The stars of NASCAR shine this weekend with the all-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Camping World Truck Series will also be at Charlotte, while the Nationwide Series will run at Iowa Speedway. Qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 take place during the weekend as well.
Sprint Cup Series
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, NC
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.
Camping World Truck Series
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, NC
Turner Motorsports is hoping its winning momentum in the Camping World Truck Series will continue on Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
One month ago, Kasey Kahne gave team owner Steve Turner his maiden victory in the series at Rockingham, NC. Kahne, a Sprint Cup Series regular, held off teammate James Buescher during the closing laps for the win. One week after Rockingham, Buescher won a race for the first time in his truck career at Kansas.
"What a day," Buescher said after his victory at Kansas. "We have been so close so many times, and we finally closed the deal."
With the win, Buescher moved to within four points of Timothy Peters for the lead in the championship standings.
"I feel like everything is really coming together for us," Buescher added. "We have been a contender each and every week, and if we are going to race for the championship, we have to continue to battle up front."
Buescher has finished fourth in the last two truck races at Charlotte.
Nelson Piquet Jr. and Miguel Paludo also drive for Turner this year. Piquet captured his first pole in trucks at Rockingham. He led a race-high 107 laps before a pit-road speeding penalty resulted in a seventh-place finish.
Piquet finished fourth at Kansas and moved up to fifth in points (-23). He has finished 16th and 21st in his first two truck races at Charlotte.
"This will be my third time competing here, and I'm more prepared than I have ever been," Piquet said. "The No. 30 team has been working so hard, and we've been coming so close that I have a feeling our first victory is due. I would love to get my first NCWTS win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in front of friends and family. Since relocating from Brazil to North Carolina, I now consider Charlotte my home track, and everyone wants to win on their home track."
Paludo, also a Brazilian, is currently 13th in points, with one top-10 finish (10th at Kansas). He claimed his first pole in the series in February at Daytona. Paludo finished 35th at Charlotte during his rookie season last year.
Forty-one teams are on the preliminary entry list for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200. Brad Keselowski and David Reutimann are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in this race.
Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, IA
Not only is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enjoying a 23-point lead in the standings, but the defending Nationwide Series champion is very much looking forward to this weekend's race at Iowa Speedway as well.
Stenhouse will attempt to win his third consecutive Nationwide race at Iowa. His first two victories in the series came there last year. The series added a second date for this 0.875-mile track on its 2011 schedule.
"It would be awesome to win three races in a row at a single track," Stenhouse said. Roush Fenway has strong short and intermediate track programs, and Iowa Speedway has similar qualities of both types of tracks."
The series will run at Iowa again on August 4.
Stenhouse has recorded two wins and eight top-10 finishes in the first nine Nationwide races this season. His victories came at Las Vegas in Texas.
Sunday's 250-lap race at Iowa will mark Darrell Wallace Jr.'s debut in Nationwide. Wallace will drive the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
In 2010, Wallace became the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race. He took the checkered flag at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, SC at the age of 16 years, five months and 19 days.
Wallace has won six times in 25 K&N Pro Series East races so far. He is scheduled to compete in Saturday's KNPSE event at Iowa.
"We tested in the off-season back in December and early January," Wallace said. "I definitely have got some seat time in the Nationwide car, and it's definitely a lot different than what I'm used to - different tire, different motor. It's all about logging laps. That's what we did. I had a great time and learned a lot about the cars. Just kind of really fit in with the team."
Kurt Busch is the only Sprint Cup Series regular entered in this race. Busch will be competing in Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway before heading to Iowa. This will be his first time racing there.
"I had the opportunity in 2007 to participate in a COT [Car of Tomorrow] test session at Iowa Speedway, which was a lot of fun," Busch said. "I know the side-by-side racing action will be competitive for the drivers and entertaining for the fans.
"The all-star schedule back in Charlotte won't allow for me to qualify the No. 54 Monster Energy car, but we have Drew Herring as a teammate this weekend, and he's going to take real good care of the car for me."
Three weeks ago at Richmond, Busch gave Kyle Busch Motorsports its first victory in Nationwide. He has driven his younger brother's car in three races so far.
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Hi-Bred 250.
Jeff Green will continue to drive the No. 14 car in place of the injured Eric McClure, who has yet to be medically cleared by NASCAR following his accident earlier this month at Talladega.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Indianapolis 500 Qualifying - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, IN
Qualifications for the 2012 Indianapolis 500 will feature the same format from the previous two years. IndyCar officials altered its qualifying schedule in 2010, trimming it from two weekends to one as a cost-cutting measure for teams.
Starting positions 1-24 for the May 27 Indy 500 will be determined during Saturday's "Pole Day." The remaining 33-car field will be set on Sunday's "Bump Day."
The first day of qualifying will conclude with the nine fastest drivers competing for the pole in a 90-minute shootout.
Last year, Alex Tagliani became the first Canadian to win the pole for the Indy 500. Tagliani, driving an entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, recorded a four-lap average speed of 227.472 mph. He was the last of the nine drivers in the shootout to make his qualifying run.
Thirty-five teams are currently on the entry list for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500. Teams have been practicing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since last Saturday, in preparation for both this weekend's qualifying and the May 27 race.
Rookie Josef Newgarden from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing topped the time sheets in two of the first three days of practice.
"We're stepping through it each time, and we have a lot more to go still," Newgarden said. "Our good start is continuing to roll forward, so we're feeling positive."
The winner of the pole position for the Indy 500 has gone on to win the race 20 times, most recently in 2009 with Helio Castroneves.
A substantial increase in prize money will be offered to the Indy 500 pole winner this year, with money also awarded to the other two front-row qualifiers. The pole winner will collect a $100,000 bonus, while the second fastest qualifier will earn $50,000 and the final front-row starter $40,000.