Who says practice doesn't make perfect? NASCAR's annual showdown under the lights, the All-Star Race, was a million-dollar exhibition Saturday night that left fans on their feet during a thrilling, 10-lap shootout to the finish. But in between some classic entertainment, we got a sneak preview at some of the favorites to win one of NASCAR's crown jewels next weekend: the Coca-Cola 600.
Here are five things we can take away from NASCAR's One Hot Night under the lights:
The forgotten man as of late, Penske's No. 1 title threat reminded everyone why he was the trendy pick to unseat
Busch capped a picture-perfect day for car owner
One month after the Jimmie Johnson-
Never one to hide his temper, Busch threatened to kill Hamlin on the radio before a heated post-race meeting in the hauler with owner
"That's Kyle in the moment," Hamlin said of his teammate's radio threats. "He's said worse things about me other times."
My take? Yeah, Hamlin ran him up the racetrack a bit. But with a million dollars on the line, wouldn't you do the same thing? The All-Star Race lets drivers get a little more aggressive, and Hamlin did what it took to try to win it. When Busch takes a few days to calm down and think this over, you'd like to think cooler heads will prevail ... but with the mercurial Busch, you never know.
Some will view Saturday as the latest in a long line of recent mistakes by the reigning four-time champ. Dominating up until the final 10-lap segment, Johnson dropped him from first to third in a mandatory pit stop that cost him the track position he needed to contend. Struggling in traffic, he wound up spinning through the infield grass while fighting with Hamlin back in the pack and wound up 13th.
"Kept my foot to the floor and hoped that I made it off the turn and I didn't," he said of that final wreck. "It turned around on me."
But don't be fooled by the finish. Without the exhibition quirks, Johnson would have run away from the field as his team has the setup nailed at its favorite track. Johnson is my pick to win the 600 in a runaway.
Nothing seems to be going
Only four months into his new gig at Michael Waltrip Racing, Truex is making his boss' stint in the No. 55 (now 56) Toyota seem like a distant memory. Fresh off a 12th-place finish that moved him into a Chase position, he won the Showdown -- NASCAR's "B" Main for drivers not already qualified for the main event -- then charged to second in the All-Star Race. It's the type of confidence-builder that'll serve him well as the organization looks to defend its Coca-Cola 600 win next weekend. "We felt good coming into here that we could run well," he said. "I feel like our car was a little bit better for the long runs, which will be good for next week. We'll use a lot of what we learned here this weekend for the 600." Truex hasn't won since Dover in the spring of 2007. But if you're looking for a darkhorse next week, he's as good as any; after all, teammate