The month of May on the Sprint Cup schedule seems to be all about tradition as we are treated to stops at Richmond, Darlington and Charlotte. Richmond has its throwback short track Saturday night race and everything about Darlington from its odd egg-shaped layout to its awarding of those famous Darlington “stripes” takes you back to the early days of the sport.
The tradition will continue as this weekend’s running of the annual NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race will kick off Charlotte’s Speedweeks at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. This will be the 24th edition of the race and all but one of them has been held at the speedway. The lone exception was in 1986 when Bill Elliott won the event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Since that race, Lowe’s Motor Speedway and the city of Charlotte have done an awesome job of making the race the special event it was intended to be. Track President Humpy Wheeler continues to tweak the race’s schedule each year to make sure there is plenty of racing at the track on both Friday and Saturday as well as live entertainment for the entire family.
That’s just part of the excitement that makes up the sport’s special weekend – the real drawing card is the race itself and the drivers that take the green flag. The field is composed of past winners in the sport and the fastest way for a driver to gain entry into the event is by winning a race during the current year or the preceding year. Saturday night’s edition of the race will feature 17 drivers who have won a race either during this season or the 2007 season.
Joining those drivers will be Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte, who gain entry into the field by being past Sprint Cup champions. That raises the number of drivers to 19 in the field and that number swells to 21 when you add Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who both make the field because they are past winners of the event.
While those drivers are already guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup, there is still a chance for a couple of other drivers to earn a spot on the prestigious starting grid by racing their way in. Immediately before the All-Star Race, the Sprint Showdown will be held for any driver that finished in the top 50 at the end of the 2007 season. The race will consist of two 20-lap segments with both the winner and second-place finisher moving on to the featured race.
The final spot in the race will be the result of a fan vote sponsored by Sprint. Fans can call in this week and vote for the driver they would like to see in the race. Past winners of the fan vote have included Kenny Wallace and Kyle Petty.
As you can see, just making this race is something special and the same can be said about the event’s unusual format. The race will consist of 100 laps of racing divided into four 25-lap segments. Between the first and second segments there will be a caution flag thrown which will allow drivers to come in for a pit stop, but they will not retain their positions where they finished the first segment, instead they will start at the rear of the field according to when they left pit road.
Between the second and third segments there will be a 10- minute break and every car will come on pit road for service. Only routine service will be allowed during this stop (fuel, tires and chassis adjustments) and the starting order for the third segment will be the same as the finishing order of the second segment.
The final break in the action between the third and final segment will consist of a caution flag that will require every car to come down pit road for at least a stop-and-go pit stop. The starting order for the fourth and final segment will be according to the order the cars left pit road.
As you can see, there is nothing routine about this night of racing. When you throw in the fact that no points are up for grabs and the winner takes home a million dollars, it is easy to see why drivers might take chances they normally wouldn’t. That’s just the All-Star Race and this unique night of racing is what makes it one of the most anticipated stops on the entire schedule.
Race Preview – Event: NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
Track: Lowe’s Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval with 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: May 17, 9 p.m. TV: Speed. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Kevin Harvick.