The next race on the Sprint Cup schedule doesn’t pay any points and won’t help get the winner into the Chase.
But Saturday night’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway has the biggest payoff of all — $1 million.
The All-Star field, like golf’s Masters, is determined by the previous year’s race winners, past winners of the All-Star race, the top two finishers from the 40-lap Sprint Showdown the night before, plus one fan-vote winner.
So far, 19 drivers, including Carl Edwards of Columbia, are locked into the race. Edwards has won two races in the past year, plus he won the 2011 All-Star race, a victory he still savors.
We all race very hard for every win,” Edwards said. “You drive as hard as you possibly can, but I can tell you this: Leading that All-Star race the year we won it, for the last few laps the stress level was through the roof.
“It is a million dollars! Sprint and NASCAR put that money on the line. I used to race in front of a few people for $75 to win. … I am sure my heart was going about 180 beats per minute.
“It is hard to put that out of your mind. … I had Kyle Busch behind me, and it was pressure. To know that if you just hit all your marks and do this right you are going to win the race and a million dollars, it is crazy. You just almost can’t think about it. It is a cool place and a cool race.”
The All-Star race, now in its 30th year, has undergone some tweaks to its format through the years. This year, the race is putting added emphasis on finishing well in each of the five segments.
The running order at the completion of the fourth segment (lap 80) will be repositioned based on the average finish for the first four segments directly behind the caution car prior to the opening of pit road for the mandatory four-tire pit stop.
The order of the cars returning to the track will determine the starting order of the fifth segment. Running order ties will be broken by the finish of the fourth segment. This revision puts a premium on making all of the laps count leading up to the final 10-lap shootout.
Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, a four-time winner of the race, including the last two years, said enough is enough with all the changes.
“If they have us run the first two segments going the correct direction and then the final segment we run backward…
” a sarcastic Johnson said, drawing laughter from reporters. “That is about the only thing we haven’t tried.”
Johnson joked that maybe the drivers should run two heats on Charlotte’s 1.5-mile track and then finish on the adjacent Dirt Track. Or even use the road course on the property.
“Every year it’s a different format,” Johnson said, turning serious. “I can’t think of the 13 years I’ve gone in racing the All-Star event there has ever been the same thing each year.
“I respect and I say all that not trying to knock the track or the format, but we try. There is unfortunately a level of competition that there are some facts that the fastest always finds its way to the front. We also know that the faster we go, the harder it is to pass. Charlotte is a very fast race track, so the groove gets narrower and narrower so there are some things we just can’t overcome I feel. Unless we mix it up and run it backwards or run the short track.”
AJ Allmendinger, who is still looking for his first Sprint Cup win, is hoping to win the fan vote if he can’t race his way into the race through the Sprint Showdown.
“They’ve got to be tired of voting for Danica (Patrick),” Allmendinger said. “I’m a fun-loving guy. I was with Miss Sprint Cup last week, we were talking about it. I said I would do the worm across the stage if I get voted in … bust a move, whatever.
“I’ve raced my way in a couple of times to the All-Star race. I love the new format now with us racing on Friday. So if you do get your car into the show, your whole team can enjoy it a little bit more.”