It has been 25 years since Bruton Smith’s Charlotte Motor Speedway decided to host the sport’s annual All-Star Race at night. His right-hand man was Charlotte’s president, Humpy Wheeler, who was known to push the envelope when it came to promoting a race in order to put fans in the seat. It was going to be the first-ever night race at the track and the unusual format that was going to be used all but guaranteed that the event would live up to Wheeler’s name for the event, “One Hot Night”.
In years past the event has been held in stages, which now is the norm in the Monster Energy Cup Series as each points race on the schedule is now held in three stages, but this is not a pointpaying race. The format of this Saturday night’s race will feature a very unique format consisting of four stages (20 laps/20 laps/20 laps/10 laps) for a total of 70 laps, which is the number of laps that took place in the first event.
The format of the race is not the only unique aspect of the event, as the field itself will be composed only of winners. Every driver that has won a race during the 2016 or 2017 is automatically in the event as are past winners of the All-Star Race and past series champions as long as they are still competing full time. Chris Buescher, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. meet the criteria and will be in the starting field on Saturday night.
Those drivers that are not already locked into the starting field can still earn a spot in the starting field by winning one of the three stages in the Monster Energy Open, held just prior to the start of the All-Star Race. The open will consist of three stages (20 laps/20 laps/ 10 laps) and will be open to any team that has competed full time in the series this season. The last remaining spot will still go to a winner but not of a race or a stage. The fans have been voting for who they wanted to be in the All-Star Race in the days leading up to the event and the fan favorite will get the final starting spot in the field.
Once the field is set the fun begins as there are no points on the line but a million dollar check to the winner. Every driver will try to advance his way through the first three rounds of the All-Star Race to become one of the 10 drivers that will be in the final 10-lap shootout. The winner of each of the first three stages will earn a spot in the final segment as long as he stays on the lead lap after the third stage. Joining the stage winners in the 10-driver final stage will be the drivers with the best average finish in the first three stages.
Every team that makes it into the All-Star Race will have the unique opportunity to choose from two Goodyear tire set-ups. Unlike every other race on the schedule, teams can choose from a “Prime” tire compound that will be used throughout all of the Charlotte’s Speedweeks events or an “Option” tire compound that can be used at any point of the four stages. The Option set is the same construction as the Prime set, but with a tread compound that will offer more traction. This set-up is projected to be three-tenths to five-tenths of a second faster per lap. Teams will only receive one set of Option tires for the race and if they choose to put them on to begin the last stage they will have to start behind the teams that are on Prime tires.
This year’s edition of the All- Star Race has enough variables that the excitement level may once again reach that of the first “One Hot Night” that ended with the winner of the race (Davey Allison) wrecking as he crossed the finish line. Getting to victory lane will take some smart calls by the crew chief and some chances by the driver, but a million dollar check will make you do things you normally wouldn’t do.
Event: Monster Energy All-Star Race
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile quad oval, 24o of banking in the turns)
Date: May 20, 8:15 p.m.
Defending Race Winner: Joey Logano