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New format highlights NASCAR's Sprint All-Star Race

No points, just a lot of cash is on the line in Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

This year's edition of the all-star event features a new format. It will be split into five segments for a total of 90 laps. The first four segments will consist of 20 laps each, and the final one is a 10-lap shootout to the finish.

Only green-flap laps count in the last segment.

Also new for this race is the winners of the first four segments will move to the front of the field and line up in positions 1-4 prior to the field coming on to pit road for the final mandatory pit stop before the last segment. If there is a repeat segment winner, the second-place finisher will start in that place.

Wherever the drivers are positioned after they exit pit road during that round of stops is where they will line up to start the 10-lap dash to the checkered flag.

"That's a really good format change," said Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards, who won last year's all-star race and collected $1.2 million. "That's gonna make those first races really important, because if you look at the way the racing is right now, if you start up front, you've got a huge advantage, so that's a great way to address that issue.

"I think we started first or second in the last segment last [year], and that was a huge advantage for us. I don't know if we would have been able to win if we started back in the pack, so that's gonna put a premium on those first segments."

With no points at stake, the strategy for each team competing in the all-star race is quite simple -- do whatever it takes to win.

"I think just being aggressive and knowing when to be aggressive and how to be aggressive is the biggest thing," said Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch, who finished second in the 2011 all-star race. "It's a race where you have to get to the front, and you have to get out there and get yourself, more importantly, in clean air in order to keep yourself out front and on your own."

The eligibility requirements for this year's all-star race remain the same. Race winners from either the 2011 season or the 2012 season (up to last weekend's event at Darlington Raceway) have already qualified. Past winners of the all-star event or Sprint Cup Series champions within the previous 10 years have earned eligibility as well.

In addition, the top-two finishers in The Sprint Showdown (40-lap all-star preliminary race) and the winner of the "fan vote" will advance into the main event.

As of now, 20 drivers are eligible for the all-star race. They are: Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, 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.

Bayne, the 2011 Daytona winner, and Marcos Ambrose, who claimed his first Sprint Cup victory last August at Watkins Glen, NY, will make their inaugural appearances in the all-star race. Bayne was eligible for last year's event but did not compete since he was recovering from a serious inflammatory condition at the time. He suffered an insect bite several weeks before the all-star race.

Don't worry, "Junior Nation." Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expected to make the field for the all-star race, even if he doesn't finish top-two in The Sprint Showdown. It would be an absolute shocker if Earnhardt Jr. -- NASCAR's most popular driver -- did not receive the most votes in the fan vote.

Twenty-two teams are on the preliminary list for The Sprint Showdown.

Time trials for this year's all-star race consists of three laps around the 1.5-mile track. A four-tire pit stop is mandatory during that three-lap run. The starting lineup for the event will be determined by each team's total time.

Pit selection for this event is not decided after qualifying has concluded, as is the case in each points race. Rather, the finishing order in Thursday night's NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge, which takes place at Time Warner Arena in Charlotte, will determine the selection. Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 11 team, with driver Denny Hamlin, have won the pit crew challenge the past two years.

There have been eight different winners in the last eight all-star races.

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, May 19. Race: NASCAR Sprint All- Star Race. Site: Charlotte Motor Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 7 p.m.(ET). Laps: Five segments for a total of 90 laps. 2011 Winner: Carl Edwards. Television: Speed. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.