May 13, 2014
By Micah Roberts
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For the next two weeks every NASCAR Sprint Cup team will get to stay comfortably at home as the next two events will be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, beginning with Saturday night’s All-Star Race. It’s a non-points event where all the winners from 2013-14 are invited to participate with the top prize being a $1 million check.
So far this season, we’ve seen a few teams treat the regular season races like non-point races just because of changes to the Chase where wins are more important than points. It’s safe to say we all like the changes because the racing has been better, just like it is every year in these All-Star events. It’s all about winning and second-place is just the first loser.
There are other ways to get an invite if not having been to victory lane lately. The past 10 Sprint Cup Champions are eligible, along with the past 10 All-Star Race winners. There’s also a qualifying race (Sprint Showdown) for others that didn’t meet the criteria. The winner of that 40-lap race, along with the second-place finisher, get invitations and then all others will be eligible for the fans to vote them in. Once the field is all set, they'll race in five different segments totaling 90 laps.
To get a head start on who is likely to run fast Saturday, close looks should be paid to what happened last week at Kansas and previous races at Las Vegas and Texas. Charlotte is a fast high banked 1.5-mile track that is most similar to Texas among the three 1.5s raced on this season. Based on that alone, you would upgrade the chances of the Penske cars of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, along with Hendrick Motorsports’ new superstar Jeff Gordon.
Gordon is probably on the best roll of all -- second at Texas, first at Kansas, and leads in points. He is the new superstar because Jimmie Johnson has been the top Hendrick driver since joining the team in 2002. Gordon has been kind of forgotten about since winning his fourth and final Cup championship in 2001. Gordon also last won the All-Star race in 2001. It was his third win. Johnson has four wins, including last year’s event.
The Stewart-Haas cars are on the next plateau off candidates with Kevin Harvick a notch above his teammates. But closing fast is Danica Patrick. Yes, Danica Patrick. She had her best career finish (7th) last week, and she was noticeably better because of a conversation she had with teammate Harvick about how to attack the corners, trust the car and not be so apprehensive. She let it all hang out, and was passing quality cars all night long at Kansas, getting as high as third in the middle stages of the race. Of all the type of tracks in the series, the 1.5s gave her the most trouble. She’ll have to qualify to get in, if not it’ll be up to the fans to vote her in. After last week’s run, she gained a whole new fan base and lots of respect.
The top candidate to win the Sprint Showdown is Kyle Larson who has Top-5 finishes this season at Fontana and Texas. There is nobody that comes close in the Showdown to matching what he has done on these type of tracks. A case could be made for the Richard Petty duo of Marcose Ambrose and Aric Almirola to fare well.
Top-5 Finish All-Star Race Prediction:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
2) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
3) #4 Kevin Harvick (6/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
5) #2 Brad Keselowski (10/1)
Top-5 Sprint Showdown Prediction:
1) #42 Kyle Larson (5/2)
2) #43 Aric Almirola (8/1)
3) #9 Marcos Ambrose (8/1)
4) #15 Clint Bowyer (3/1)
5) #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (12/1)
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