It’s called the NASCAR All-Star Race, so it stands to reason that the event has historically been dominated by legends.
The first nine All-Star Races (then known as The Winston) were won by future NASCAR Hall of Famers, and since then Victory Lane has been visited by a steady stream of superstars. Steady, that is, but not unbroken.
In 1996, Michael Waltrip became the first driver to win the All-Star Race before he won a points race. In 2002, Ryan Newman joined him. Will there be a third this year?
The two best candidates are second-year drivers Chase Elliott (fourth in points) and Ryan Blaney (11th in points). Both have shown flashes in their careers but have yet to visit Victory Lane. Blaney, in particular, has been fast at intermediate tracks similar to Charlotte; he led 83 laps at Kansas and 148 at Texas.
The short final segment of the NASCAR All-Star Race plays to the strengths of Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott.
Any prediction about the outcome of Saturday’s race comes with a giant asterisk because the format is so unusual.
Blaney and Elliott will have to race their way into the event. Drivers who have won at least one race this season or last season or a previous All-Star Race qualify, as do drivers who win each of the three stages of the Monster Energy Open (held right before the All-Star Race). Plus, fans will vote in a driver.
The All Star Race will have four stages – three of 20 laps before a 10-lap finale. Only 10 drivers will earn a spot in the final segment. The winners of each of the first three segments, plus the drivers with the best average finish in the first three segments, advance to the final round.
Elliott is, generally speaking, a more measured driver than Blaney. Elliott is more consistent, while Blaney is more likely to follow a blistering run with a rub or two against the wall (or against another car, or the pace car, or whatever is in the way).
The short final segment plays to their strengths (or at the very least against their weaknesses). Both have had the fastest car for stretches of races but have given up the lead, for various reasons, near the end. Perhaps the shootout style will hide their inability to maintain dominance over the course of a long race.