NASCAR's best descend upon Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday for an exhibition of epic proportions in the 2016 NASCAR All-Star Race.
One of the sport's most unique events undergoes major changes this year to keep viewers interested. With $1 million as the top prize and fan involvement helping to dictate who gets to race, NASCAR has a finger on the pulse of what works and what doesn't at such an event.
With three showdowns Friday night deciding three spots in Saturday's event and a fan vote ushering in one lucky driver, the most unique weekend of the calendar is here.
Here's a look at everything to know about Saturday's All-Star Race.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina
When: Saturday, May 21, at 9 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports 1
Livestream: Fox Sports Go
Sprint Cup Standings
|9||Martin Truex Jr.||336||0|
|11||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||314||0|
|1.||Joey Logano||2015 winner|
|2.||Jimmie Johnson||2015 winner|
|3.||Kevin Harvick||2015 winner|
|4.||Brad Keselowski||2015 winner|
|5.||Denny Hamlin||2015 winner|
|6.||Matt Kenseth||2015 winner|
|7.||Kurt Busch||2015 winner|
|8.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2015 winner|
|9.||Carl Edwards||2015 winner|
|10.||Martin Truex Jr.||2015 winner|
|11.||Kyle Busch||2015 winner|
|12.||Tony Stewart||Premier series champion|
|13.||Jamie McMurray||Past All-Star winner|
|14.||Ryan Newman||Past All-Star winner|
|15.||Kasey Kahne||Past All-Star winner|
|16.||TBD||Sprint Showdown Segment 1 winner|
|17.||TBD||Sprint Showdown Segment 2 winner|
|18.||TBD||Sprint Showdown Segment 3 winner|
|19.||TBD||Sprint Fan Vote winner|
|20.||TBD||Sprint Fan Vote runner-up|
Lineup courtesy of NASCAR.com.
Format and Preview
While a tad complicated, Saturday's event promises a memorable slate of action.
First off, those invited. As the lineup above shows, there are still other spots up for grabs. Friday's Sprint Showdown features three races of 20, 20 and 10 laps, each of which will hand out automatic bids to Saturday's event. The fan vote will hand out another.
Outside of that, past Sprint Cup champions, winners of a race this year or last year and past winners of an All-Star Race will get to throw down in this year's event.
Got all that?
Good, because the who is easy compared to the rules of the event.
There are three segments Saturday. The first is a 50-lap opener set by qualifying speeds. The second is another 50-lap segment before a unique 13-lap final dash for the cool $1 million.
As NASCAR.com's Holly Cain explained, the goal is to provide a jaw-dropping finish:
For the first time in the event's history, the starting order for the final segment will be determined following a random draw that decides if the top running nine, 10 or 11 cars have to pit for a mandatory four-tire stop between Segment 2 and Segment 3. Pit road will be closed for all other cars, and those for which pit stops were mandated must resume position for the final sprint, lining up behind the cars that did not pit -- creating an unpredictable, no-holds-barred rush to the checkered flag and All-Star history.
NASCAR chatted with several of Saturday's participants to help usher in a new format both drivers and fans would enjoy.
The caveat? As Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith told Cain, drivers didn't agree on strategy for the event, which should make for an interesting final run.
"The drivers don't all agree on the perfect strategy, which means some drivers will be fighting on race-worn tires to stay up front at the end, while others will be charging through the field on new tires after the final pit stop," said Smith, adding the race will show the No. 13 isn't so unlucky after all. "At the end of the final shootout, one driver will have a million reasons why '13' is a lucky number."
As any exhibition meant to flaunt the sport's top talent knows, pre-event festivities are a must as well.
NASCAR has this area covered in a few interesting ways. Seeing as the event once again takes place in Charlotte, organizers made sure to involve the NFL by recruiting Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen to drive the pace car.
Olsen joked with the media after practicing for the event, saying, "It's a good thing we have eight tight ends on the roster right now," according to the Associated Press.
One of the major names set to take part in the event, Tony Stewart (he's a past Sprint Cup champ, remember?), has the honor of giving out commands, as NBC Sports' Jim Noble revealed:
Fans have to give credit where it's due—unlike most major sports, NASCAR isn't afraid to make changes and pull out all the stops if it means a better experience for fans and the athletes.
With so much about this event fresh and unique, it's one heck of a weekend for the series to take a break and have some fun. Don't miss out.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.