NASCAR makes All-Star race work

May 17, 2005 6:36 AM

This weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway near Charlotte, NASCAR holds its version of an All-Star event. The only real similarity to some of the other major sports all-star events is that it is an exhibition. Drivers will not get any points, but that’s where any comparison ends.

Unlike the NBA, NFL, or Baseball All-Star weekend, these players actually care about what happens on the field or, in this case, the track. Baseball attempted to make the game more interesting by having the result determine what league received home field advantage in the World Series. Yeah, about eight percent of the participating players care about that.

We’ll all reflect on those classic baseball calls, "The American League the wins the All-Star game and will now be hosting the World Series in three months." Simply riveting! This was done only as an after thought following the disaster in Milwaukee when baseball’s mid-summer classic ended in a dreadful tie.

The NBA and MLB can’t get its top players to even compete in some of the all-star festivities. In the Pro Bowl, football players only go at 80 percent speed. But what should the fans expect, it’s a mere exhibition.

How about if you offered $1 million dollars to the winner? Might that change the grand scheme of things and the competitive nature of the event? You bet it would! Players have clauses in the contracts that give them bonuses for making an all-star team, but nothing for how they perform.

It’s got to be an exciting feeling for the 22 drivers involved in this week’s NASCAR Nextel All Star Challenge knowing that if they cross the finish line after 90 laps, they’ll pocket $1 million. That’s almost twice as much more money for winning than any points race other than the Daytona 500. That excitement and "dash for the cash" makes it the premier sporting all-star event, at least in this person’s opinion.

The main race breaks up into three segments.The first stage is 40 laps, then they break for 10 minutes, invert a few cars, and start the second segment consisting of 30 laps. The final segment is a 20-lap dash.

Picking a driver to win is just as tough as all the other races, but your chances of getting a bad beat are reduced because there are no clunkers involved. They are the best of the best and based on a few things, you can narrow it down to a handful that are going to be tough to beat.

Greg Biffle (5-1): Stands out coming into the race. He’s won three races on the season, but more importantly, he’s performed well where the races have relevance to this track. The two sister tracks of Lowe’s Motor Speedway that are nearly identical are Atlanta and Texas. Biffle won at Texas and finished third in Atlanta already this season. In a Charlotte test session earlier this month, Biffle posted the third fastest time. He is the charmed driver on the season and we’ve seen the charmed driver do well in these races over the last few seasons.

Jimmie Johnson (7-2) and Jeff Gordon (4-1): Johnson won this race two years ago and has taken three of the last four Cup races in Charlotte. Also, it’s his sponsors’ home track. Johnson didn’t take part in the testing at Lowe’s because Gordon was taking all the notes needed for the new surface. Of all the cars testing, Gordon smoked the field by going almost three miles an hour faster than anyone else. They’ll be scary in this race and deserve to be the favorites.

Kasey Kahne (6-1) won his first career race last week at Richmond and should be ready to carry that momentum over into this race. Because of the sprints, Kahne should be suited very well for it.

Carl Edwards (10-1): Like Biffle, Edwards has been good on similar tracks, winning in Atlanta when he battled Johnson all the way down to the finish line.

Don’t discount Danica

Following the Indy 500 qualifying session Sunday, Tony Kanaan (10-1) is the pole sitter and a strong bet to win the race. This event will be one of the more competitive Indy 500’s because of all the quality teams led by Kanaan entry of Andretti-Green.

Thus far, after all the practice sessions and qualifying, I’ll stick with the Rahal-Letterman team of Danica Patrick (10-1), Vitor Meira (14-1), and last year’s Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice (15-1). Rice still has to qualify next week because of an accident he was in during practice, but he should be okay for the race.

Some are dismissing Patrick as a possible candidate because she’s a woman and the best a lady driver has ever done at Indy is ninth. However, this is the best car a woman has ever driven and she proved it by being consistently fast every day of practice. If she ended up winning the race, it would be the biggest feat accomplished by a woman in sports history.

Being a woman will not be what wins or loses this race for her, it will be more about how much she can deal with the spotlight and her lack of experience. So far Patrick is doing an exemplary job and handling all the demands. I hope she does it.

Next week: A final Indy preview.

Next week: A final Indy preview.