By Brant James
May 20, 2011

There is worth to the Sprint Cup All-Star Race beyond a sizeable purse and a year's worth of bragging rights. Just a week before the Coca-Cola 600 marathon, the All-Star Shootout is a test session in microcosm, according to two-time winner Jimmie Johnson.

"Teams have different strategies. Some people come in and use it as a test bed. Others are trying to refine maybe what's worked in previous races or years at the speedway," he said. "We're all experimenting. And certainly if you leave the All-Star weekend with a fast car, you have a great week leading into the 600. And then it's the opposite if you have a bad All-Star race. You're going back to the drawing board and trying to figure out what to do.

"We're all chasing a million bucks, but the reality of it is that it's a great opportunity for the teams to learn something for the 600. And in a sense, it's a test. We've had no testing on a 1.5-mile track."

Kevin Harvick said the All-Star race is particularly valuable in that it is contested at night, like the end of the Coca-Cola 600. Denny Hamlin said information gleaned in two weekends at NASCAR's hub can be applied to future races. Much of the 36-race schedule is contested on 1.5-mile tracks.

"Charlotte hasn't been our best track, but both races finish around the same time at night, so we can learn some things if the weather is about the same," Hamlin said. "We have some good tracks for us coming up in June, so it's important that we learn as much as we can in Charlotte to apply it later in the year."

That doesn't mean drivers will look past the All-Star event. History -- and twisted metal -- suggests otherwise.

Rusty Wallace told crew chief Larry Carter in 2005 to prepare a No. 2 Dodge "that we can do without in the future." He was obviously reading his old clips. The 1989 race helped craft one of the event's signature moments -- and what Wallace called "the most defining moment for me as a driver" -- when he shot Darrell Waltrip across the grass taking the white flag in the final segment.

The Iceman cometh

And he's in a Perky Jerk truck.

Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One champion who has dabbled in World Rally since 2010, will make his NASCAR Truck series debut on Friday at Charlotte in a second Kyle Busch Motorsports entry. Raikkonen, won 18 races and had 62 podium finishes in nine F1 campaigns and faces the same sort of somewhat condescending, unintentionally xenophobic vetting that greeted fellow foreigner + reputed firebrand + F1 refugee Juan Pablo Montoya in 2006.

Tuttle: Is Kimi Raikkonen NASCAR's next international superstar?

Like Montoya, Raikkonen will not be allowed to breathe until he has been deemed sufficiently amalgamated and appreciative of his opportunity in what the NASCAR community considers the most prestigious racing series in the whole wide world. But whereas Montoya proved to already have a great deal of NASCAR sensibility, Raikkonen may simply choose not to breathe.

This is, as a casual video search reveals, a man who mocks reporters, once pushed over a photographer and accidentally knocked down a small child as he plied a paddock full of fans. Granted, the Finn or his Doppelganger didn't appear to intentionally fell the toddler. But he didn't go back, either. And that's off-track antics.

Montoya, who was a teammate -- sometimes a contentious one -- with Raikkonen at McLaren in 2005 and 2006, said the driver will have to make competitive changes to succeed in stock cars.

"He was nicknamed 'Ice Man' when he raced in F1 so if that tells you anything," Montoya told "He's a great race car driver but he'll need to learn to take care of his equipment in NASCAR. I know he likes to drive his cars hard and you can't do that over here."

This could be fun.


"Special Greg" Powell, Travis Pastrana's 27-year-old BMX trickster/cousin and a former wide receiver at the University of Maryland, will debut as a rear tire carrier as Pastrana undertakes his fourth K&N Pro Series race on Saturday at Iowa Speedway. Powell trained with Pastrana-Waltrip Racing pit crews for more than a month in preparation.

"He tells us the most exciting thing he's ever done is pitting this race car," said PWR pit coach Greg Miller. "After watching him do flips 100 feet in the air and all the stuff he has done, it's funny that pitting the car will probably be the safest thing he's done in the last year."


Those new video billboards popping up around the country can be distracting enough at slow speeds on the boulevard. The prospect of drivers' allowing their gaze to wander toward the 200 foot-wide, 80-foot-tall high-definition video board this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway might make for some interesting moments the next two weeks, during the All-Star Race weekend and Coca-Cola 600.

"I've seen a little bit on television of them promoting it," said Jimmie Johnson, who has won six times at the 1.5-mile, Concord, N.C., track. "We looked for Jumbotrons as they are now and they're not all that big, especially compared to that TV. So I'm sure we'll be watching it at some point, and there's no way we won't watch it. We're always tuning in and looking around at the scoring pylon or any Jumbotron if there is a wreck or a caution. I don't know what we'll do under green or if we'll be a distraction or not. I'm sure if there's some flashing lights up there, with the size that it is, it would distract you. But we'll have to see this weekend."

Five future Hall of Famers

The May 23 induction of the second class into NASCAR's Hall of Fame naturally elicits the question of which current performers will one day be enshrined. Here are five drivers who will one day become certified immortal:

1. Jimmie Johnson: The hope would be at some point the selection committees find a way to waive the three-year retirement requirement for drivers and simply allow the defending five-time series champion in immediately. The reality is that likely won't happen, but part of NASCAR's lore has been the mystical way in which rules sometimes benefit circumstance. Johnson has been that impressive in his first decade in Sprint Cup, arguably the greatest ever, in completely dominating an era that the sport touts as its most competitive in more than a half century of competition.

2. Jeff Gordon: A bridge between eras, he was a demographic-cracking template for the modern race car driver, and then there's four championships and 83 victories.

3. Tony Stewart: He's won two Sprint Cup titles and 39 races and isn't through yet. He will bring some stubble and grumble to the hall.

4. Chad Knaus: Johnson's crew chief will have his day.

5. Kyle Busch: Already approaching 100 wins in NASCAR's top three series at age 26, he still lacks a Sprint Cup title, but his talent is unmistakable.

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