The Sprint Cup Series will call Charlotte Motor Speedway home for the next two weekends as the track will host the Sprint All-Star Race this weekend followed by one of the crown jewels on the schedule in the Coca-Cola 600. Both events are unique in their own way as the Sprint All-Star Race has its own unique format and the 600 is the longest race on the schedule. It begins in the day but does not wave its checkered flag until long after the sun has set.
This weekend’s All-Star race offers a welcome change to both the drivers and the fans as every aspect about the event with the exception of the actual racing is different from what we witness at every other stop on the schedule. Saturday night the winner will not get an automatic entry into the Chase and there will be no precious Sprint Cup points awarded, but the winner will take home a check worth a million dollars.
Just making it into the race is an accomplishment because the easiest way for a driver to get himself into the starting field is by winning. Thirteen of the 20 drivers that will take the green flag on Saturday gained entry into the race by winning a Sprint Cup race this season or during the 2014 season.
Winning the Sprint Cup championship will also guarantee a driver’s spot in the starting field, but only Tony Stewart will gain entry by this criteria as the remaining past champions all made the field by visiting a victory lane either this season or last. Stewart will actually be one of seven past champions in the field as he will join Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
Joining Stewart and the past race winners will be three drivers that made the field by being a past winner of the Sprint All-Star Race. Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman will bring the total number of drivers in the field to 17 with the remaining three spots up for grabs in Friday night’s Sprint Showdown. The Showdown consists of two 20- lap segments for drivers that are not automatically qualified for the main event on Saturday. The winner of each segment will automatically gain entry into the big event the following night.
The last spot in the field is reserved for the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote that allows the fans the opportunity to vote for their favorite driver. The voting remains open at www.NASCAR. com/sprintfanvote, until Friday at 7 p.m. The winner of the vote will be announced at the track in victory lane after the Sprint Showdown on Friday.
The unique method used to set the field is also mirrored by the uniqueness of the race’s format. It’s definitely not your usual 400- or 500-mile event. The race will consist of a total of five segments: four 25-lap segments, with the average finish of the first four segments determining the order cars will enter pit road for a mandatory four-tire pit stop following the fourth segment. The order of the cars returning to the track following the mandatory pit stop determines the starting order for a final winner-take-all 10-lap segment.
The format was designed to try and ensure that there would be a thrilling no-holds-bar finish, but the finishes of late have not lived up to the hype. Since the track was repaved in 2006, there has been only one lead change during the final five laps of the event. The last three All-Star Races had the winner leading the final 10 laps.
Although it may not end up as a “checkers or wreckers” type event, the talent level of the starting field, the unique five-segment format and a big check should provide everything needed for a great night of racing.
Race Preview Event: Sprint All-Star Race Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile quad-oval, 24oof banking in the turns) Date: May 16, 9 p.m. TV: FOX Sports 1 Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Jamie McMurray