One of the most anticipated events of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season is nearly here, as fans, drivers, and teams gear up for this Saturday night's 25th annual All-Star race at the Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Nestled in the confines of Concord, NC, the traditional exhibition race, which touts itself as a dash for cash amongst the sport's best racers, has its share of memorable racing moments in stock car history.
From the inaugural running of what was then The Winston with Darrell Waltrip's conveniently expired motor in his winning No. 11 Budweiser Chevy by Junior Johnson and associates in 1985, to Kasey Kahne's fan-driven victory last year, the moments are plentiful.
Get ready to hear how the teams will not bring their best cars to the track this weekend, although you may be fooled by such a notion when the sparks fly off these 3,400 pound machines in the 24-degree banked corners in this 1.5 quad-oval facility.
Even with the gaudy and poor handling Car of Tomorrow vehicles, you can still expect some close racing and a lot of riskier passing than what is accustomed to in a track with ample passing opportunities and traditionally competitive racing.
In its many incarnations with segments being lengthened and/or shortened, double file restarts and pit stop strategies, it's easy to get lost with what will definitely happen in Saturday night's race. So we'll take a look at what will happen in the race.
How the All-Star Race Will Be Run
Unlike in years past where there has traditionally been three segments, we will see the race gain an additional segment, making this a four-part event.
The first segment will be about as lengthy as any portion of an All-Star Race in the past, running for 50 laps.
Pit stops must be made halfway at lap 25, where the drivers running in the race will have their cars serviced and undergoing a four-tire stop.
Following the mandatory stop, the caution flag will wave at the conclusion of the segment after lap 50, with teams and competitors being offered an optional pit stop to prepare for the second segment.
Segments two and three will be 20 laps in length, with both sprints offering an optional pit stop at the end of its running.
However, segment three will have a 10-minute reprieve to allow the teams to make normal adjustments to their machines.
It's all up to the drivers in the fourth and final segment, which will be a 10-lap dash for cash or demolition derby, depending on how many of the competitors manage to survive the previous three "tests."
As far as who is eligible to race in the All-Star Race in 2009, previous race winners from the 2008 season as well as this season are allowed to compete for bragging rights and a whole lot of cash.
Previous All-Star winners and NASCAR Cup champions within the past decade are eligible as well, in addition to the top two finishers in the All-Star Challenge preliminary race, and the top vote getter in the Sprint Fan Vote contest.
In all, that is about half the normal Cup field that will duke it out for over $1 million. Not bad for a race that will total only 100 laps.
Now, here's a look at who will contend for the cash and right to be the true All-Star in the Sprint Cup Series.
Any time the circuit heads to Lowe's Motor Speedway, it's assured that the fans and teams can agree that Kahne and Jimmie Johnson are the two drivers with the bulls-eye on their backs.
Kahne swept the races at Lowe's in 2006 and won last year's All-Star Race and Coke 600. The driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge is very strong at this facility although the 2009 campaign has been anything barely resembling dominant.
Johnson seems to get himself in rhythm at this track, who also sponsor his No. 48 Chevrolet. Winner of the 2003 and '06 editions of this prestigious short race, his team's battle cry as Lowe's being "their house" has some validity...for now.
Never count out the "how'd they get here" drivers like Kevin Harvick or Mark Martin, as Harvick literally waited until the laps wound down in 2007 to take home that year's race win.
Martin has been a non-surprising surprising driver in 2009. That may sound cliche but if it were anyone else but NASCAR's Brett Favre, the odds of someone competing at his level at age 50 would be insanity in a sport that has transitioned into a younger league.
However, Martin has won twice in 2009 and has won the All-Star race twice in 1998 and in '05, so he certainly knows how to put the hammer down, this time in his No. 5 Chevrolet.
Teammate Jeff Gordon, a three-time winner of this event, has seemingly been conservative or nowhere in the same league as his Hendrick peers or the previous winners of this race in recent years.
That being said, Gordon knows how to get to Victory Lane at Lowe's and given that he qualifies well and can keep his No. 24 Chevrolet among the leaders, he may just have something for those young guns in the final segment.
Then there's the brothers Busch in Kurt and Kyle, who had their memorable sibling spill in 2007 when their machines made contact in the final segment in the first turn, eliminating both drivers and egos from the race.
If cooler heads prevail this time around with the same scenario in 2009, perhaps we may see a more exciting, but less costly race for the win among the siblings.
Let's not forget that this race has been known to pull a few surprise winners up our sleeves.
Did you honestly think that Michael Waltrip stood a chance in heck to win it all in 1996 in a field decked with Gordon, Martin, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, the Labonte brothers and of course, Dale Earnhardt?
Yet, when the Chevrolet cars of Terry Labonte and Earnhardt made contact heading into the first corner during the final segment, Waltrip stood on the gas in his No. 21 Ford and propelled his Wood Brothers Racing machine to a surprising win and emotional Victory Lane scene with brother Darrell embracing his gigantic little brother.
Or how about when Gordon's Chevy fizzled out of gasoline in 1998 while in the lead, handing the win to a shocked Martin?
Other moments include Earnhardt's "Pass In The Grass" in 1987, a wrecked winner in Davey Allison in '92, Gordon's steer clear job of '95 that handed him a trifecta segment win, Little E's 2000 spectacular and Ryan Newman's recovery in '02,
Truly, there's no telling what will happen in 2009. Can Gordon make good on being a four-time winner of the race?
Will Johnson join some elite company in Allison, Earnhardt and Gordon as a three-time All-Star race winner?
Will it be the best All-Star Race ever?
One can only hope so. With the asphalt aged and the COT somewhat gaining some handling reliability, we may see one heckuva show in a race that is held, as Mike Joy once said, on "One Hot Night."