With a possible $2 million payday for the winner and some recent changes in the format, this year's NASCAR Sprint All- Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway could be the most thrilling one in the event's 29-year history.
In previous years, at least $1 million went to the winner of the all-star race. The same amount will be awarded to Saturday night's winner. But this year's event has an added incentive. If a driver finishes first in all of the four 20-lap segments and then takes the checkered flag for the final 10-lap shootout, then that person will collect an additional $1 million.
NASCAR has made some format modifications, including a couple of tweaks revealed earlier this week, that will add more excitement to both qualifying and the race.
Friday's qualifying will consist of three laps and a mandatory four-tire pit stop. However, a speed limit will not be enforced when a driver enters or exits pit road during his or her qualifying attempt.
The number of laps in the five segments remains the same as last year. There are a total of 90 laps equaling 135 miles.
One of the changes for this year's race is the running order at the completion of the fourth segment (Lap 80), which will be repositioned based on the average finish for the first four stints. The order will be placed directly behind the caution car prior to the opening of pit road for a mandatory four- tire pit stop. The starting lineup for the fifth segment will be determined by the order of cars returning to the track from the pits.
Then it's a dash for a lot of cash when the green flag waves for the final segment.
"It's just no holds barred," said Kyle Busch, who is one of those drivers already eligible for the all-star race. "Go for everything, go for broke and see what you get. Literally, it's going for broke, because you either come home with a million bucks or you're broke, so it's a great race just for the fans, I think, and for the drivers, because it's a non-points race. You get to go out there and put everything on the line."
The field for the 2013 all-star race will consist of 22 drivers. Nineteen of them have presently locked down a starting position. The top-two finishers in the Sprint Showdown (40-lap preliminary race) will advance into the main event. And the last spot will go to the winner of the fan vote. NASCAR recently noted the fan vote driver has to finish the Showdown and his or her car is in "raceable" condition as determined by Sprint Cup Series director John Darby.
Danica Patrick, in her first full season as a Sprint Cup competitor, is the favorite to win the fan vote, if she does not finish either first or second in the Showdown. The rule change for the fan vote winner not having to finish on the lead lap in the preliminary race could be beneficial for Patrick, since she has finished on the lead lap in just two races this year -- the Daytona 500 and Martinsville. She was not eligible for the preseason event at Daytona (Sprint Unlimited).
"I think about it from a fan's perspective, and I think you want the driver you cheer for to be out there, of course, but you want a good race," Patrick said. "Hopefully, they think of me when they think of those two. We always have the opportunity to race in as well. We've been working really hard over the last month on our mile-and-a-half car, and we need to. Let's hope it all comes together by the all-star race."
Martin Truex Jr. is one of those drivers competing in the Showdown that has won it twice (2007 and '10). Truex, who qualified for last year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, has not won a points-paying race in NASCAR's top series since June '07 at Dover. He has finished second in a race three times within the past 13 months.
"Without a doubt, I feel like we should win that (Sprint Showdown)," Truex said. "Anything less would be a disappointment. We're going there guns loaded, trying to do all we can do, and hopefully, we'll come out on the right side of it this time."
Jimmie Johnson, the current points leader, won the all-star race for the third time last year. Johnson's other victories in this event came in 2003 and '06.
Busch has won the pole for this race the past two years. He finished second in 2011 and fourth in 2012. Busch also has led 14 or more laps in each of the last seven events.
"I've been aggressive, and I've been maybe too aggressive at points and not aggressive enough at other points," he said. "Last year, we just ran a clean race and didn't really do much aggressive driving or anything, and we ended up fourth. Maybe there was a little bit more that needed to be done, but overall it was a good week there for us last year and also our second-place run in 2011."
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, May 18. Race: NASCAR Sprint All- Star Race. Site: Charlotte Motor Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 7:30 p.m. ET. Laps: 90. Miles: 135. 2012 Winner: Jimmie Johnson. Television: Speed. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.