Wednesday at Charlotte: One ‘hump’ day that works for us

May 16, 2006 2:24 AM

This week is NASCAR’s version of the All-Star game at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The series of exhibition races are all about cash and have no bearing on the season point total. Total prize money for the Nextel Open and All-Star Challenge is over $4.25 million. The overall winner of the event receives over $1 million in cash on the spot.

Needless to say, unlike other All-Star sports events, these guys will show no mercy and will give it their all.

Here’s how it works. Every car owner and driver to win a Cup race in 2005 is eligible to start in the All-Star Challenge. There are a few other ways a driver can get in automatically. If he has won the Challenge or a Nextel Cup championship within the last 10 years, he’s in. If a driver wins the Nextel Open qualifier, he’s in. Finally, a driver can gain entry if the fans vote him in.

Of all the participants in the Nextel Open that don’t win, the fans have all the say in who makes the field. If there was a way to wager on fan voting, I’d lay $10 that Martin Truex Jr gets approved.

Most sports books offer wagers on both the Open and Challenge. Station Casinos and the Hilton books list matchups for both races. The strategy when approaching each race is a bit different from the normal weekly process. In the Challenge there are three separate segments, with stops in between.

It’s a frantic pace, with not one driver waiting for the race to come to him. They have to go out and get it, not to mention, there is $1 million at stake which heightens the pace.

During the week the President of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Humpy Wheeler, will make his annual selection to win the race. Be sure to take notice of who this man picks — he is correct almost every year.

Humpy’s selection has won nine of the last 16 years since he’s been going public with his choice. If I had to wager on Humpy’s selection this year, I’d go with Kasey Kahne or Kevin Harvick.

The funny thing about Humpy’s pick is that it isn’t just a guess and there for publicity’s sake. Humpy is a smooth investigator. He sniffs through every garage in Charlotte looking for an edge. He asks just about every driver, crew chief, and car owner how they feel, like, looks fast, may surprise. He’s has the data from the May 2-3 Charlotte test sessions that should give him a peek into who’s ready.

Finally, after all that, he can look at all the results from this year’s races at the similar tracks of Atlanta and Texas. It would definitely be wise to take notice of his pick. He generally makes his pick by Wednesday in the week leading up to the All Star race.

In those races at Atlanta and Texas, Kahne dominated. He sat on the pole in both races and won each one. Mark Martin was impressive in both races with finishing second and ninth respectively. Tony Stewart also made a great showing with a third and fifth.

The driver favored to win the Challenge is Jimmie Johnson due to his tremendous run in all Charlotte point races. Johnson has won five of the last six events in Charlotte, most being long runs. This is a shorty. Never count Jimmie out, but this one will be tougher on him than next week’s Coca-Cola 600.

We’ll go with Greg Biffle to win followed by Kurt Busch. Bobby Labonte should have a good showing to the fans delight.

Bump day with 32?

An example of how far Indy racing and the 500 have fallen in America is examining the entry list for this year’s event. Through Sunday evening, there were only 32 names listed on the entry list. Always, 33 drivers have started the race.

It should make the day called "bump day" real exciting because there will be no one to bump. There are a few cars entered without a driver’s name. Speculation has John Andretti possibly taking a ride.

We’re all still waiting for Las Vegan veteran drivers Richie Hearn, Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, or Alex Tagliani to jump in one of those cars.

Two cars entered without a driver are owned by Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi, who happen to have cars with the four fastest times during Indy practice last week.

Jarrett to Toyota

Michael Waltrip’s Toyota team has signed Dale Jarrett for the 2007 season in a move that Ford is not happy about. Rumors are spreading that Ward Burton, who hasn’t driven a Cup car in two seasons, would take over the No. 88 Ford Fusion for Robert Yates.

Can you imagine the comedic discussions between possible teammates Burton and fellow Virginian, Elliott Sadler?

Test session times

Whatever you do, don’t go betting the house on David Stremme to win the Coca-Cola. However, it’s something to definitely keep your eye on. Could be on to something.

The times that I take seriously occurred on the first day of testing at night, where Clint Bowyer led the charge. Those times by Childress, Gibbs, and Hendrick cars all are in line with similar tracks.

The real disappointment of the bunch was Kahne, who was 37th fastest of all the drivers despite all his success at Texas and Atlanta. He tested at night on the second day, where the top three overall times were recorded.