It's a big weekend in auto racing. The stars of NASCAR will shine under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 will take place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Sprint Cup Series
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, NC
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."
Camping World Truck Series
North Carolina Education Lottery 200 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, NC
Matt Crafton heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway as the points leader in the Camping World Truck Series and the most recent race winner -- April 20 at Kansas Speedway.
Six days after his Kansas victory, Crafton's wife, Ashley, gave birth to their first child, daughter Elladee.
"I need to get back to racing, so I can get some rest," Crafton jokingly said. "I'm always excited to go to the racetrack. But usually you go to the racetrack and you don't get much sleep, because you're worried about everything the night before the race. You think about everything. This week, I'm excited to get to the racetrack, so I can get some sleep."
Crafton currently holds a 13-point lead over second-place and ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter, who won the first two races this season (Daytona and Martinsville).
Sauter held a 12-point advantage over Crafton after Kansas, but Sauter's No. 98 team was hit with heavy penalties from NASCAR for an unapproved fuel cell discovered in his truck during opening-day inspection at that 1.5-mile racetrack. Sauter and team owner Mike Curb were both docked 25 points. Crew chief Joe Shear was suspended for four races, fined $10,000 and placed on probation until Dec. 31.
Rookie Jeb Burton also trails Crafton by 13 points, but Sauter is second in the standings by virtue of his victories.
Charlotte is the fifth event on the series schedule this year.
"I'm super-excited about this Charlotte race, even more than I usually am," Crafton said. "With all the momentum that the team's carrying into this race, I know the guys are still on cloud nine from the Kansas win, and I'm up there with them, from the win and having our child."
Crafton scored his first truck win in May 2008 at Charlotte. Kansas marked his third career victory.
Thirty-eight teams are on the entry list for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are those Sprint Cup Series regulars entered. Busch won this race in 2010 and '11 but did compete in last year's event.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Indianapolis 500 Qualifying - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, IN
Qualifications for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 take place this weekend, with starting positions 1-24 determined during Saturday's "Pole Day," and the remainder of the 33-car field set during Sunday's "Bump Day."
The first day of qualifying includes a five-hour segment (11 a.m. - 4 p.m. ET) followed by the nine fastest drivers in that segment competing for the pole position during a 90-minute shootout.
Ryan Briscoe won the pole for last year's Indy 500 in the slimmest of margins. Briscoe beat James Hinchcliffe by only 0.0023 seconds, making it the closest 1-2 qualifying finish in race history. He posted a four-lap average of 226.484 mph to earn his first pole for the Indy 500.
Time trials for the 1970 Indy 500 featured a margin of 0.01 seconds between pole winner Al Unser and second-place Johnny Rutherford.
Briscoe lost his ride with Team Penske at the conclusion of the 2012 IndyCar Series season. Last month, Chip Ganassi Racing announced that Briscoe will drive its No. 8 car in this year's Indy 500. He drove for Ganassi during the 2005 season, competing in 14 races.
"I just can't begin to tell you how excited I was when Chip gave me the call," Briscoe said. "It's great for me having this opportunity. Hopefully for next year, we can try to be back here full time. You never know what is around the next corner. You just have to keep with it and stay positive. I feel like I have a place in IndyCar, and I just have to go out and do a good job."
The pole sitter for the Indy 500 has gone on to win the race 20 times, most recently in 2009 with Helio Castroneves. Dario Franchitti won last year's Indy 500 after starting 16th.
Thirty-three drivers are currently on the entry list for the 97th running of this event. Teams have been practicing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since last Saturday, in preparation for both this weekend's qualifying and the May 26 race.