With the NASCAR season nearing its midway point after 11 races, the Sprint Cup circuit heads out to Charlotte for the next two weeks.
Though it might not be worth points this weekend, the Sprint Showdown and All-Star Race are just as intriguing as every other race. Unlike the regular season, though, some of the All-Star field will be determined by a pre-race and a Sprint Fan Vote that concludes on Friday night.
How big are the campaigns in NASCAR? It's so important that Miss Sprint Cup is releasing posters for each of the candidates, including some of the more popular drivers like Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson:
None of those drivers qualify to automatically enter the All-Star Race field, so they will have to either win the fan vote or finish in the top two on Friday.
Before the Sprint Showdown gets underway on Friday night, here's a look at the full information for the qualifier and a breakdown of the race.
Sprint Showdown Information
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway, Charlotte, N.C.
When: Friday, 7 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
|3||Austin Dillon||Welcome, North Carolina||Chevrolet||Richard Childress|
|7||Michael Annett||Des Moines, Iowa||Chevrolet||Tommy Baldwin Jr|
|9||Marcos Ambrose||Launceston, Australia||Ford||Richard Petty|
|10||Danica Patrick||Roscoe, Illinois||Chevrolet||Tony Stewart|
|13||Casey Mears||Bakersfield, California||Chevrolet||Bob Germain|
|15||Clint Bowyer||Emporia, Kansas||Toyota||Rob Kauffman|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||Olive Branch, Mississippi||Ford||John Henry|
|23||Alex Bowman||Tucson, Arizona||Toyota||Ron Devine|
|26||Cole Whitt||Alpine, California||Toyota||Anthony Marlowe|
|27||Paul Menard||Eau Claire, Wisconsin||Chevrolet||Richard Childress|
|32||Blake Koch||West Palm Beach, Florida||Ford||Frank Stoddard Jr|
|33||David Stremme||South Bend, Indiana||Chevrolet||Joe Falk|
|36||Reed Sorenson||Peachtree City, Georgia||Chevrolet||Allan Heinke|
|38||David Gilliland||Riverside, California||Ford||Brad Jenkins|
|40||Landon Cassill||Fairfax, Iowa||Chevrolet||Mike Hillman Sr.|
|42||Kyle Larson||Elk Grove, California||Chevrolet||Chip Ganassi|
|43||Aric Almirola||Tampa, Florida||Ford||Richard Petty|
|44||J.J. Yeley||Phoenix, Arizona||Chevrolet||Johnathan Cohen|
|47||AJ Allmendinger||Los Gatos, California||Chevrolet||Tad Geschickter|
|66||Joe Nemechek||Lakeland, Florida||Toyota||Jay Robinson|
|77||Dave Blaney||Hartford, Ohio||Ford||Randy Humphrey|
|83||Ryan Truex||Mayetta, New Jersey||Toyota||Ron Devine|
|98||Josh Wise||Riverside, California||Chevrolet||Mike Curb|
Perhaps no one in NASCAR has been more polarizing this season than Patrick.
Fans either love her or hate her, but she's coming into the Showdown on the heels of her best finish ever. A seventh-place finish in Kansas last weekend gives Patrick momentum heading into Friday night.
After seeing Patrick perform well in last week's car, her crew chief said they won't change much heading to Charlotte, per Nate Ryan of USA Today:
Same type of racetrack, same pavement. We're taking a sister car to this deal. I think we got a shot at going over there and running really well.
... It gave her some confidence to try some things that would help her. (Harvick) has been helping her, but he got more aggressive this week, and obviously it's paying off.
That's teammate Kevin Harvick, who has been working with Patrick before races to help her improve on the track. But Harvick, along with the rest of the Stewart-Haas Racing team, won't be racing Friday with their place already set in the All-Star Race.
While Patrick will be racing for her chance to make the field on Friday, another notable driver will be sitting out. Justin Allgaier, a member of HScott Racing, will not be in the field on Friday due to numerous wrecks early in the season.
Allgaier explained his reasoning, per the Associated Press:
For us, being a small independent team, obviously points races are the main focus. With crashing a couple of weeks ago at Talladega and crashing last week at Kansas, it puts a toll on a team and this is going to give us to really hit the reset button and push through.
I understand it, I know why we are doing it. I would much rather go and try to win the 600 then to just make it through the Showdown and just make it through the 600.
Who will win the Sprint Showdown?
Currently sitting at 29th in the points standings, the 27-year-old will be looking for his first top-10 finish in Charlotte next weekend in the Coca-Cola 600.
As for other drivers like rookies Larson and Austin Dillon, this will be their first crack at winning the Showdown. But if history proves anything, first-year drivers can certainly compete in the qualifier.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a rookie last season, finished second in the Showdown and qualified for the All-Star Race. This season has also seen Stenhouse put together some great races, including finishing second in Bristol.
That performance helped him emerge from under the popularity of Patrick, his girlfriend, as Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press notes:
The Fox Sports team had requested a few moments of time on live television with Patrick, and she wanted Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to receive the same attention. He got some air time after the commercial break, and then in the closing laps of Sunday night's race when he grabbed a career-best second-place finish.
Although he's a two-time Nationwide Series champion and the more accomplished driver in NASCAR's most prolific romance, Stenhouse is largely recognized outside of racing circles for being Patrick's boyfriend. More finishes like Sunday's could help him change the conversation.
A cast full of emerging stars will roll out on Friday night, but only two will qualify for the All-Star Race. Expect another exciting race at Charlotte to set up a Saturday night to remember.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: