CONCORD, N.C. - The first three segments of Saturday night's 26th running of the Sprint All-Star Race weren't exactly riveting. Thank goodness the final 10-lap segment changed all that.
What was billed as the "Backyard Brawl" was more like spending a lazy summer night in a hammock for the opening 90 laps contested over three segments. Jimmie Johnson checked out, there wasn't much in the way of two- or three-wide racing and overall it appeared as if drivers were simply biding their time to get to the money portion of the program.
But once that final 10-lap segment hit the track, everything changed. Furious racing, a multicar accident, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates feuding, Johnson sliding through the infield grass and finally Kurt Busch standing in Victory Lane with a $1 million check were suddenly the order of the night.
That's pretty much how this event has played out since the format to break the race into segments with the final dash for cash capping the night. It makes sense that a driver doesn't want to tear up his car in the preliminary rounds and lose out on the shot for the million bucks.
Officials have tried a variety of ways to spice up the proceedings including inverting the final starting lineup for the last segment and paying bigger money to "win" the opening portions of the race.
None of that worked.
The bottom line is we spend 90 laps whittling things down to get to the main event, which is the frenetic 10-lap run to the checkered flag.
You can gussy up the proceedings with fireworks and burnout competitions and the Sprint Showdown qualifying race and concerts or anything else that the fertile minds at Charlotte Motor Speedway and sponsor Sprint can drum up. It won't matter.
Lining up 21 Sprint Cup drivers for a 10-lap run for a $1 million payday is what the fans buy tickets to see.
Saturday night was the latest chapter in the 26-year history of the All-Star Race.