Here's a viewer's guide for tonight's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:
Risk vs. Reward
Because points aren't awarded, there is no race that rewards aggressiveness more than this one, as drivers will take chances they otherwise wouldn't take in a typical points-paying event – often with varying degrees of success. That is why this race has had more than its fair share of memorable moments, from Dale Earnhardt's "Pass in the Grass" to Davey Allison winning but wrecking as he did and ending up in the hospital overnight, to Kyle Busch taking out his brother Kurt.
However, being patient does come with its own benefits, because this is a race where crashes can and usually do decimate the field. It isn't uncommon for a driver to wait for the inevitable carnage to ensue, allowing him to easily move up the running order.
Typically though, fortunes favor the bold in NASCAR's annual no-holds barred shootout.
As has been the norm for the last few years, a new format has been introduced for this year's All-Star Race. The race will be ran in five segments with the first four segments consisting of 20 laps, and the fifth and final segment being a 10-lap dash for the cash with cool $1 million awaiting the winner.
The caveat is that the winners of the opening four segments will be guaranteed to line up at the front as the field comes to pit road for what is a mandatory pit stop before the final 10 laps. In a nutshell, if a driver wins one of the first four segments he will be rewarded with valuable track position and the option to dictate pit strategy, something a majority of the drivers think will factor into the outcome, entering the final segment.
All the above said, it might be more advantageous for a driver to go all-out to win a segment early on so he can lay back and save his car for the last 10 laps. And many drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, are of the belief that the eventual winner will be a driver who starts the final segment from one of the first two rows.
Big Names in the Showdown
The best race of the night might be the preliminary Sprint Showdown, which will feature many a big name attempting to race his way into the main event, as the top two finishers will get to move on plus one additional driver via fan voting.
Included on that list is 2000 All-Star Race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2000 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte, former Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner Jamie McMurray and previous Cup race winners in David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joe Nemechek, along with Martin Truex Jr., who on the strength of seven top-10s in 11 races this season enters this weekend sixth in points.
• Somewhat surprisingly, only one driver has won the All-Star Race in consecutive years: Davey Allison (1991-92).
• Kasey Kahne is the only driver to have won the All-Star Race (2008) and not go on to make the Chase in the same season.
• Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose will all be making their first All-Star Race start.
• Twice previously, a driver scored a win in the All-Star Race before winning an actual Sprint Cup Series points race. The first was Michael Waltrip in 1996 driving for the Wood Brothers, while Ryan Newman did so as a rookie in 2002.
1. Kyle Busch
You would think a formula that rewards those not afraid to take chances would be right in Kyle Busch's wheelhouse. But despite being one of the more aggressive drivers in the garage, the 27-year-old is still winless in six starts and has finished in the top 10 just twice. Perhaps this is the year, as Busch was fastest in practice and qualifying.
2. Jimmie Johnson
With how well Jimmie Johnson has performed on the mile-and-a-half tracks – he's finished second (Las Vegas), second (Texas) and third (Kansas) – this season, it's incredibly easy to think he should be in the mix for his third victory in this race, which would move him into a tie with Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon for most All-Star Race wins all-time.
3. Greg Biffle
Originally this spot was earmarked for Kasey Kahne but, after he wrecked in qualifying (forcing him to a backup car for tonight), Greg Biffle gets the nod instead. The series points leader excels on the intermediate tracks, has no issue with being aggressive and, maybe more importantly in a race that will feature plenty of restarts, is one of the best restarters in the business.
Assuming he can race his way in – which I think he will – or win the fan vote, Martin Truex Jr. should find his way toward the front come the final 10 laps of the All-Star Race, as he has been one of the more consistent drivers this season and has shown plenty of speed thus far on the intermediate tracks including a runner-up finish at Kansas.