Complete Preview and Prediction for 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race
It’s time for NASCAR’s best to duke it out for a cool million in a made-for-television extravaganza called the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
This year's edition features 23 drivers in race cars built just for this show. That means if they happen to get a few scratches or dents, it’s OK.
This event isn't being staged at just any race track. It's being held in the heart of NASCAR country, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, one of the fastest tracks on the NASCAR schedule, with speeds well over 200 miles per hour going into Turn 1. The fearless drivers here won’t lift their foot off the gas pedal all the way around its 1.5 miles.
Jimmie Johnson is the defending race winner. Both Busch brothers are in—Kurt’s flying in from Indy where he’ll be qualifying for the 500. Current points leader and recent race winner Jeff Gordon is in (watch for him to be hot again this weekend). Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart, too.
This is the best of the best.
And once again, fans get to vote a driver of their choice into the All-Star race.
We all have friends who don’t understand why it is that we love NASCAR. Invite them over Saturday night and show them. Have plenty of cold beverages and snacks.
And now might be the time to invest in that bigger television screen you’ve been thinking about.
It’s a wild night of speed, chaos and competition—and the best All-Star event in sports.
*All quotes in this slideshow are taken from official team and manufacturer media releases unless otherwise stated.
By the Numbers: The 30th Annual Sprint All-Star Race
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, May 17
The Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN), SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 135 miles (90 laps)
Sprint Showdown Format
Sprint Showdown qualifying consists of two consecutive timed laps with the fastest lap determining the starting positions.
Starting field limited to 33 starters who are not entered in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (23 cars are currently entered).
Segment 1) 20 laps: 33 fastest qualifiers start the first of two 20-lap segments. Green-flag and yellow-flag laps will be counted. Optional pit stop during break, but teams that pit will not retain their position on track.
Segment 2) 20 laps: Only green-flag laps will be counted. Top two finishers transfer to NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Qualifying
Three laps, including a four-tire pit stop, with no pit-road speed limit.
Total elapsed time determines the starting lineup of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
For the first time, the Sprint Fan Vote Winner and two Sprint Showdown cars can participate in NASCAR Sprint All-Star qualifying, rather than automatically starting at the rear of the All-Star field.
Sprint Fan Vote and Sprint Showdown transfer teams may work on their cars prior to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Format
Segments 1, 2 and 3 are 20 laps each: All laps will be counted. Optional pit stop during break, but teams that pit do not retain their position on track.
Segment 4) 20 laps: All laps will be counted. Running order at the completion of the fourth segment will be based on the average finish of the first four segments. Running-order ties will be broken by the finish of the fourth segment. Pit road will be open for a mandatory four-tire pit stop. Order of cars returning to the track will determine starting order of the fifth and final segment.
Segment 5) 10 laps: Only green-flag laps will be counted.
*Sprint All-Star Race format information courtesy of official NASCAR media release.
Jeff Gordon on a Hot Streak
When we last saw the four-time Cup champion (above), his team was celebrating its breakthrough win of the season, the win that would also get it a spot in the Chase.
Gordon is the only Cup driver to have a top-10 average finishing position (9.2) through the first 11 races of the 2014 season. And here’s a bit of history to go with that stat: In every year that Gordon has won the All-Star Race (1995, 1997 and 2001), he also has won the Series title that same season.
Who Has the Right Setup?
One can not overemphasize the importance of having a good setup for the 1.5-mile tracks. Team Penske won the first two (Las Vegas, Texas), but the Hendrick teams looked like they’re just a tick away from being on the sweet spot.
The Stewart-Haas teams are close, while the Joe Gibbs teams need to find more speed. Denny Hamlin said in his post-race interview at Kansas that it was “like bringing a knife to a gunfight.”
Recently, Kasey Kahne has nearly wrestled the key to the front door away from “Jimmie’s House” with four wins at Charlotte, including a sweep of both the All-Star Race and the Coke 600 in the same year (2008).
The All-Star Race is often used as a giant test session by the Cup garage, with teams using parts and setups for the first time. Sometimes it works and it’s easy to spot. It’s the team that performs above the rest.
“I would say it’s safe to say that the majority of the field will be experimenting with something on their cars,” said Jimmie Johnson during a media conference call this week.
For years, there’s been discussion about moving the location of the All-Star Race from Charlotte, where it originated, or rotating it around to several tracks across the country. While the idea sounds good to the track operators who would love to have the one-of-a-kind event at their facility, it’s usually a non-starter with the teams who love the idea of having a two-week homestand.
“Living it like we do week after week, man, it’s so nice for us to be home for a couple weekends,” said Johnson during a media conference call. “It’s nice to be in our own backyard. From a selfish standpoint, I’m happy with it being here in Charlotte so we get time at home and see our families and sleep in our own beds. That’s a nice perk.”
Racing at home for two weekends also means you’ve got your family and friends filling the grandstands—and the pressure of trying to be your best in front of them.
This is also the time of year when race shops hold their annual fan-fest activities, with most teams having open-house events and autograph sessions scheduled during the two weeks they are in the Charlotte area.
Tires a Nonissue
For the first time this season, tires should be a nonissue, as the Sprint Cup teams have been using the same left-right combination since 2012 with few problems. It’s a unique combination of a left-side tire only used at Charlotte and a right-side also in use at Darlington.
The tires will also carry a special “Support Our Troops” graphic on the sidewalls.
Drivers to Watch
In 10 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races, Kasey Kahne (above) has one win, one pole position, two top-five finishes and four top-10s, leading a total of 38 laps. In 2008, Kahne became the first driver to get into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race by the Sprint Fan Vote and go on to win the event.
His third-place finish at Kansas was a big step for this team, which had been mired in the middle of the pack.
Last week, Harvick said a rare pit-road mistake by the driver may have let the race get away. It’s unlikely that will happen again this weekend, especially since the pit crews play a large part in where Harvick will start the All-Star Race.
CMS was one of Harvick’s worst tracks until 2007, when he won the All-Star Race. His performance there got much better in 2011, when he won the Coke 600. He’s since won the 600 a second time (2013), and the way he’s running right now, he’s a heavy favorite to win his second All-Star Race.
Although he hasn’t won a points race here, Newman did win the All-Star Race back in 2002 (his rookie year in Cup), and he always seems to run well at Charlotte with four top-fives and 10 top-10s.
Team owner Richard Childress tends to pull out all the stops during this two-week stand at Charlotte, trying to win bragging rights. RCR has won the All-Star Race four times in its history, with three of those races won by Dale Earnhardt (including the ’87 win dubbed “The Pass in the Grass”) and the fourth by Harvick.
Johnson won a record-setting fourth NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race last year after leading the final 10 laps of the exhibition event. Johnson’s 2013 win marked his second straight in the event and broke a tie with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and teammate Jeff Gordon for the most wins in the annual non-points race.
And like his teammate, Gordon, who just won his first race of the season, Johnson and his Chad Knaus-led crew have also been knocking at the door since Daytona. Circumstances have prevented the No. 48 from winning this season, not performance.
This is also one of those teams that’s likely to have the special parts or setups, as mentioned by Johnson during his conference call with the media this week.
He’s also got the loudest cheering section.
The All-Star Race is another marquee event for this team, and it would be no surprise to see the No. 88 car win. Earnhardt Jr. did well in Kansas last weekend, and that momentum and the 1.5-mile setup crew chief Steve Letarte put on Junior’s Chevrolet will help him again this weekend and next.
The Texas winner also ran well last weekend at Kansas. He started on the front row and finished fourth.
He has two wins, six top-fives and one pole this season. The NASCAR side of the Team Penske shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, would like to shine in the month of May as much as the IndyCar side always does. It's a good bet that they will.
Every week, you expect this Michael Waltrip Racing squad to get out of its funk and show the world what it’s capable of doing. A non-points race where nothing means anything and everything means nothing could just be the time when it does.
The No. 43 ran very well at Kansas. Almirola has been driving the wheels off The King’s Ford every weekend, and he does know the fast way around Charlotte Motor Speedway. He won the pole there in 2012.
This has been his best season in Cup since racing full time with one top-five and three top-10s early in the season. Almirola desperately wants to win a race for his team owner, The King, who’s lost so much this year.
I’ll bet you thought I’d forgotten this Joe Gibbs Racing driver. Saving the best for last, I guess. The 2004 All-Star Race winner has two wins, eight top-fives and 15 top-10s. You might say that CMS is one of his better tracks. You’d be right.
Historical Perspective: Sprint All-Star Race
- There have been 29 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races.
- The first NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race was in 1985.
- Twenty-eight have been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In 1986, the event was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway and won by Bill Elliott. That season was also the first year for what is now known as the Sprint Showdown.
- Ninety-one drivers have run in at least one NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, with 76 competing in more than one.
- Mark Martin has participated in 24 races, more than any other driver. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in Sprint All-Star starts with 20, followed by Tony Stewart with 15.
- There have been 19 different winners of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
- Jimmie Johnson (2003, 2006, 2012 and 2013) leads the series with the most NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race wins.
- Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990 and 1993) and Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997 and 2001) are three-time winners of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
- NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip won the inaugural NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in 1985 at 161.184 mph.
- The race has featured a field that ranged from 10 drivers in 1986 to 27 in 2002. This year’s field will have 22 participants.
- Davey Allison (1991 and 1992), Terry Labonte (1988 and 1999) and Mark Martin (1998 and 2005) are the only other drivers to post multiple victories in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
- Davey Allison (1991, 1992) and Jimmie Johnson (2012, 2013) are the only drivers ever to win consecutive Sprint All-Star events.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) and Ryan Newman (2002) are the only drivers to win the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in their rookie season.
- Jeff Gordon is the youngest winner of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at 23 years, nine months and 18 days (1995). Mark Martin is the oldest at 46 years, four months and 12 days (2005).
Kurt Busch Keeping Pace in Indy
No, you just didn’t click onto the IndyCar section. That’s Kurt Busch in his No. 26 Suretone IndyCar.
This Saturday will be a stressful day for Busch. All eyes will be on the 35-year-old on Saturday, as the day becomes a dress rehearsal of sorts for the following weekend.
With just three official days of Indy 500 practice, Kurt Busch posted speeds fast enough for third in the overall practice rankings thus far. Busch’s top speed of 224.159 mph came during Tuesday’s rain-shortened practice day—the second-fastest speed posted that day.
He’s found his Cup experience on the big tracks in NASCAR has come in handy during his time in the seat of the IndyCar.
“As far as guys getting tows and posting those good laps, some of my drafting experience helps from what I've seen at Daytona and Talladega; Indianapolis has a little bit of Darlington characteristics into it,” Busch told reporters after Wednesday’s practice session. “What I mean by that is you have to be single file and you have to know which corner you are approaching at all times, and it’s a matter of give and take with the other drivers out on the track.”
Busch will have to qualify his Andretti Motorsports entry early Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis and then fly to Charlotte for the All-Star Race. Cup rookie Parker Kligerman has been tabbed to sub for Busch in the No. 41 Chevy for practice Saturday.
This is when Busch’s strict physical-conditioning routine will come into play. It will be a long day for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver, and he’ll need every ounce of strength and stamina to get through it.
Qualifying Report: Sprint Showdown
Clint Bowyer won the Sprint Showdown, his first race victory since October 2012 (also at Charlotte). With the victory, he earns a spot in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
This will be Bowyer’s sixth start in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. His best finish was 12th, in 2009.
AJ Allmendinger finished second, earning him a spot in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. This will be Allmendinger’s third all-star start. His best finish in the all-star race was 11th, in 2012.
Casey Mears, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola rounded out the top five finishers.
Josh Wise, who finished 18th in the race, won the Sprint Fan Vote to transfer into Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. This will be Wise’s first start in the all-star race.
Of note: Kyle Larson (6th); Austin Dillon (8th); Danica Patrick (10th).
And the Winner Is...
It’s tough to keep this dynamic duo down for very long. Terms like “long overdue” and “close but no cigar” come to mind, yet it’s hard to believe that 12 weeks into the 2014 season the No. 48 car hasn't been to Victory Lane anywhere!
Johnson’s stats in the All-Star Race are mind-numbing. Four wins, eight top-fives and one pole. He’s the defending race winner and could be its first three-in-a-row winner.
This has been a tougher-than-normal season for Johnson and his team.
“I think some or many forget that, yes, we do have a lot of trophies and I’m very proud of them, but there have been plenty of slow starts, plenty of dry spells or stretches through a given season,” said Johnson in a media teleconference.
A win Saturday won’t get him in the Chase, but it will put this train back on its rails.
Follow me on Twitter: @BobMargolis
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