NASCAR Sprint Cup teams head to Charlotte for All-Star Race

May 15, 2012 3:06 AM

After traveling back and forth across the country since February, the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams get to sleep in their own beds for the next three weeks at home in Charlotte where most are headquartered.

However, it doesn’t mean they get the next three weeks off from racing because they have two important races held at Charlotte Motor Speedway before heading to Dover in June.

This Saturday night is the NASCAR All-Star race, a night filled with two races that have races within each race with the winner getting over $1 million. Then on Memorial Day weekend the drivers will race in the Coca-Cola 600. 

The difference in the type racing between the two are about as extreme as Talladega is to Martinsville, even though they are both on the same track. 

With the All-Star race you have drivers trying to win at all costs with total disregard for their cars and point standings because there are no points, it’s basically an exhibition race. Whereas in the Coca-Cola, it’s all about the points and trying to finish well and stay out of trouble.

There’s also the big difference in the purse. Last year’s Coca-Cola 600 winner, Kevin Harvick, won $406,786 for taking the checkers which is in stark contrast to the $1.2 million Carl Edwards won for taking the All-Star race a week earlier. Needless to say, it pays to be reckless and let it all hang out and because of that mentality it is one of the most anticipated races of the season.

Fans don’t care about points until the Chase comes around, and even then the points are secondary to rooting for their own driver to win that day. The All-Star race brings out the spirit in drivers that fans wish they saw in every race and a $1 million dangling carrot in front of each driver’s windshield is just enough to give them the show they want.

The format of the race is broken down into two events: The Sprint Showdown is a 40-lap preliminary dash for all drivers that don’t meet the qualifications for the All-Star race.

The first and second-place drivers from that race will get invited into the big event that has all the big names everyone wants to see without any jalopies getting in their way. Then the fans get to vote in one more driver who didn’t finish in the top-2, known as the Dale Earnhardt Jr rule to some, which gives us 23 total drivers to begin the All-Star race.

The criteria to automatically qualify for the All-Star race is drivers who have won in the current or preceding year, drivers who have won the Sprint Cup title in the last 10 years, or drivers who have won an All-Star race the last 10 years. The race itself consists of four 20-lap segments, concluding with a final 10-lap sprint. 

In that 10-lap sprint, the winners from each of the first four segments will be placed up front in starting positions 1-4. This is a new wrinkle in this year’s event to entice drivers to try and race even harder in each of the segments to get the prime position in the final dash, and more importantly, have a much better chance at winning $1 million.

To get a better read on who might fare the best this week, we should take a look at what happened in Las Vegas and Texas which are both sister tracks of Charlotte. Texas and Charlotte are probably the most similar as far as similar setups go.

The driver at the top of the list begins with Greg Biffle who won at Texas and finished third in Las Vegas. Jimmie Johnson finished runner-up at both tracks and won the All-Star race in 2004. Tony Stewart won at Las Vegas and then faded at Texas, but also has a 2009 All-Star trophy and check in his back pocket.

A couple of drivers I would be surprised not to see compete well this week are Martin Truex Jr, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin from the Michael Waltrip stables. Martin and Truex Jr each had the look of winners in their Texas runs and both should find themselves with high odds making them too tempting to pass on. Truex Jr. will likely be in the field while Martin should be in the 30-to-1 range. 

Another driver that might give reason to take a shot with is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Even though he’s not guaranteed to make the race, he’ll get in just because of the fan vote which makes the ‘Field’ bet an interesting one to analyze. He’s got a good enough to car to win with every week, and some day will. He also had his coming out party as a rookie in 2000 when he won the All-Star race. 

While this isn’t a crap shoot like Talladega and only 23 drivers with no restrictor-plates on, it is much different than a regular race because the nature of the money at stake and no points make it extremely volatile. But it’s still a race and action must be had, so get ’em and enjoy the night.