The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has the weekend off from points racing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an off-weekend — far from it. This is all-star weekend. More specifically, Saturday night is the night for the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And for those not yet all-stars by NASCAR’s criteria, there’s the Sprint Showdown — a preliminary event immediately prior to the All-Star Race that provides drivers a last chance opportunity to get into the big show that is the Sprint All-Star Race.
Drivers who won a race in 2012 or so far in 2013 are already in the All-Star Race, and so are drivers who have won the all-star event within the last 10 years. Also in are drivers who have claimed Sprint Cup championships in the last decade. With Jimmie Johnson’s entire five-year reign falling within that period of time, the drivers getting in by virtue of being past champions is a pretty small fraternity. The only other drivers that meet that qualification are Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and reigning champion Brad Keselowski. And, really, all but Busch of those aforementioned drivers are already in anyway by virtue of winning races here and there last year and this season.
Other driver in because they’ve won the past season and so far this season or are past winners of the All-Star Race include: Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and David Ragan. It seems like a short list, but that’s pretty much it.
There will be three additional drivers in the All-Star Race, though. Remember that Sprint Showdown preliminary event I mentioned? The top-two finishers in it will advance. Then there’s that popularity vote thing. The top vote-getter in a NASCAR.com poll among drivers who aren’t already in and don’t finish first are second in the Showdown get the final All-Star Race starting spot. And with Earnhardt’s win at Michigan International Speedway last year, the fan vote isn’t the Earnhardt provisional it previously was.
Winning the popularity contest isn’t exactly a guaranteed way into the All-Star Race, though. To take advantage of popularity, a driver must finish on the lead lap of the Showdown. The position actually goes to the driver who gets the most votes among those who finish the Showdown on the lead lap. That’s good; I think. After all, if you can’t finish on the lead lap of a race without regular race winners, should you be in the All-Star Race, anyway?
Love her or hate her, there’s a pretty good chance that Danica Patrick’s going to win the fan vote. Her detractors can hope that she doesn’t finish on the lead lap or that her fans aren’t hardcore race fans enough to know about this whole All-Star voting thing. But then again, they knew to vote her the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver last year.
Anyway, with this year’s fan voting not including Earnhardt, who do you think will win it? Will it be Danica? Her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.? Michael Waltrip? Somebody else? Let us know by taking a poll here.
And while you’re at it, you may as well vote in the official poll on NASCAR.com to make that vote actually count for something. You have until Saturday night to do so.
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