Each May, the Sprint All-Star Race is a chance for teams and drivers to throw caution to the wind, have fun, and put on a great show for the fans. And thanks to recent tweaks in NASCAR policy, along with some increased aggression on the racetrack, this year’s main event is sure to be one for the books.
Prior to the start of the 2010 season, NASCAR announced it would relax their involvement in on-track issues, telling the competitors to essentially, “Have at it, boys.” We have seen that play out a number of times over the first 12 races of the season, from the Carl Edwards–Brad Keselowski flip in Atlanta to the Denny Hamlin–Clint Bowyer run-in last weekend in Dover. Now, with no points and $1 million on the line, there is no telling what can happen Saturday night under the lights in Charlotte.
“When you are points racing, you have to think about it,” Kasey Kahne said of retaliating against a competitor. “If you are three-wide in the middle in a points race, you kind of realize that somebody is going to lose at this and you might back out. In the All-Star Race, I think there is a mentality if you are in that three-wide situation that you might just go ahead, try it and see what happens. I think that is where it changes, and I think everybody out there feels the same way. Still, the only way you are going to win is to finish, so you can’t just crash, but you don’t have to worry about points.”
The All-Star Race also carries some major bragging rights with it for everyone involved. With the majority of teams and team members located within driving distance of Charlotte Motor Speedway, the event is a “home game” for virtually everyone. A win can put a bounce in the step of the crew and carry momentum to the Coca-Cola 600 the following week.
“Honestly, it’s a big weekend,” Ryan Newman said. “The All-Star Race is huge in our eyes because it’s the All-Star Race, and it’s in our backyard, everybody’s backyard. It’s all about bragging rights. We’re all about beating each other at our own game at our home field, I guess you would say. I love this race because it is a get-the-job-done-now kind of race. It’s how I grew up racing, and how a lot of the guys are used to racing. It’s a lot of fun.”
For a number of top drivers, the fun will not start unless they are able to transfer into the night’s main event. Reserved for winners from last year’s Coca-Cola 600 up to last week’s race in Dover, past series champions in the last 10 years and past All-Star Race winners in the last 10 years, there are some big names hoping to race their way in by finishing first or second in the Sprint Showdown.
The 30-car field for the “B” main consists of former Showdown winners Jeff Burton, Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jr. along with 1996 All-Star Race winner Michael Waltrip. Also in the field for the transfer race are curent Chase contenders Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya. Combined, the entry list totals 116 wins and even a Cup Series championship between them. For these drivers and their teams, anything short of transferring into Saturday night’s main event will be a major disappointment.
“I certainly think that if you look at who is in that race, it’s a lot of good teams, a lot of good drivers and none of the guys that are in it are proud to be in it,” said Burton. “They don’t want to be in it. Every one of those drivers and teams, as we are, are embarrassed about being in that race. But, the rules are the rules, and somebody’s going to go out, find a way to win and transfer into the All-Star Race.”
If these drivers fail to make the All-Star field by finishing first or second, they have one more shot to sneak in with the Sprint Fan Vote. Voting will end one hour before the Sprint All-Star Race and as of Wednesday, the top-10 vote getters in alphabetical order were: Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Biffle, Bowyer, Burton, Edwards, Montoya, Elliott Sadler, Truex Jr. and Waltrip. The winner earns a spot in the field, and it’s far more than a token gesture: Kahne used his spot to charge to the win after starting 24th and shotgun on the field in 2008.
With so little and yet so much at stake Saturday night, there is sure to be excitement from the moment the first car fires up the engine. Superstars will be racing their guts out to make the main event, with one more making a lucky transfer thanks to the fans who support him. Then, the 21 drivers remaining go for a $1 million top prize, with only four segments totaling 100 laps to get the job done. Last year, we saw Newman, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon race three-wide out of turn 4 with no hesitation, but that’s far from the only “hold your breath” moment. In 1992, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison wrecked across the finish line, with Allison the winner; in 1989, Rusty Wallace spun Darrell Waltrip and the teams fought it out in the garage; in 1987, Dale Earnhardt did everything he could – even blocking down to the grass – to hold off Bill Elliott for the win. Now, with the “Have at it, Boys” mentality and a number of rivalries brewing in the garage once again, perhaps Saturday night’s 26th running of the Sprint All-Star Race will go down as one of the most classic of all time.