$1 Million All-Star Race takes place Saturday

$1 Million All-Star Race takes place Saturday

May 16, 2017 3:05 AM


NASCAR’s All-Star Race takes place Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s an exhibition race that offers no points, but the winner takes home a big $1 million check.

Even though this race is similar to a normal race weekend, an amenity every Cup Series driver – most live in the Charlotte area – likes about the Monster Energy All-Star weekend is they’ll be sleeping on their own pillows over the next two weeks with the Coca-Cola 600 running next weekend at Charlotte as well. It’s like the start of a mini-vacation after being on the road, staying in hotels and buses for the past 13 weeks.

As a fan I enjoy the All-Star race because I always feel like I get a maximum effort out of every team. No one is racing for points and they all want that big check. They let it all hang out and use up everything their car has to give. I also like that it’s only the best of the best. No jalopies to get in the way here.

The only way to be eligible for the race is by being a winner between the 2016 and 2017 seasons or a past All-Star Race winner. That’s a total of 16 drivers. Every other driver can race themself in by winning one of the three stages in the Monster Energy Open qualifying race. Then, whoever is left the fans can choose who they want to fill the 20th and final spot in the All-Star Race.

The format of the All-Star Race has a total of 70 laps broken up into four stages (20 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps,  10 laps). During the final 10 laps the field will be cut down to 10 drivers, who will qualify by having the best average finish during the first three stages. Winning any of the first three stages also qualifies a driver into the final stage, a 10-lap dash for the cash.

So just who is the most likely to be holding that big check up in the air when that 10-lap dash is over?

We’ve had four races on 1.5-mile tracks this season and I think we can take a piece of each and incorporate it into a handicapping process. The layout closest to Charlotte’s is its sister track in Atlanta because of the similar steep banking. Brad Keselowski won that race, but Kevin Harvick dominated, leading 292 of the 325 laps.

The one negative with putting too much emphasis on Atlanta is that it was the first race of the season on a 1.5-mile track. A lot has happened since then and the teams have all learned on the fly how to best approach this new low downforce package.

Martin Truex Jr. appears to have it figured out the best since he won at Las Vegas and last week at Kansas. Jimmie Johnson got the win at Texas in the other race on 1.5s. Johnson has four All-Star race wins over his career.

The stand out in all four situations was Kyle Larson with three runner-ups and sixth-place. Keselowski and last year’s All-Star Race winner Joey Logano have also shown to have a decided edge over most of the field.

A driver that will have to race himself in to qualify is Ryan Blaney, who led 83 laps last week at Kansas. He’s got the type of stuff that could actually win the race. If he did win, he’d be the second driver to win his first career Cup race in the All-Star, which would be ironic because the first driver to do it, Michael Waltrip, also drove the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.