All-Star Race Preview

With $1 million up for grabs in Saturday night's 35th running of the NASCAR All-Star Race and no points at stake, drivers will do almost anything to win. Take the 2007 All-Star Race, for instance, it was Kyle Busch wrecking brother Kurt Busch for the chance at winning the big check and they didn't talk to each other the rest of the season. 
Drivers get after a little more than the regular season and have no repercussions if they wreck themselves by making the daring move to pass. 
“We have the chance to win a million dollars and it’s such a challenging race because the package is different and everyone is learning together,” Aric Almirola said. “The All-Star Race is such a cool event because we get to try new things and there’s no pressure on your point standings. But a million dollars is definitely incentive enough to race as hard as we can to bring it home.”
Last year's All-Star Race won by Kevin Harvick was a testing ground for the package we're seeing this season on the 1.5-mile tracks and Saturday night's race will also feature a new package with elements of the Gen-7 car expected to debut in 2021 added to the current package with engines producing 550 horsepower. 
“I think change and attempts at improvement are always a good sign," said Almirola who is 20-to-1 to win Saturday. "That’s the fun thing about the All-Star Race, though. We get to go test out a package and the first person to figure it out has a better chance to win. Our No. 10 Smithfield Ford team has always been good at adapting under pressure, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”
I've been told that the new package should run similar to what we saw at Kansas last week with the cooler night air producing better racing because of more grip. But still, no one really knows what to expect and how these cars will perform.  
“I have not seen the car," Harvick said. "I have seen the drawings."
The odd part about Harvick winning last season after having five wins in the first 12 races is that he's yet to win a race this season while using almost the same package. Harvick is a two-time All-Star Race winner and is one four drivers posted as the 7-to-1 second choice to win by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Fifteen drivers have automatically qualified for All-Star Race based on winning a race in 2018 or 2019 or being a fulltime driver that has a past All-Star Race win like Ryan Newman (2002) or a past Cup champions such as Jimmie Johnson. In addition to Johnson's seven Cup titles, he's also the all-time leader in All-Star Race wins with four.
Three other drivers can be added to the All-Star Race by winning a segment in the preceding Monster Energy Open qualifying race (20 laps / 20 laps / 10 laps). The last way to get in is by fan vote following the Open.
The All-Star Race is broken into four segments (30 laps / 20 laps / 20 laps / 15 laps) with laps under caution not counting in the final stage. 
“You’ve got to go get it," said Austin Dillon who has 40/1 odds to win. "You are on the gas the entire time but there will be some strategy played I’m sure at the end. The real question is going to be how these cars drive. It’s a totally different package. It should be very interesting for our fans.”
Yes, I'm very interested just for the unknown factor, but it certainly makes things more difficult when betting which is why I'm cutting down my normal bankroll for a weekly race much in the same way I've done in restrictor-plate races.
I'm speculating that data from the races using the 550 horsepower at the four 1.5-mile tracks and Fontana's 2-mile layout will be good this week which means we have to start with Team Penske who have won three of those five races. Joey Logano (7/1), the winner of the 2016 All-Star Race, won at Las Vegas and was second at Fontana. Brad Keselowski (7/1) won at Atlanta and last week at Kansas and was runner-up at Las Vegas and third at Fontana. That's great stuff and Keselowski has never won the All-Star Race, so he's kind of due.
The other major player is Joe Gibbs Racing with Kyle Busch winning at Fontana and Denny Hamlin winning at Texas. Hamlin won the 2015 All-Star Race and Busch won the 2017 All-Star Race, and for both drivers, it was their first Cup win of any kind at Charlotte. Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 last fall for his first points-paying Cup win at Charlotte and he did it in dominant fashion starting from the pole, winning the first two sessions and leading 377 of the 400 laps.
But both had troubles last week at Kansas, as did teammate Martin Truex Jr. who has been the King of 1.5s the past four seasons, but Erik Jones finished third. Busch is the 5/1 favorite, Truex is 8/1, Hamlin is 12/1 and Jones is 20/1. 
The most impressive thing I saw last week at Kansas was Stewart-Haas Racing stepping up after bringing brand new cars to the track. They qualified 1-2-3-4 and in the final practice session, three of them had the top-3 10-consecutive lap averages. Harvick led a race-high 104 laps and all four cars finished 14th or better. Clint Bowyer led 12 laps and finished fifth, his third top-five finish in four races on 1.5-mile tracks. None of them have won this season, but it feels like it's coming soon. 
"A million bucks are on the line and that is an opportunity," said Bowyer who is 14/1 to win. "It isn’t every day you get a chance to race for a million dollars.”
Another team that is coming on strong is Hendrick Motorsports and organization that has won the All-State race and record eight times. Alex Bowman has been runner-up the past three races using three different race packages. He'll have to race his way into the All-Star Race by winning a segment in the Open, which I believe he will which is why the "Field Bet" in the All-Star Race has 7/1 odds. Newman (80/1) is the only driver to win the All-Star Race coming from the Open. Bowman could also join Michael Waltrip as a driver to win the All-Star Race with no career Cup wins.
Chase Elliott doesn't have to rely on the fan vote this season due to his four wins the past two seasons and he could join Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. as a father-son tandem to both win All-Star Race. His daddy, Bill Elliott, won the second All-Star Race in 1987. Like Bowman, Elliott has been elite the past three races with top-fives in each, including a Talladega win. No reason to think he can't run strong again with a fourth straight week using a different race package. HMS is back!
Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #9 Chase Elliott (7/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (7/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
4) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
5) #14 Clint Bowyer (14/1)