The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been a wild one, with wins at a premium, but things promise to get even crazier Saturday night when the very best drivers on the circuit compete in the Sprint All-Star Race.
Winning is more important than ever in the Sprint Cup Series this year because a victory essentially clinches a spot in the Chase. Drivers are still mindful of finishing well and generally refrain from taking unnecessary risks, though. But that won't be the case Saturday night, since all 22 drivers will want the $1 million prize that goes to the victor.
Here is an in-depth overview of the Sprint All-Star Race, including a rundown of who will be involved as well as an explanation of the format for NASCAR's midseason classic.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina
When: Saturday, May 17 at 9 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports 1
All-Star Race Field
|2014 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Field|
|15||Clint Bowyer (Showdown winner)|
|47||A.J. Allmendinger (Showdown Runner-Up)|
|78||Martin Truex Jr.|
|88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|98||Josh Wise (Fan Vote Winner)|
According to NASCAR.com, the order for the Sprint All-Star Race will be determined by a qualifying session Saturday night beginning at 7:10 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. It will include three laps with a four-tire-change pit stop.
Rules of Entry
Nearly all of NASCAR's best drivers have qualified for the All-Star Race, as the rules of entry place plenty of emphasis on recent winners and past champions. Here is a look at the eligibility rules, courtesy of Jayski.com:
|Sprint All-Star Race Eligibility Rules|
|1||Drivers who have won at least one race in 2013 or 2014|
|2||Drivers who are Sprint Cup champions in past 10 years|
|3||Drivers who have won the All-Star Race in past 10 years|
|4||Driver who wins the Sprint Showdown|
|5||Driver who finishes in second place in Sprint Showdown|
|6||Driver who wins the fan vote|
All-Star Race Format
In the interest of keeping things as competitive as possible, the Sprint All-Star Race is broken down into five different segments, per Jayski.com.
The first three segments are 20 laps each, and drivers will be allowed to pit after the third segment. The fourth segment will also last for 20 laps, but the field will be repositioned following that segment based on the average finish in each of the first four segments.
After a mandatory four-tire pit stop, the fifth and final segment will begin. That segment is 10 laps in length, and the 22 participants will go all out in an effort to take home $1 million.
With 10 former Sprint All-Star Race winners taking part in Saturday night's event, it could prove to be the most unpredictable race of the season. With bragging rights and cash on the line rather than points, it will be interesting to see how strategies change.
Although winning this race won't help a team qualify for the Chase, it could help generate some confidence moving forward this season. That is why this race is particularly huge for six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson has performed well this season, but he shockingly has yet to score a victory. JJ is the two-time defending All-Star Race winner, and he has won it four times in all. According to Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer, Johnson admitted that he is mired in a difficult slump:
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.
One thing that's always constant about the No. 48 is we're going to work our guts out to figure it out. That's what we're in the middle of doing now. It isn't fun, that's for sure. It isn't a fun experience to work so hard and not get the reward that you want.
If Johnson is able to win his third straight All-Star Race, then perhaps that will lead to success in points races as well.
Johnson will have to overcome plenty of tough competition to do that, however, including Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon. Not only does Gordon have the No. 24 team atop the standings, but he scored a huge victory last week at Kansas to all but seal his spot in the Chase.
Also, Gordon is a three-time winner when of the Sprint All-Star Race. He hasn't taken the checkered flag since 2001, but he is running better now than he has in years, so he is a definite threat.
Another name to keep in mind is Kevin Harvick. Although Harvick has dealt with some bad luck this season, he has two wins to his credit and has really hit his stride over the past month.
Having finished 11th or better in each of his past four races, Fox Sports points out that Harvick should be feeling confident heading into the race:
Add in the fact that Harvick has won this race before, and it is clear that all the pieces are in place for him to make a run.
There is definite pressure to perform in this race because of the money that comes along with a win, but it is a different type of pressure than what drivers feel in points races. Since Johnson will be able to grip the steering wheel a bit looser and won't necessarily have to stress about the result, he has to be considered the favorite.
Look for Johnson to win the All-Star Race yet again, which will ultimately catapult him to even more success as the season progresses.
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