The best all-star event of any sports series takes place this coming Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the 26th running of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Every major sport in the country has its version of an all-star event, but the Sprint Cup Series is the only one in which the competitive level of those that takes part actually is kicked up!
The all-star race awards no points towards the series championship, instead it awards the winner a check for a million dollars that in turn motivates drivers to take chances they would normally not think of taking. When the drivers take the green flag on Saturday night, they don’t have to worry about points or playing it safe in order to get a good finish. Their only concern is winning as this is one race where a top-five finish means little if it isn’t the top spot.
Ever since the first all-star event was held in 1985, NASCAR has constantly tweaked the event’s format to ensure that the fans are entertained and that it brings out the best in every driver that has earned his way into the starting field. This year’s version of the race will be divided into four segments, with the final segment consisting of nothing more than a 10-lap crowd-pleasing sprint to the finish.
The race will start with a 50-lap segment that contains a mandatory four-tire pit stop on lap 25, with an optional pit stop once the segment is completed. Following that will be a 20-lap segment that will also give teams the option to pit when it is over. The third segment also contains 20 laps, followed by a 10-minute break that will give every team the opportunity to perform work on the car that normally takes place during a pit stop. The finishing order of the third segment will be the starting order for the final 10-lap segment
Once the field takes a lap behind the pace car before starting the fourth and final segment every car must come down pit road and do a four-tire stop. The order in which the cars exit pit road will be the way they will start the 10-lap sprint with only green flag laps counting.
The format isn’t the only unique aspect of the event; the way the field is made up is also unique to the sport as it guarantees a star-studded lineup of drivers. The easiest way for a driver to be included in the field is to have won a race either last season or this season. Sixteen drivers will make the field by winning during this time frame, and the list of those drivers read like a who’s who of the sport. You also have a few drivers like Brad Kieslowski and David Reutimann who both won the first-ever races of their careers last season and are still being rewarded with an automatic starting spot on Saturday night.
Now, just because a driver hasn’t won in the last two years doesn’t completely shut the door on making it into the field. Drivers who have won either the event or the series championship in the last 10 years also gain automatic entry into the field. This includes past champion Bobby Labonte and past race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both of these drivers posted those wins in 2000, which makes this their last year of automatically being included in the starting field.
Counting Labonte and Dale Jr., the field is guaranteed 18 starters but three more drivers will have one last chance to make the show. Immediately preceding the race is the Sprint Showdown 40-lap race that will award both the first- and second-place finishers automatic entry into the night’s featured event. Joining those two drivers as the last driver to make the field is the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote. Sprint has been conducting voting for this slot for several weeks with the winner to be announced just before the start of the race.
Everything about the race is unique to the sport. Both the setting of the field and the foursegment format ensure a highly competitive event that is fueled further by the large check that awaits the winner. The combination of a million dollar check and no worry of points will make a driver make a move that he normally would not. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, either way it is what makes the race so exciting and entertaining.
Race Preview — Event: NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5- mile oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: May 22, 9 p.m. TV: Speed. Radio: MRN. Defending Champion: Tony Stewart.