A Mother’s Day weekend race might be a hard sell for some of the tracks that make up the Sprint Cup Series but for Darlington it has become the perfect weekend to hold its only race of the season. Mark Martin took the checkered flag on Saturday night, but not until there was a track record 17 caution flags waving for a total of 73 laps.
The track, which is known for awarding its famous ‘Darlington Stripes’ anytime a driver brushes up against the outside wall, seemed to pass out more than normal as no driver took the green flag with the notion of a night of giveand take racing. This was one race where every position on the track was earned as no driver was willing to just give up a spot because the car behind him might had been faster.
This kind of racing is tough on the drivers but for fans, it’s the kind of action that keeps you showing up at the track and turning on the TV. This weekend the racing will come from Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile tri-oval, which can’t come close to producing the kind of racing that we see on Darlington’s egg-shaped oval, but it does have one twist that Darlington can’t duplicate.
This weekend’s racing will not be about points and which drivers are in the top-12 once the checkered flag waves. This Saturday is the annual running of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and while there are no points on the line, there is enough cash waiting on the winner to force him to take chances he otherwise would not if he was running for points.
Other than the field being made up of drivers that regularly compete in the Sprint Cup Series, the All-Star event does not resemble what we see at every other stop on the schedule. The race itself is made up of four segments with the first one consisting of a total of 50 laps with a mandatory green flag pit stop on lap 25 when every car has to change four tires.
The second segment is 20 laps in length and is followed by an optional pit stop. Segment three follows with another 20 laps of racing leading to a 10-minute break, which allows the pit crews to provide any service to the car that would take place during a normal pit stop.
The finishing order of the third segment sets the field for the fourth and final segment that is only 10 laps in length. Each of these laps has to be run under the green flag to count, which all but guarantees a great finish.
Setting the field for the event is every bit as unique as the format of the race. Maybe the easiest way to gain entry into the field is by being a winner of a Sprint Cup race during the 2008 season or by being a winner this season. There are 16 drivers now guaranteed a spot in the field by winning during this span, with the newest member of the field being Brad Keselowski who won at Talladega a couple of weeks ago.
Bobby Labonte will make the field for the race by being a past Sprint Cup winner. The championship has to be within the last 10 years and Bobby won his title in 2000. Also, past winners of the All- Star race within the last 10 years gain automatic entry which puts Kevin Harvick (2007) and Terry Labonte (1999) safely in the field.
The remaining drivers that are not locked into the starting field for the event will have the opportunity to race their way in by competing in the 40-lap Sprint Showdown that is held immediately before the All-Star Race. Both the winner and runner up move into the featured event of the night, raising the size of the field to 21.
The 22nd and final starting spot is reserved for one driver that will be selected by the fans. This method of entry into the field shouldn’t be overlooked as Kasey Kahne gained entry into the field of the 2008 All-Star event thanks to the votes of the fans, and rewarded their efforts by being crowned the champion!
The star-studded field and unique format combined with a million dollar check for the winner without the worry of running for points is definitely the recipe for a great night of racing.
Race Preview — Event : NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Track: Lowe’s Motor Speedway (1.5 mile tri-oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: May 16, Sprint Showdown begins 7:30 p.m. followed by the All-Star Race at 9 p.m. TV: Speed. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Kasey Kahne.