While all eyes will be on Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race, there are still three spots up for grabs, and they will be decided by the annual Sprint Showdown.
In what amounts to a pre-All-Star race, all eligible drivers who have not met the criteria to be included in the All-Star race will duke it out in a 40-lap sprint. The first- and second-place finishers will earn a spot in the ensuing All-Star race, and the winner of a special fan vote will capture the 22nd and final position.
It may not boast the same star power as the All-Star race, but the Sprint Showdown is often equally or even more exciting. That is probably because there are so many hungry drivers in the Showdown looking to make a name for themselves, so they are willing to go all out in an effort to make the big race.
Here is everything you need to know about the Sprint Showdown, including when and where to watch it, which drivers will be participating and who you can expect to prevail.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.
When: Saturday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Starting Order: To be determined by qualifying on Friday, May 17 at 5:15 p.m. ET
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford|
|42||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevy|
|56||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota|
*Entries courtesy of NASCAR.com
Projected All-Star Race Qualifiers
Winner: Martin Truex Jr.
Of all the drivers in this year's Sprint Showdown field, none of them have had more success in the race than Martin Truex Jr. Truex has won this race twice, as he took the checkered flag in both 2007 and 2010, and he has been very much in the mix even when he hasn't won. While a lot can happen over the course of 40 laps, the drivers don't really have a lot of time to make a move, so qualifying is of the utmost importance. If Truex qualifies well and is near the front, he will be in an ideal position.
According to Micah Roberts of Sporting News, Truex is favored to win the race at 9-5, so there will be plenty of pressure on him. He is a veteran who is familiar with the territory, though, so the occasion certainly won't be too big for him. There will be plenty of young, hungry drivers trying to usurp him, but look for Truex to stand tall.
Second Place: Paul Menard
After Truex, there are a number of potential contenders who could swoop in and nab the No. 2 position. Whether it's a rookie like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or a veteran like Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola, Jeff Burton and a host of others, there will be no shortage of competition. With that said, the smart money is on Paul Menard. Not only has Menard competed in this particular race many times, but he also is having an excellent year, as he sits in 11th place in the Sprint Cup standings with four top-10 finishes.
Who will win the Sprint fan vote?
While Menard has never captured a top-two spot in the Sprint Showdown, he did finish fourth a couple of years ago and is among the most consistent drivers in the series. You don't necessarily have to be great in order to make it into the All-Star race. All Menard has to do is hang around the front and make his move late. He is a very savvy driver who isn't likely to put himself in a tough situation, so he has a great chance to nab a top-two finish.
Fan Vote: Danica Patrick
While older drivers like Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton have plenty of fans out there, something crazy would have to happen for Danica Patrick to not win the fan vote. There are some diehard NASCAR fans out there who resent Danica and don't believe she is qualified to race in the Sprint Cup Series, but she is wildly popular and should have more than enough support. Just in case she doesn't, sponsor Go Daddy has been helping her campaign for votes on Twitter.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR, but since he is already in the All-Star race, expect the torch to be passed to Danica. Even if she isn't a threat to win the All-Star race, plenty of people want to see her in it. She is one of the biggest stars the sport has ever seen, regardless of her on-track success, and the odds are absolutely in her favor to be voted in.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter