Defending All-Star race champion and current Sprint Cup Series leader Jimmie Johnson headlines the annual showcase of elite NASCAR drivers. The unique event allows the biggest names in the sport to forget about the points race and focus solely on winning.
Since the drivers don't have to worry about a bad finish potentially ruining their chances at the championship, they can afford to take more risks. It's a perfect atmosphere for aggressive drivers like Kyle Busch, who praised the All-Star race (via Sports Network).
"It's just no holds barred," said Kyle Busch, who is one of those drivers already eligible for the All-Star race. "Go for everything, go for broke and see what you get. Literally, it's going for broke, because you either come home with a million bucks or you're broke, so it's a great race just for the fans, I think, and for the drivers, because it's a non-points race. You get to go out there and put everything on the line."
A total of 19 drivers have already qualified for the race. Three more will get added through the Sprint Showdown and a fan vote. The race itself lasts 90 laps. There are four segments of 20 laps and a final segment of 10 laps for the sprint to the finish.
The winner-takes-all format always makes for an exciting one-week escape from the season. Here's a look at all the key information for the All-Star race, followed by a list of drivers who automatically qualified and a breakdown of three to watch.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.
When: Saturday, May 18 at 9 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NASCAR RaceView
|88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet|
Three other drivers will qualify through the Sprint Showdown and fan vote.
Drivers to Watch
The five-time Cup Series champion has put himself in prime position to contend for another title. He leads the standings by 44 points over Carl Edwards and his team appears to be clicking on all cylinders, just like it was during his reign of dominance.
Johnson has also had plenty of success in the All-Star race. He's one of just three drivers to win the event three times along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. He could become the first one to win it four times on Saturday night.
It's hard to pick against him. When Johnson is at his best, he's usually downright unstoppable. And since he doesn't have to worry about defending his points lead, he can race for the win and he's done that better than anyone else over the past decade.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt won the All-Star race all the way back in 2000. Last season, he won the Sprint Showdown to earn a berth in the race but wasn't able to sweep the events. He's an automatic qualifier this year and hopes to end that 12-year drought.
The popular drivers is enjoying a solid season. Although he hasn't found victory lane, he's racked up seven top-10 finishes in 11 races. When somebody is putting themselves in constant contention like that, it's only a matter of time before the wins come.
A triumph in the All-Star event could very well be the spark Junior needs heading into the rest of the season. It wouldn't help in terms of points, but it would give the entire team confidence that it can hang with the best of the best under the bright lights.
All-Star weekend provides an opportunity for Stewart, the 2009 race winner, to turn his season around. He currently sits in 21st place and is running out of time to right the ship. He must start progressing toward the Chase cutoff.
The week off from points racing gives the team a chance to test out some different setups to see if something finally clicks. He hasn't finished inside the top 10 since the Subway Fresh Fit 500 in early March. He doesn't have a top-five finish.
That's simply not good enough, especially for a driver with Stewart's track record. It doesn't bode well for his chances of winning the All-Star race. That said, all it takes is a couple key changes to turn him into a contender again. Now is the time to test those ideas.