When Charlotte was battling five other cities including Daytona Beach, which just happens to be the home of NASCAR, to build the sport’s official Hall of Fame, one of its selling points was that the Charlotte area was home to 90 percent of the Nextel Cup teams. All you have to do is go spend a weekend in Charlotte and you will soon see there aren’t enough hours in the day to see every shop and racing-related facility.
That’s why any time the series makes a stop at Charlotte’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway the atmosphere always has a little more electricity to it. Everyone that makes a living in the sport wants to experience the bragging rights of winning in his own backyard. Daytona will always be the king, especially in February, but May in Charlotte holds its own special place in the sport.
Like Daytona, Charlotte enjoys two consecutive weekends of racing with the first weekend of racing featuring a race that offers no points and has its own unique format. Daytona has the Budweiser Shootout for pole winners of the previous season and Charlotte has its Nextel All- Star Challenge that features an elite field of 21 drivers composed of past race winners. The only exceptions are one driver who is voted into the field by the fans and the second-place driver of the Open that is held immediately prior to the Challenge.
Just like gaining entry into the Challenge, the race’s format is unique to the sport. This year’s event will feature 80 laps broken up into four 20-lap segments. The teams can pit their cars after the first segment and there will be a 10-minute break between the second and third segments in which every car will come on pit road for service. After the third segment is over there will be a mandatory pit stop, which should set up an all-out 20-lap dash to the finish line.
The winner of the Challenge will pocket just over $1 million, which is plenty enough incentive to make a driver make a move he normally wouldn’t even think of if he was racing for points. The large check the winner takes home is just the beginning. By the time the final lap is in the books the following Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600, track President Humpy Wheeler will have signed checks worth $14.5 million for the eight races held at the Speedway and The Dirt Track. (Owned by the Speedway, located across the street.)
By the time the Cup series leaves the track after the 600, there will have been checkered flags waved for the Challenge, Craftsman Truck Series, Busch Series, SCCA Speed World Challenge GT Series, The World of Outlaws, Goodyear Fastrak Challenge and the Cup Series. And if that isn’t enough racing, there will also be a race between Cup Series crew chiefs just prior to the beginning of the All-Star Challenge. If you are a race fan you can see there is definitely plenty of racing to get you to call Charlotte home for a couple of days or even a week.
Jr.’s journal – You don’t think that any article on the sport could end without a word or two about Dale Jr. and his as of yet unannounced future?
Yes, you could definitely say his announcement last week was the official beginning of the sport’s silly season. No matter how many races Michael Waltrip misses or how many trips Tony Stewart makes to the big white hauler, they will not have to worry about stealing any headlines away from where Jr.’s travels will land him next year.
Jr. may have already made a deal about where he will be in ’08 or he might be going to take a little time before talking to owners about what might be out there for him next season. Either way, it has put the sport back in the spotlight as far as the national media are concerned. His announcement he was leaving DEI was headline news on all of the daily news reports and, while it may be a little unsettling for his big red nation of fans, the headlines are great for the sport at a time when TV ratings continue to fall with every broadcast.
The sport is definitely lacking something as there are no great rivalries and one manufacturer (Chevrolet) is dominating. Jr. not only holds his future in his hands, but also to a certain extent the future of the sport that desperately needs him to compete for both wins and titles on a regular basis.
Race Preview – Event: NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge.
Track: Lowe’s Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval with 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: May 19, 8 p.m. TV: Speed. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.