The greatest All-Star event in sports takes place Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway when the best of the best go head-to-head with $1 million awarded to the winner.
While the NHL, NBA and NFL versions of the All-Star game feature no defense and can sometimes be laughable, the NASCAR version is intense with such a large purse at stake. There are no points and no jalopies on the track to get in the way. It’s just a flat out 113 lap dash for cash – racing the way it ought to be.
The format is a little different from years past, but eligibility is the same. There are 11 drivers that get automatic invites from winning in the current and preceding season. Tony Stewart gets an invite for being a past Sprint Cup champion and three other drivers are eligible for winning past All-Star events.
There are four other drivers invited that have to race their way in to the All-Star event during Friday’s qualifying Sprint Showdown which is a 50-lap dash. There are 30 drivers and one invite will be given to the winner of the first two 20-lap segments and then another to the final 10-lap dash. Among the 27 drivers remaining, fans can vote one of them in – good bet it’ll be Danica Patrick – which will give the All-Star race a total of 19 drivers.
The All-Star race has two 50-lap segments and then a 13-lap dash for the cash where only green flag laps count. Prior to the final 13-lap dash, a random draw will decide whether the top nine, 10 or 11 cars must enter pit road for a mandatory four-tire pit stop.
Pit road will be closed for all other cars which will makes the ones up front racing on older tires while those with fresh tires will start further back. It’s a nice wrinkle that should provide some intense moments with differing strategies.
Is it better to be up front with only 13 laps to go and worn tires, or is there enough time for the fresh tires to make up the difference? My money would be on fresh tires at Charlotte with 13 laps to go, but we’ll have to see.
Even though the format is much different from a normal race and there is more randomness involved because of the draw, it’s still a fun race to wager on. You can get a head start on who should offer the best value just by looking at the four races on 1.5-mile tracks this season.
Jimmie Johnson won at Atlanta, Brad Keselowski won at Las Vegas and Kyle Busch won on the last two at Texas and Kansas. Busch is the only driver to finish in the top-five of all four races which is why is deserves to be the favorite this week.
All five of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers – including Martin Truex Jr. – should have somewhat of an edge, but with the format in the final 13 laps being kind of weird, that edge is taken away a little bit. I like the value Matt Kenseth will provide. He finally won a race last week at Dover after experiencing all kinds of back luck this season. His first top-five of the season came two weeks ago at Kansas.
The spot where there might be the best chance of hitting a nice score is with Friday’s Sprint Showdown. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson should be considered the favorites, but Ryan Blaney is going to be strong and should find himself winning one of the segments and maybe the race itself. There are far less quality cars in this event than the All-Star race.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].