May 16, 2017
By Micah Roberts
There's a million reasons why NASCAR's version of the All-Star Game is the best in all of sports, but of course the top reason of all is the big $1 million check given to the winner and what drivers are willing to do for it.
Baseball's version is nice too because of nostalgia, but they're no longer playing for anything any more. The NBA & NHL versions don't even resemble their real game and the NFL's version should just stop playing it altogether.
In NASCAR's version, drivers and crew chiefs alter their normal game plan to let it all hang out with the goal of getting that fat check. There's no points involved so there's no 'good day' by finishing in the top-10. It's all or nothing in these drivers minds and they squeeze out every ounce of power their cars can give them and they don't care about how banged up their car gets.
Dangling money can make people do crazy things, including turn brother against brother. In the 2007 All-Star Race, Kurt Busch was in second-place and charging to the front with 18 laps to go when younger brother Kyle got underneath him and wrecked them both. They didn't talk to each other the entire season until Thanksgiving when their grandmother told them to cool it.
“There’s always something exciting about racing for $1 million," said the elder Busch, who won the 2010 All-Star Race. "There’s a unique element about having that kind of money on the line in one night. It’s the prestige, it’s the intensity of it. I like coming onto pit road with no speed limit (during qualifying). I like that the pit crew is part of qualifying. The format itself is unique. It’s a fun environment for a novice fan to enjoy his or her first taste of NASCAR. It’s an even better environment for a longtime fan to see his or her favorite driver laying it all on the line for $1 million with no points at stake.”
It's a great weekend of fun in Charlotte for the fans, but also for the drivers mainly because they're at home. They'll be sleeping on their own pillows over the next two weeks with the Coca-Cola 600 running next weekend at Charlotte as well. It's like the start of a mini-vacation after being on the road, staying in hotels and buses for the past 13 weeks.
Besides the drivers going all out for the win, I also like that it's just the best of the best. No Jalopies on the tracks to get in the way.
The only way to be eligible for the race is by being a winner between the 2016 and 2017 seasons or a past All-Star Race winner. That's a total of 16 drivers. Every other driver can race them self in by winning one of the three stages in the Monster Energy Open qualifying race. Then, whoever is left the fans can choose who they want to fill the 20th and final spot in the All-Star Race set for Saturday night at about 8:00 p.m. ET.
The format of the All-Star Race this season has a total of 70 laps broken up into four stages (20 laps / 20 laps / 20 laps / 10 laps). During the final 10 laps, the field will be cut down to 10 drivers who will qualify by having the best average finish during the first three stages. Winning any of the first three stages also qualifies a driver into the final stage, a 10-lap dash for the cash.
So just who is the most likely to be holding that big check up in the air when that 10-lap dash is over?
We've had four races on 1.5-mile tracks this season and I think we can take a piece of each and incorporate into a handicapping process. The layout closest to Charlotte's is its sister track in Atlanta because the similar steep banking. Brad Keselowski won that race, but Kevin Harvick dominated leading 292 of the 325 laps.
The one negative with putting too much emphasis on Atlanta is that it was the first race of the season on a 1.5-mile track. A lot has happened since then and the teams have all learned on the fly how to best approach this new low downforce package. Martin Truex Jr. appears to have it figured out the best since he won at Las Vegas and last week at Kansas. Jimmie Johnson got the win at Texas in the other race on 1.5s. Johnson has four All-Star race wins over his career.
The stand out in all four situations was Kyle Larson with three runner-ups and sixth-place. Keselowski and last year's All-Star Race winner Joey Logano have also shown to have a decided edge over most of the field.
A driver that will have to race himself in to qualify is Ryan Blaney who led 83 laps last week at Kansas. He's got the type of stuff that could actually win the race. If he did win, he'd be the second driver to win his first career Cup race in the All-Star race which would be ironic because the first driver to do it, Michael Waltrip, also drove the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.
Clint Bowyer would be another driver that should advance. And we should also expect Danica Patrick to win the fan vote.
All-Star Race Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #42 Kyle Larson (6/1)
2) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (6/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
5) #4 Kevin Harvick (7/1)
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