, but performed well on a track that has been a nemesis to him.
Kasey Kahne:  8th. Continued what has been a consistent stretch and has been eighth or better in five straight races.

 Here's a look at my results after 11 races and 55 picks.
  5 wins
14 top fives
  9 top 10s
Grade for the week: A-. OK, that's three winners in a row now and also a 1-2-3 finish. Also, I gave you four of the top eight and five of the top 12. That's a real nice week.
One Last Thing: Five drivers have won the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race and the Sprint Cup championship in the same year. They are Darrell Waltrip (1985), Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990, 1993) Rusty Wallace (1989), Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 2001) and Jimmie Johnson (2006).

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