All-Star Race certain to put on a show

This Saturday night. Charlotte Motor Speedway. No points, no holds barred, no “long-term” racing, no bull you-know-what. Just man, machine, and $1 million on the line. The All-Star Race. Win the race and you’ll get a big payday, as well as a guaranteed spot in the race for the rest of your career. Most drivers would spin out their own mother to win a race, moreover $1 million dollars.

WHAT: Monster Energy All-Star Race (105 miles, 70 laps, stages of 20, 20, 20 and 10 laps, respectively) and Monster Energy Open (20, 20 and 10 laps, respectively)

WHEN: Saturday, May 20, 2017. Open at 6 p.m. ET & All-Star Race at 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1

WHERE: Charlotte Motor Speedway, 1.5-mile asphalt quad-oval located in Concord, N.C.

FAVORITES: Martin Truex Jr. (6/1) and Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch (7/1)


Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images

LAST YEAR’S WINNER

Joey Logano won his first career All-Star Race after passing Kyle Larson for the lead with under 10 laps to go in the event. Team Penske took the top two spots, as Brad Keselowski finished second in the event behind the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion.


Photo: Getty Images

THE FIELD (AND WHO’S IN IT, ANYWAY?)

Qualifying for the All-Star Race is unique—and awesome. Drivers run two full laps, which includes a get-up-to-speed lap and a four-tire pit stop on pit road. What’s the catch? There’s no speed limit. So, cars come barreling down pit road at 160+ mph, instead of the usual 45 mph.

Five of the 16 drivers locked into the show (by a win or pole in 2016 or 2017) advanced to the second and final round of qualifying. After the five drivers took time in the final round, it was the current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader, Kyle Larson, who sat P1.

Photo: Getty Images

His lap of 143.839 mph was good enough for first, followed by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. Rounding out the top ten are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray.

The remainder of the field will be set after the Monster Energy Open concludes. Winners of each stage (including the final one, deemed the “race winner”) as well as the Monster Energy Fan Vote will race in the big show a mere hour after the checkered flag flies on the Open.


NEW FORMAT

In mid-April, NASCAR announced a new format for this year’s race. The new format pays homage to the 25th anniversary of the first All-Star Race under the lights, “One Hot Night” in 1992, won by Davey Allison.

The race will have four stages. The first three will be 20 laps each, with the final one being 10 laps in length. However, the final stage will only consist of 10 drivers. Those 10 will be determined by whoever wins the preceding stages as well as average finish of the first three stages. Everyone will race 60 laps, but only the final 10 will race the full 70.

Prior to the start of the final stage, the 10 drivers will be lined up in order of average finish. The cars will then come to pit road, and that’s where strategy will get interesting (we’ll get to that later in this article). But the final 10 laps are going to be some that you won’t want to miss.


PAST WINNERS

Ten drivers in the field have won the All-Star Race before. Jimmie Johnson has won it four times, and nine other drivers have won it once. They are Joey Logano (2016), Denny Hamlin (2015), Jamie McMurray (2014), Kurt Busch (2010), Kasey Kahne (2008), Kevin Harvick (2007), Matt Kenseth (2003), Ryan Newman (2002) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000).


TRUEX JR.’S MILLION TO LOSE?

Martin Truex Jr. won last weekend at Kansas, he won the Coca-Cola 600 last year in one of the most dominating performances in NASCAR history, and he’s the favorite to win his first career All-Star Race for Furniture Row Racing in the No. 78 Toyota. And for good reason.

He’s been stellar on intermediate tracks since the start of the 2014 season. Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick usually end up pacing the field for most the race whenever the circuit hits 1.5-mile tracks. He has momentum, he has the equipment, he has the confidence and he has the talent. Now, it’s just a matter of MTK avoiding the bad luck for a second straight week and cashing in.


OPTION TIRE

Goodyear and NASCAR opted to bring a special tire for this weekend’s race to spice things up. The tire is being called the “option” tire, as teams will have the option of putting it on their race cars during the main event. It has green lettering–to distinguish from the normal yellow lettering–and is softer in nature, which translates to more grip and faster speeds overall.

If a team is to choose the option tire before the start of the final stage, they must start behind the other cars that didn’t take option tires. This will create a plethora of passing and hard racing towards the end of the race, and a great show for the fans at Charlotte.


PREDICTION

Per usual, I’m sticking to my guns this week on Victory Lane and going with Kyle Larson to win his first All-Star Race. He was so close to winning this thing one year ago, and I think with the combination of the option tire as well as consistent finishes, the No. 42 will get the million.