NASCAR’s All-Star Race not for jalopies

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The 35th annual NASCAR All-Star Race takes place Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a big fat $1 million check going to the winner.

It’s a non-points race so the drivers go all out for the big prize with little regards for ruffling feathers of their colleagues or wrecking themselves. No consequences and $1 million up for grabs always equals a must-see viewing experience. Have at it boys!

The thing I’ve always liked about the All-Star Race besides drivers making daring moves they might not otherwise do is that it’s the best of the best. No Jalopies allowed. There are 15 drivers that have automatically qualified based on winning a race in 2018 or this season or by being a full-time Cup driver that has won a past All-Star race or been a past Cup champion.

There’s a qualifying race first on Saturday called the Monster Energy Open that allows for all other drivers not eligible to race themselves into the featured event. It includes three segments (20 laps/20 laps/10 laps) and the winner of each segment gets a spot in the All-Star Race. 

The final way to get in is to win the fan vote. So that’s 19 total drivers that will participate in the All-Star Race which includes four segments (30 laps/20 laps/20 laps/15 laps).

The one variable that has been tough to handicap the All-Star races is that because it’s a non-points race, NASCAR likes to experiment with new race package set-ups.

Last year’s All-Star race won by Kevin Harvick was from using a package similar to what we’re seeing this season on the 1.5-mile tracks. NASCAR is again testing a new set-up featuring the 550 horsepower package we saw last week at Kansas while also mixing in some elements from the Gen-7 car that’s expected to debut in 2021.

It certainly makes things more difficult to handicap when NASCAR keeps changing the package. This will be the sixth different race package run in 13 races so far this season, but I’m told that the racing should not be all that different from what we saw last week at Kansas.

Because it’s a nice race where the cars get more grip due to the cooler air and making the cars drive almost exactly as intended by NASCAR, we should expect plenty of passing.

If the racing is similar to Kansas, then we have to start with two-time All-Star Race winner Harvick, who led a race-high 104 laps Saturday night before running into some issues and finishing 13th. However, the point was made by his organization with all four Stewart-Haas cars coming off the haulers blazing fast.

SHR brought brand new cars to Kansas and all four qualified in the top four spots and in the final practice, three of the four had the best 10-consecutive lap average.

Hendrick Motorsports also has been flexing their muscles the last three races with Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman scoring top-five finishes in all three races between Talladega, Dover, and Kansas. That’s three completely different packages and also getting Chevrolet’s first win of the season at Talladega with Elliott. Bowman has finished second in the last three races.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has also seen a recent resurgence with HMS finishing sixth last week and fifth at Texas in the previous race on a 1.5-mile track.

If he’s come full circle from missing a win in a season last year for the first time in his career to being a legitimate candidate to win again, you don’t have to worry his resume on the high-banks of Charlotte. No active driver has done better. He holds the all-time NASCAR record with four All-Star wins and he’s got eight other wins in points races at Charlotte with 1,930 laps led.

The Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano should also fare extremely well. Keselowski’s win last week at Kansas was his second on a 1.5-mile and his third of the season to tie Kyle Busch for the series lead.

He’s never won the All-Star Race, but he has won at Charlotte in a points race. Logano won the 2016 All-Star Race and also has a points-paying win at Charlotte. His lone win in 2019 came on the 1.5-mile layout at Las Vegas.

So tally up all the results on 1.5-mile tracks and the scoreboard reads: Penske 3, Joe Gibs Racing and Denny Hamlin 1 (Texas). No SHR cars, who are still winless on the season, and no Kyle Busch who had his record-tying streak of top-10 finishes to start the season halted at 11 with his 30th-place finish at Kansas.

Busch won the 2016 All-Star Race and grabbed his first points-paying race at Charlotte last May to check off every track on the circuit. It was the most dominant performance of 2018 with him winning the pole, winning the first two stages and leading 377 of the 400 laps in the longest race of the season.

As far as The Open qualifying race goes, look for Bowman, Daniel Suarez and William Byron to advance and for Matt DiBenedetto to win the fan vote.

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