This season has been all about winning and this past Saturday night at Kansas Jeff Gordon joined the winners’ list by capturing his first checkered flag of the season and with it a spot in the Chase. He joined seven other drivers that have already punched their ticket to the championship round of 10 races, but this Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway the winner will receive a check for a million dollars in the series’ Sprint All-Star Race.
The pressure of protecting points and having to win a race to get into the Chase will have no bearing on this Saturday’s event as the Sprint All-Star Race is more about putting on a fun night for the fans and at the same time letting the drivers have a little fun of their own. A million dollar payout without any worry of how it is going to affect your season is the perfect backdrop for a great night of racing.
Just getting into the event is special as the only drivers guaranteed with a spot in the starting lineup for Saturday night are the drivers that have proven themselves as winners in the series. The easiest way on the starting grid is by being a past winner in the sport last season or by already winning a race this season. Drivers who are past Sprint Cup champions in the last 10 years and drivers that have won the All-Star Race in the past 10 years will also have a spot in the event.
The list of winners totals 19 drivers, but there will also be the opportunity for three other drivers to make it into the starstudded starting lineup with two of them actually driving their way into the featured event. This is one of the areas where the weekend really differs from the normal Sprint Cup weekend as on Friday night the track will host the Sprint Showdown for those drivers not eligible that compete in the Series with the winner and second-place finisher moving into the next night’s race.
That leaves the final spot in the starting field to the driver that receives the highest total of votes in the Sprint Fan Vote. Fans will have until Friday night to cast their vote for the driver that they would like to see in the All-Star Race. Last year, Danica Patrick collected almost a half a million votes on her way to making it into the event and she will be one of 30 drivers that will be eligible to receive the entry by the fans’ vote.
Once the starting field is set, the unique process of qualifying will take place prior to the start of the race on Saturday night. All 22 drivers will take part in a timed run of three laps, including a mandatory four-tire pit stop with no pit road speed limit.
With the starting field set, the green flag will actually wave a total of five times as the race will be held in five segments. The first four will all consist of 20 laps with the opportunity for a pit stop in between the first three segments during a caution period. At the conclusion of the fourth segment there will be a 10-minute break on pit road where crews can make normal adjustments on their cars.
Once the cars return to the track for the start of the final 10- lap segment, the winners of the first four segments will move to the front of the field, giving them an advantage as the field will be required to come in for another pit stop before the final green flag waves. It’s the first time that winning one of the early segments has been rewarded with something other than a cash payout and like everything else in the sport this season, will put more of an emphasis on winning.
It is as if we are guaranteed a fantastic finish as the best cars should have the opportunity to be up front when the final green flag waves. It is a made-for-TV event as far as the fans go, but you have to feel that the drivers will be itching for those final 10 laps of racing as much as everyone watching.
Event: The Sprint All-Star Race
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-quad oval, 24o of banking in the turns)
Date: May 17, 9 p.m.
Defending Champion: Jimmie Johnson