It’s that time of the year again: the annual break in the traditional NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule for the Sprint All Star weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
[media-credit id=41 align=”alignright” width=”280″][/media-credit]For decades the other major American sports has observed this time honored tradition of creating a special day comprised of their best athletes who passed certain eligibility criteria for the right to play in this game. In 1985 NASCAR decided it was time for them to create their very own All Star exhibition. 26 races later it has turned into one of the most exciting, no holes barred, free for all ever seen by sports fans on national television.
There are at least one million reasons to watch the NASCAR Sprint All Star Race this Saturday night. That would be the one million dollar paycheck the winner is going to receive at the end of the evening. When it comes to that level of racing purse, there will be no consideration for team mates. There will not be a second’s worth of angst over shoving a friend and colleague out of the way. The truth be known, these competitors would use the bump and run on their grandparents to earn the prestige of winning this event and the money that comes with it.
You also have to consider the fact that the All Star Race has no impact on the driver’s championship points standings. That means they will be free to race as hard as they want to with virtually no consequences to deal with after the race is over. It’s very possible that this race is going to push NASCAR’s “Have At It Boys” policy over the top.
THE ELIGIBILITY BREAKDOWN
The 2011 NASCAR Sprint All Star Race will have a field of 22 cars Saturday night. There were six different levels of criteria to make this race:
1. Any driver who won a race during the 2010 season or any event so far in 2011 is automatically in the race.
2. Any NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion from the past ten years will receive a past champion’s provisional.
3. Any driver who has won the Sprint All Star Race over the past ten years.
4. The winner of Saturday night’s preliminary race known as the Sprint Showdown.
5. The driver who finishes second in the Sprint Showdown.
6. The winner of the annual fan vote competition.
THE ALL STAR FORMAT BREAKDOWN
The NASCAR Sprint All Star Race will be run in four different segments totaling 100 laps. The initial starting line up will be based on qualifying to be held on Friday, 6 pm eastern time. Even the qualifying format is unique for this race. The drivers will turn three laps around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, somewhere in the midst of those three laps, they must come down pit road to complete a four tire pit stop.
SEGMENT ONE: 50 laps with a mandatory green flag, four tire, pit stop on lap 25. At the conclusion of the segment the yellow flag will be presented and teams will have an option of coming back to pit road if needed.
SEGMENT TWO: 20 laps. Again, a yellow flag will also conclude this segment and teams will be presented the option of coming to pit road.
SEGMENT THREE: 20 laps. At the conclusion of this segment there will be a ten minute break to allow teams to make standard adjustments to their cars. The finishing order of this segment will determine the starting line up for the fourth, and final, segment.
SEGMENT FOUR. The ten lap shootout. At the start of this segment the teams will turn one lap behind the pace car and will then come down pit road for a mandatory, four tire, pit stop. The pit road exit order will determine the line up for this final segment. Segment four will be ten green flag laps, yellow flag laps will not be counted.
This is the “go time” point of the race where drivers will be laying all of their cards on the table to show what they have and what they’re willing to do in order to win this race.
THE SPRINT SHOWDOWN FORMAT BREAKDOWN
This event is open to NASCAR Sprint teams who did not meet the official criteria for a guaranteed starting berth in the All Star Race. This race is NASCAR’s ultimate B main, or last chance, race. It’s 20 laps with only the top two finishers earning a transfer spot to the All Star Race. This event alone has turned out some exciting racing over the years.
In last year’s event, driver Martin Truex Jr, #56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, and Greg Biffle, #16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, earned the two coveted transfer spots.
To be eligible for this race a driver must be ranked withing the top 50 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship points standings. Additionally a driver must have competed in a Sprint Cup event during the 2010 season or attempted to qualify for last February’s Daytona 500.
This year 43 teams were eligible to compete in the Sprint Showdown with 28 teams signing entry blanks for Saturday night’s race. That entry list features some impressive names, very capable of winning this race, including: Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Marcus Ambrose, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton, A J Allmendinger, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr, Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
THE FAN VOTE BREAKDOWN
The final starting berth, for Saturday night’s Sprint All Star Race, will be based on fan voting and driver popularity. The voting process began back on March 23d with a record setting 1.5 million voters plus already participating.
The top ten drivers in the voting process are: A J Allmendinger, Marcus Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Brad Keselowski, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, David Ragan and Brian Vickers.
Before you start reading too much into that, you have to be aware that NASCAR and Sprint released the top ten in alphabetical order based on driver last name. They are protecting the identity of the fan favorite until after the Sprint Showdown race.
However, there’s another reason for the secrecy: the voting period isn’t over yet. Votes will be taken all the way to Saturday evening, 5 pm eastern time. Fans can continue to vote by using their Sprint Mobile application, “NASCAR Dot Com” or voting at the Sprint Experience display center located in the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s midway area. For Sprint customers, every wireless vote submitted from a Sprint, Nextel, Boost Mobile or Virgin Mobile device counts double in the driver vote totals.
The fact that the fan favorite will be announced prior to the start of the All Star Race creates a special driver criteria. Those eligible for the fan vote will still have to race in the 20 lap Sprint Showdown, they must finish the race on the lead lap and must still have a raceable car to transfer into the All Star event.
How viable is this fan vote? Ask driver Kasey Kahne. In 2008, Kahne made the Sprint All Star Race line up based on fan vote and went on to win the race and the million dollars.
By the way, does anyone else think the fan phenomenon known as the Junior Nation will rise to the occasion and work their cell phones to insure that their favorite guy, Dale Earnhardt Jr, gets to race in the All Star event? Yeah, so do I.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
With that level of prestige and cash on the line Saturday there will be, of course, story lines connected to the Sprint All Star Race. The main story line will be: can we expect to see “Have It Boys” stretched to the breaking point during and especially after the race? That’s highly likely and expect to see it develop during that final ten lap shoot out.
However, something very unique to “Have At It Boys” developed on Tuesday via a statement from Marcus Smith, President of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. With the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule, the Coca Cola 600, also being at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, it’s definitely in Smith’s best interest to see some “Have At It Boys” match ups this weekend especially after the race. Any form of driver temper tantrums will certainly sell tickets for the Coke 600.
In a press release, that would make P T Barnum smile, Smith announced that if any driver received a fine from NASCAR for exceeding the limits, whatever they are, of the “Have At It Boys” policy then the Speedway will pay those fines. This is almost tantamount to the “get out of jail free” card from the Monopoly game. It’s also brilliant marketing.
Smith has also created a special advertising campaign regarding the current feud between drivers Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch that was launched in the aftermath of the Darlington race. The speedway is promoting a poster that displays a picture of their two cars making contact with the caption: “it gets settled in the race for $1 million.”
However, the general consensus seems to be don’t look for Harvick and Busch to get too close to each other Saturday night. Both drivers are currently serving a four race probation period. However the argument against that states that the probation only applies to the next four points paying Sprint Cup Races. Again, the All Star Race is a non points event. Despite the fact that there has been no real visible effort between these drivers to shake hands and declare a truce, one has to wonder if their thoughts are now returning to making the Chase.
The other general feeling is Marcus Smith won’t be leaving his speedway disappointed Saturday night. This race is just too famous for bruised egos and wadded up race cars. Someone’s going to get mad Saturday night and someone’s going to try to get even. It’s the nature of the beast.
It will also be very interesting to observe the decisions made by the crew chiefs during Saturday night’s race. This is an opportunity for them to experiment with exotic race set ups and subsequent adjustments. If they discover a winning formula then it could turn out to be a gold mine when they return the following weekend for the running of the Coca Cola 600.
Over the past several weeks we’ve seen a lot of miscues from teams during pit stops that has proved to be costly in terms of track position. It will be imperative that the pit stops run smoothly Saturday night for a driver to put himself in position to win that million dollars. The most common of these miscues has been pit road speeding and that’s an important area drivers will have to focus on when coming in for service. The pit road speed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway is 45 MPH.
The fans of Jimmie Johnson may experience a brief moment of confusion prior to the All Star Race. That’s because Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will have the #5 on it instead of the traditional #48. It also means that Mark Martin, Johnson’s team mate, will temporarily change his number from 5 to 25 Saturday night.
The change is in conjunction with a special promotion by Johnson’s long time primary sponsor, Lowe’s Home Improvement stores, who are offering five percent discounts on purchases at their stores when using their Lowe’s credit cards.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Sprint All Star Race, as well as the Sprint Showdown, are 100 laps/150 miles and 20 laps/30 miles respectively. around the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 1.5 mile quad oval complete with its steep 24 degrees of banking in the turns.
There has been 26 Sprint All Star Races in the past. The first was held in 1985, at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, and was won by Bill Elliot. From that point the race was relocated to its present home at Charlotte.
Those 26 races have sent 18 different winners to victory lane. This highly competitive event has seen seven winners in the last seven races.
The win list is led by Dale Earnhardt Sr and Jeff Gordon who are the only three time winners of the event. Hendrick Motorsports leads the team win category at six based on three wins from Jeff Gordon, two from Jimmie Johnson and one from Terry Labonte.
84 different drivers have competed in at least one All Star Race over the 26 years. Mark Martin leads that list with 21 appearances. The race entry has ranged from ten, in 1986, to 27 back in 2002.
The Sprint All Star Race appears to possibly be somewhat of an omen. Five previous race winners have gone on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship that same year. That prestigious list includes Darrell Waltrip-1985, Dale Earnhardt Sr-1987-1990-1993, Rusty Wallace-1989, Jeff Gordon-1995-1997-2001 and Jimmie Johnson-2006.
The Weather appears to be basically good for the weekend. The National Weather Service forecast for the Charlotte area calls for sunny skies Friday and Saturday with daytime highs ranging from 81 to 85 degrees. However, the All Star Race is a night time event and Saturday night’s forecast calls for cloudy conditions with an over night low of 51 degrees. That could present an interesting challenge for crew chiefs.
The Sprint All Star Race will be presented live by the SPEED Channel beginning at 7 pm eastern time.