Welcome to the “longest” Sprint All-Star Race.
Saturday night’s renewal of one of the NASCAR’s most anticipated races will be five segments in length for the first time in the event’s history, which stretches to 1985.
The race, which will feature virtually all of the Sprint Cup Series’ leading drivers, has had a number of format changes over the years as organizers seek the best ways to inject sizzling drama into the event.
The new twists this year are significant – and potentially game-changing – as teams race for a $1 million payday.
The race will be run in segments of 20, 20, 20, 20 and 10 laps. The leaders at the end of each of the first four segments will move to the front of the field prior to making pit stops before the final 10-lap shootout for the win. Those four drivers thus will have the best shot at returning to the track near the front of the field for the last segment, and “tires or no tires” decisions will be large for crew chiefs.
If one driver leads one or more segments, the second-place driver will inherit the top spot.
Drivers who have qualified for the All-Star race are Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Regan Smith and Tony Stewart.
Notably absent is fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., but he is almost certain to be in the race lineup anyway.
One spot in the field is reserved for the driver who wins a fan vote, balloting that Earnhardt Jr. is likely to lead. Kahne made the race through that route in 2008 and emerged victorious.
Two other All-Star starting spots will go to the first two finishers in the Sprint Showdown, a “qualifying” race that is scheduled on the Saturday night race program (7:30 p.m.) prior to the feature.
Most of the field will be set in a 5 p.m. Friday qualifying round.
SPEED will televise qualifying, the Sprint Showdown and the Sprint All-Star Race.
Harvick, Kahne, Stewart, Kurt Busch and Edwards have won the past five All-Star events. No one has repeated in the past eight seasons.
Saturday night’s race will be the 28th All-Star event. All but one – in 1986 at Atlanta Motor Speedway – have been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Gordon and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. lead the race victory column with three each.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.