The NASCAR Sprint Cup teams won’t have to do any traveling over the next two weeks, because their next two races will be at Charlotte, NC, where most every driver and crew member resides.
Saturday night is the All-Star race where $1 million will be on the line for the winner to take home, and then the following week will be season’s longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend.
Charlotte’s 1½-mile high banked layout gives all the Cup teams another chance to see if they can beat anyone from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable. Between Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, they have won at all three 1½-mile tracks this season. The duo also won at California’s 2-mile track and Darlington’s 1.336-mile track. That’s five tracks that require the most horsepower to get around than any other run so far, and five wins total for team Gibbs.
They may be batting 1.000 on the season, but when $1 million is up for grabs and there are no points involved like Saturday’s All-Star race, things figure to get very interesting. Busch, Kenseth and now with Denny Hamlin back in the mix, will all be the drivers to beat, but their competitors will not think twice about knocking them around.
Unlike other sports’ All-Star events where they go through the motions, and don’t play any defense, making their event look nothing like the sport they play, NASCAR’s All-Star gala usually produces better racing than we’ll see all season just because no one has to play it safe and no points are involved.
And then they have that dangling carrot of $1 million to chase.
To be eligible for the All-Star event, a driver has to have won a points race in either 2012 or 2013, won the All-Star or a Sprint Cup title within the last 10 years. For all others who don’t meet the criteria, they can race themselves in by finishing first or second in the Sprint Showdown, a 40-lap qualifier prior to the All-Star. The last way a driver can get in is by fan voting.
The actual All-Star race format is cut into five segments, making it similar to the action packed Saturday night specials fans have become used to at their local tracks. The first four segments are 20 laps followed the final one of 10.
Teams will have a mandatory four-tire change pit stop between segment four and five, and the starting lineup for the final segment is based on average finish position between the first four. The $1 million pay-day for 90-laps makes it the richest per mile purse in Motorsports at $7,400 per mile.
To spruce things up a bit, and add even more incentive, Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Bruton Smith, who owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, has added a bonus $1 million in any driver can win all five segments.
Bruton’s Big Bonus may have seemed like far-fetched thing to achieve before the season started, but with the way Busch and Kenseth have dominated on these types, he might be in serious jeopardy of actually having to pay out the bonus.
Most Las Vegas sports books will post odds on both the Sprint Showdown and All-Star race. For the two drivers to advance by finishing with in the top-2 of Sprint Showdown, look For Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard. Truex Jr. has finished eighth or better on the three 1½-mile tracks this season, including runner-up at Texas and fourth at Kansas. Menard finished 10th at both Las Vegas and Kansas.
For the All-Star race itself, there really is nowhere else to look than Kenseth or Busch. Hamlin could be considered as well just because of being part of the team that has figured out the Gen-6 car the best thus far. The one outsider that has been almost as good as Gibbs’ on these type of tracks has been Kasey Kahne, runner-up to Kenseth at Las Vegas and Kansas. He should fare well again.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].