NASCAR's best square off in a stage-based format honoring past events with a $1 million prize up for grabs at the 2017 NASCAR All-Star Race in Charlotte.
One year ago, NASCAR dramatically altered the format of the event, and the entertaining results spoke for themselves. Fast forward to this year, NASCAR's regular season follows a new, successful stage-based format as well.
Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the event undergoes another alteration in an effort to pay homage to one of the best All-Star events in the sport's history.
It isn't often an All-Star event means so much, which is a testament to the innovation NASCAR has breathed into Saturday's showdown. Here's everything to know about the can't-miss event.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway
When: Saturday, May 20, at 8 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr|
|78||Martin Truex Jr|
|88||Dale Earnhardt Jr|
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Martin Truex Jr.||431|
|2. Brad Keselowski||408|
|3. Jimmie Johnson||323|
|4. Kyle Larson||475|
|5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||276|
|6. Kurt Busch||246|
|7. Ryan Newman||238|
|8. Chase Elliott||361|
|9. Jamie McMurray||354|
|10. Kevin Harvick||347|
|11. Kyle Busch||325|
|12. Joey Logano||320|
|13. Clint Bowyer||317|
|14. Ryan Blaney||291|
|15. Denny Hamlin||289|
|16. Trevor Bayne||250|
Format and Preview
This year's event is a sprint featuring major names all vying to make it through to the fourth stage.
That's right, we're looking at four stages this year—a callback to the successful 1992 edition of this event, which featured all of 70 laps. The first three stages boast 20 before the mad dash of the fourth touts only 10 laps.
It's hard to stress how entertaining 10 laps with $1 million at stake can be. These are the best drivers in the world, drivers who qualified in the first place because they won a points event or took a win in a stage at the Monster Energy Open hours earlier. Those 10 who make it through will drive as aggressively as they have all season while making pass after pass.
How does a driver make the final 10? Three punch automatic bids, obviously, while the rest slot in based on the best average finishes. The starting order of the final segment was explained by NASCAR.com's RJ Kraft: "Cars are lined up by average finish of the first three stages with the best average finishing driver starting positioned first and the worst average finishing driver positioned 10th. Pit road is then open for an optional pit stop. The order off pit road sets the lineup for the final segment."
Got all that? Perhaps the most notable wrinkle to this year's event needs repeating—and in a big way.
Soft tires. Soft tires. Soft tires.
All-Star events in every sport often act as a testing ground for new ideas. NASCAR is a great example of this in recent years because of the stage format, so the fact organizers will allow pit crews one change to a coveted alternative tire this year has massive implications on the future of the sport.
Soft tires, in theory, offer better grip, which in turn can lead to more speed. As Kyle Larson noted in an interview with USA Today's Brant James, this is another layer of strategy that would make regular-season races even more entertaining.
"I know, if it works, and I'm sure even if it doesn't work, they can figure out a way or another tire to make it work later on, like getting a second attempt at it. I think you see, honestly, every other form of motor sports has tire options and compound options and NASCAR doesn't," Larson said.
"I think strategy is a big part of our sport, and if we have that option tire to use throughout any point, I mean we have it really to use throughout any point of the All-Star race, but I'm talking regular season stuff, I think if we have that option it just adds strategy and excitement to the races."
Lengthy, but it goes to show one side of the thinking behind another major change to the sport. Not everyone is as optimistic, but if Saturday's event is even better because of this innovative wrinkle, it's something NASCAR will have to think long and hard about.
On the track itself, nobody stands taller in the storyline department than Dale Earnhardt Jr., considering this is part of his farewell tour and he won his rookie debut at the event driving one of his father's cars.
Earnhardt decided he'll retire after the season, which has been a rough one to date. But he's a contender Saturday night nonetheless, and he'll do so while sporting a slick paint job, as captured by Motorsport.com:
.@DaleJr unveils new @maaco paint scheme for #NASCAR All-Star Race: https://t.co/VW0PyVurGS https://t.co/zR1ug05aQm5/19/2017, 12:58:19 AM
Joining Earnhardt in the notables department are contenders such as Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Larson, alongside upstarts such as Chris Buescher. A randomized element joins the fray via four slots decided in the Monster Energy Open, three via stage wins, one via fan vote.
Combining a legend's farewell with a possible feature of the sport's future on top of a format sure to bring out the best of those involved, it's safe to predict NASCAR has another hit on its hands.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.