ThatsRacin

What should NASCAR fans expect in the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway? Well...

Feel what it is like to go 170mph with Brendan Marks

Marks took three adrenaline pumping laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway during a ride with the NASCAR Racing Experience.
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Marks took three adrenaline pumping laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway during a ride with the NASCAR Racing Experience.

Ah, the NASCAR All-Star Race.

Once just a precursor to the daunting Coca-Cola 600, the event now has taken on a personality all its own on the first of back-to-back weekends of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Of course, it helps that the race doesn’t count for any points towards the Cup Series championship hunt, instead rewarding the winner with a $1 million prize.

So, what should fans expect come Saturday (8 p.m., FS1)? A quick rundown of the rules and format, plus other final notes from the speedway:

Unlike next week’s 600, the longest race on the Cup Series schedule, the All-Star Race is essentially a series of short-lap shootouts. This year’s race is split into four stages of 30, 20, 20, and 15 laps. Each stage is eligible for overtime, and only green flag laps count during the final, 15-lap stage.

Translation: That’s where all the craziness goes down.

Last year’s All-Star Race was especially notable for its experimental rules package, which featured restrictor plates at Charlotte for the first time. That package was adopted for the 2019 Cup season, but the results have been mixed.

This year’s rules package isn’t quite as dramatic, but it does feature elements of NASCAR’s Gen-7 cars, which are scheduled to debut in 2021. The most significant technical changes this year are a single-piece carbon fiber splitter, aimed at creating a more stable aero platform, and a radiator duct that exits through the hood to reduce engine temperatures. That duct gives the appearance of two holes in the center of the cars’ hoods.

There are a few ways to qualify for the All-Star Race, the easiest being winning a Cup race in either 2018 or 2019. Past Cup champions and All-Star winners are also eligible. The following 15 drivers have already met those requirements: Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and Chase Elliott.

Four more drivers will join that group on Saturday. Another driver will be entered for winning the fan vote, and three others will be admitted for winning a stage of the All-Star Open on Saturday evening. Kannapolis native and Cup Series rookie Daniel Hemric registered the fastest Open practice time on Friday.

While Kyle Busch already has an automatic “in” to the All-Star Race, he took time Friday to look back at some of his all-time favorite memories of the race (excluding his 2017 win, of course). Atop the list was Jeff Gordon’s 1997 victory, where Gordon’s car sported a “Jurassic Park” paint scheme — thus the nickname T-Rex — and dominated so absolutely that NASCAR ultimately banned that car from future racing.

“I think T-Rex is probably the coolest one for me,” Busch said. “I was a huge ‘Jurassic Park’ fan. I still am today. (My son) Brexton is as well. We’ve watched all the ‘Jurassic Park’ movies and ‘Jurassic World’ movies, so we love that. To see how dominant that car was and how fast that car was and it being with Jeff Gordon, who was my favorite driver growing up as a kid, was pretty cool to watch.”

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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