Who made the cut and how
Like the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte has changed significantly over the years. The first All-Star Race, held the day before the 1985 Coke 600, consisted of the 12 drivers who had won races the previous season. (The field included Richard Petty, who won the last two races of his career in 1984.) It was conceived as a sprint, and that’s what it was. The 70-lap event, which ran without a yellow, lasted just 40 minutes. Good thing for winner Darrell Waltrip that it didn’t last 41 minutes; his go-or-blow engine exploded as he took the checkered flag.
The eligibility requirements and race format have evolved considerably over the last 25 years. Here’s how it all works today.
There are now six ways to make the All-Star Race. Some drivers, like Jimmie Johnson, qualify in multiple categories. Others, like Dale Earnhardt Jr., make it by the thinnest of margins.
2009 race winners
The original eligibility requirement – drivers who won during the previous season – still applies. Here, in alphabetical order, are the 14 drivers who won at least one race last year: Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, David Reutimann, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers. (Vickers, who was recently diagnosed with blood clots, sat out the Dover race and might also be forced to skip the All-Star Race.)
2010 race winners
The rules have expanded to include winners in the current season. So far only two drivers who failed to win in 2009 have won in 2010: Ryan Newman (Phoenix) and Kevin Harvick (Talladega). And both were already eligible for the All-Star-Race anyway, because they were …
Former All-Star Race winners
Any driver who has won the All-Star Race in the last 10 years also makes the cut. That includes Harvick, the 2007 winner, and Newman, the 2002 winner. It also includes Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 2000 winner. But the statute of limitations expires on Junior after this season. (It’s already expired on Michael Waltrip, the 1996 winner.)
Former Sprint Cup champions
There’s also a 10-year cutoff here, so 2000 Cup champ Bobby Labonte makes the field. He’s the only Cup champion from the past decade who hasn’t won a race within the last two years.
The Sprint Showdown
The drivers who finish first and second in this 40-lap qualifying event are the last to race their way into the show. This year’s Showdown field includes a trio of 2009 Chase finalists (Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya) along with two drivers in the top 12 in 2010 (Jeff Burton and Martin Truex Jr.).
Sprint fan vote
Fans select the final driver for the field. And it’s not an afterthought; Kasey Kahne made the 2008 All-Star Race via this route and ended up winning it.
The length and number of race segments is unchanged from last year. The race begins with a 50-lap segment that includes a mandatory green-flag stop, followed by a pair of 20-lap segments, followed by a 10-minute break. Like last year, the race will conclude with 10 green-flag laps (caution laps don’t count). There’s a new wrinkle, however: Before the final segment goes green, all cars must make a mandatory four-tire pit stop. The order in which the cars come off of pit road will determine the starting order for the final sprint.
NEXT RACE Sprint Cup All-Star Race, Charlotte Motor Speedway
THE LOWDOWN Yes, Jimmie Johnson is officially in a slump. After wrecking twice in three weeks, Johnson looked like his old self for most of the day at Dover, leading 225 of 400 laps. But an uncharacteristic pit-road speeding penalty cost the 48 not only the win but also a top-10 finish. Johnson finished 16th and slipped from second to fourth in points. Maybe the All-Star Race is just what the four-time defending champ needs to get his groove back. Johnson, a two-time All-Star Race winner, can focus solely on Saturday’s non-points exhibition without worrying about championship implications.
2009 Tony Stewart
2008 Kasey Kahne
2007 Kevin Harvick
2006 Jimmie Johnson
2005 Mark Martin
ONE TO WATCH: Matt Kenseth
WHY HE MATTERS: Third at Dover has him third in points.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I feel like we still need that little something.”
WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY: Despite a 46-race winless streak, the 2009 Daytona 500 winner is more consistent in 2010.
TRACK: Charlotte Motor Speedway (Concord, N.C.), 1.5-mile paved oval
RACE LENGTH: 100 total laps (four segments), 150 miles
FIRST ALL-STAR RACE: 1985
SERIES: NASCAR Sprint Cup (non-points event)
Quote of note
“I don't know if that happened or not, but I'm going to say it did.” – Dover winner Kyle Busch, on whether his team’s quick pit stop goaded Jimmie Johnson into speeding on pit road.
Where to watch
Saturday’s pre-race show on SPEED starts at 7 p.m. EDT, followed by the Sprint Showdown qualifier at 7:30 and the All-Star Race at about 9 p.m.
UP TO SPEED
NASCAR’s all-star break comes with just a third of the 36-race season in the books. But next week marks the halfway point of the 26-race regular season, and it’s not too soon for teams to worry about the standings. At this point, every driver in the top 20 is well within striking distance of the Chase. David Reutimann, in 20th, is just 172 points behind Martin Truex Jr., who holds the 12th and final Chase spot (see chart). But history shows that little turnover is likely between May and September. Last year, just three drivers who were outside the top 12 after 12 races ended up making the Chase: Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Vickers. And that was actually significant churn compared to the previous three years, when only one driver cracked the Chase bracket between race 12 and race 26.
The boys have at it – again
NASCAR’s season of discontent continued at Dover. In Saturday’s Heluva Good 200 Nationwide series race, Denny Hamlin bumped Clint Bowyer out of second place on a late restart, triggering a multi-car crash, a red flag and, ultimately, some retaliation. When the red was lifted, Bowyer immediately drove into Hamlin under caution and spun him out. NASCAR responded by parking Bowyer for the rest of the day, which has become the standard penalty for “Have at it, boys” dust-ups. Afterward, Bowyer acknowledged the obvious: “Just a little payback.”
Induction for the inaugural class of the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom. Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. comprise the first five inductees. “I felt like this was a race,” said Petty, one of just two living inductees (Johnson is the other) and the only one still active (as head of Richard Petty Motorsports). “You feel good finishing in the front five.”
Sprint Cup points
RANK DRIVER POINTS BEHIND
1 Kevin Harvick 1768 --
2 Kyle Busch 1699 -69
3 Matt Kenseth 1642 -126
4 Jimmie Johnson 1637 -131
5 Denny Hamlin 1618 -150
6 Jeff Gordon 1605 -163
7 Greg Biffle 1581 -187
8 Jeff Burton 1569 -199
9 Kurt Busch 1531 -237
10 Carl Edwards 1487 -281
11 Mark Martin 1475 -293
12 Martin Truex Jr. 1434 -334
13 Ryan Newman 1404 -364
14 Tony Stewart 1397 -371
15 Clint Bowyer 1392 -376
16 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1391 -377
17 Jamie McMurray 1346 -422
18 Joey Logano 1332 -436
19 Juan Pablo Montoya 1322 -446
20 David Reutimann 1262 -506