Friday, May 21, 2010

$1 Million Reasons Why NASCAR Has The Best All-Star Event in Sports

The greatest All-Star event in sports takes place Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway as NASCAR’s best go at it with the vigor and intensity that other sports All-Star events could only dream of. Even though NASCAR’s event is a non-point exhibition event like all the other sports, the major difference between them all is that NASCAR and it’s sponsors delivers a total purse of over $2.9 million dollars with the winning driver collecting a cool $1 million.
Only the season opening Daytona 500 offers a larger prize for winning a race. Unlike the other sports, there is actually a bright side for the fans, drivers, and teams alike solely due to the race not affecting the regular season -- we all get more action than a regular season game or race. Generally, we see the All-Stars in other sports go through the motions and loaf around before and during their games, not wanting to get hurt for a mere exhibition, but not with NASCAR. Each and everyone of the All-Star drivers go after the win with little concern for their car or hesitancy of how a poor finish might affect their point standing. Drivers make that extra daring move that they wouldn't normally make in a points race because there are no consequences.
The format of the race has been tinkered with over the years since it’s inception in 1985, but the mad dash to the finish for the large cash prize has always been the key to igniting the same type of fantastic finish every year.
This years format has 16 drivers automatically qualified on the basis of winning a race either last season, or in the first 12 races this year. Two other drivers also made the field because of being a past Sprint Cup champion in the last 10 years (Bobby Labonte 2000) and winning the All-Star race within the last 10 years (Dale Earnhardt Jr 2000).
Three other drivers will also make the race based on what happens in the 40-lap qualifying race held just prior to the All-Star Race. The winner and runner-up finisher will make it and then the fans will be able to vote in their favorite among all those that haven’t qualified.
Because of this race being a non-points event and the extreme possibility that the car will be involved in a wreck, most teams do not bring their best cars for this type of track opting to save their best for next weeks Coca-Cola 600 held on the same track.
On a normal week of racing, we are able to read a lot into what happened in practice as well as what cars we’re brought to determine who may best equipped to win each week. A great tool to use at most tracks is using the average speeds in practice to see who should be good on long runs, but that all goes out the window this week.
There was only one practice run this week and because of the unique qualifying procedures that required three lap run with a four-tire pit stop, many practiced the entry and take off from pit road during the practices. Because of that, there is no clear cut way to analyze how good any car was other than their single lap times.
So the best thing to do to get a good read on who should do well is resort back to each drivers recent past performance on the track and how they have done on the three sister tracks of Charlotte this season. The 1.5-mile high banked tracks of Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Texas are all similar to Charlotte and require similar set-ups. The drivers and teams that did well collectively in all three should fare well Saturday night, along with next Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
The obvious standout coming into the race is Jimmie Johnson who has dominated not only Charlotte, but the new Las Vegas layout and Atlanta over his career. He’s not bad at Texas either, but his one win there doesn’t match-up even close to his six career wins at Charlotte, in addition to his two All-Star wins. This season hasn’t been much different. Johnson won at Las Vegas, finished 12th in Atlanta, and second at Texas.
This could be the perfect spot for Johnson to reclaim some of his perceived loss of excellence in the public’s eye. Johnson hasn’t won a race since week five and some have speculated that the  conversion to the new spoiler is the culprit to not winning. However, Johnson’s finish at Texas this year suggests that he’ll be just fine and it’s more likely that drivers like Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin has just made his competition better than what we saw early in the season.
Jeff Gordon doesn’t have a win this season and hasn’t won since Texas early last year, but he still should be considered one of the favorites to win just because of the runs he’s had this year on like-tracks. At Las Vegas and Texas, Gordon thoroughly dominated the field leading the most laps in each but couldn’t capture the win in either. There has been no one with worse luck this season than Gordon as he has been repeatedly beat on restarts late in the race with the checkered flag only a few laps away.
Gordon is a three-time winner of the All-Star race and has another five wins at Charlotte during the regular season. Should Gordon find himself in a position late in this race like he’s been in all year, look for him to show a nasty side we have rarely seen from the future Hall of Famer. Expect him to lay it all on the line, with no hint of conservatism. It’s been a good season, but very frustrating one for Gordon. $1 million sure could change the fortunes of the team from here on out in the final 24 races.
Kurt Busch is one of the drivers who brought a quality top notch car from the team’s garage. It’s not the winning chassis from this years Atlanta race, but it is the winning car from last fall at Texas where he capitalized on little brother Kyle running out of fuel late in the race. There is no doubt about it, Kurt always has one of the best chances at winning on these type of tracks. Three wins on them since last season is a pretty impressive feat when considering how tough Johnson has been to beat over the same span.
One of the best illustrations of how important this race is and how a driver lays it all on the line was in the final laps of the 2007 All-Star race when Kurt Busch was in second-place charging to the front and his brother Kyle made a daring move underneath him, lost control, and wrecked them both. It was an amazing site to see and one that caused a rift between the brothers for the entire year.
Because of Kyle’s nature, he is going to run even wilder and more daring for this type of event. It’s just the way is and in this type of Saturday night special, it’ll be like he’s racing Legend cars in the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway again. Because of all the daring moves, Kyle has never had any success in this event. His best finish occurred last season with seventh-place, but this year could be different because no one is currently hotter coming in than Kyle Busch having two wins in the last three races.
Mark Martin falls into a similar category with Kurt Busch in that he has brought a pretty good car this week, or at least a car that has winning pedigree in it. He’s starting the chassis that won at Darlington and Chicago last season and finished sixth at Texas earlier this year. He’ll be making an event record 21st career start. He has two All-Star wins with the last coming in 2005.
The only drivers that have finished in the top-10 of all three sister tracks of Charlotte’s this year are Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick. Neither  won on the tracks, but both are former All-Star winners. In 2008, Kahne didn’t even qualify for the All-Star race by means of winning the prior year or racing himself into the race in the Shootout, but the fans voted him in, and wouldn’t you know it, he went on to win the $1 million. That win also propelled Kahne to a win the following week in the Coca-Cola 600.    
Harvick is currently the points leader and was the beneficiary of not having to battle the Busch brothers late after their wreck. He’s got the mentality to tangle with anyone even without $1 million at stake, but now he’s got a engine loaded with horsepower that gives him the best chance to win since he did it in 2007.
The race is really a crap shoot like no other. Only former Charlotte track President, and All-Star race creator, Humpy Wheeler was able to pick the winner of this race with ease as he went on to correctly pick 10 of the 19 races. For betting purposes, I like the value of Kahne and Harvick at 15 to 1 each. From a logical standpoint, Gordon and Johnson look to be the ones to beat. From a local stand-point, here’s to hoping one of Busch brothers cash in big with their own Mega-Bucks score.     

Read More Here..Including Top 10 Driver Ratings For All-Star Race and Odds   

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