Published May 20, 2010
I think you are beginning to see more scrutiny of the cars that are currently in the top 12 for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup so far. You have to realize that next week, the Coca-Cola 600 marks the half-way point of our 26-race regular season.
That said, what's nice about Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte is you don't have to worry about the points or have that Chase mindset.
Teams will go to Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend with a lot of approaches. Obviously the top goal on everyone's list is trying to go out there and win the All-Star Race. Don't forget that you are talking about a million dollars and bragging rights for a whole year.
Some of my fondest memories in all my years of racing were with Davey Allison when we won back-to-back all-star races in 1991 and 1992. It's just such a special event. It's the race everyone wants to win. It's a huge event and it's at the home track for most of these teams. Teams simply put a lot of effort into winning the All-Star Race.
Some folks have the agenda of using the All-Star Race as a good test session to prepare for next week's point race, the Coca-Cola 600. Then the other agenda is for the teams outside the top 35 in points who will race in the Showdown race. But on Friday they will be out there working on their qualifying runs hoping to find speed for next week's qualifying event in hopes of simply making the 600.
Speaking of the Showdown race, I would wager this is going to be the most exciting, star-studded Showdown race we have had in the history of the event. You will see some marquee names that haven't qualified for the All-Star Race; names like Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and others who right now are on the outside looking in.
These are guys that have won races in the past and been in the All-Star Race before. However, they didn't win a race in the entire 2009 season nor one so far in 2010, so they have to compete in the Showdown race and hopefully race their way into the main event. The way the rules are for the Showdown, the top two finishers of the Showdown race will transfer into and race in the All-Star Race.
It is amazing to me the growth in the All-Star Race. You see back in 1985, when Darrell Waltrip won the very first one, this race was run Saturday afternoon following the Nationwide race and then the 600 was the next day. Then it migrated into All-Star weekend, where the race fell on a non-points weekend. In the last few years through the combined efforts of the City of Charlotte, Sprint, Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR, this has transformed into All-Star Week.
There's now a dedicated night for the Pit Crew Challenge where 24 of the pit crews compete directly against each other for money and again, bragging rights. The focus is squarely on the pit crews and not the driver. It has become such a huge and exciting event.
All-Star Week also features the Engine Builders competition with the final in uptown Charlotte. As we then get to the weekend, things shift to Charlotte Motor Speedway with practice and qualifying for Saturday night's race. Now the other cool thing this year -- which extends All Star Week -- is on Sunday when the first-ever class of our new NASCAR Hall of Fame is inducted.
So this is a huge week in NASCAR. Of course the biggest thing to worry about is whether Mother Nature cooperates and gives us great weather on Saturday night. In addition to the weather, there are two elements Saturday night that everyone needs to focus on as the race could literally be won or lost on pit road.
First, as in the past, there will be a mandatory green flag stop where every team has to change all four tires. It will come down to who doesn't make a mistake. It might be a loose lug nut or a speeding penalty that ruins your night. Second is the new mandatory four-tire stop right before the final 10-lap segment. How you leave pit road after that stop dictates where you start in the lineup for the final 10 money laps.
We've seen penalties on pit road cause teams to lose races already this year. Even though it's a non-points race, mistake-free pit stops are critical Saturday night. How these teams handle the pit stops could literally determine which driver walks away with a cool $1 million.