In a media session at Kansas Speedway last week, NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson joked about the ever-changing format of the Sprint All-Star Race. He sarcastically suggested that drivers go backward or even race on a neighboring dirt track if NASCAR wanted to further tinker with the All-Star Race, now in its 30th year.
But Johnson will be all business once he takes the track and begins racing for the $1 million first prize in Saturday night’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Johnson, a six-time Sprint Cup champion, has won the All-Star Race a record four times, including the past two years. Only one other driver, Davey Allison in 1992 and 1993, has won the race in consecutive years. And Johnson often has built on his success at the All-Star Race the following week in the Coca-Cola 600, winning that race three times. In all, Johnson has won six Sprint Cup races at Charlotte, tied with Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most in history.
“Charlotte has been so good to us,” said Johnson, who won five of those six Cup races there from 2003 to 2005. “Even though our dominance was a while ago, we’ve been able to win the All-Star a few times since. We’ve definitely been in the money and have had a shot to win. I’m carrying good confidence in there. “
Racing in a points-paying race such as the Coca Cola 600 on May 25 and the race in October is a totally different dynamic than the All-Star Race, which is a lucrative exhibition.
“It definitely changes things,” Johnson said. “People are willing to take more risks and opportunities … if you’re really looking from second to first. I think if second place is in reaching distance of the leader, he will certainly do what he can for $1 million and no implications in points.
“From fifth to fourth, it doesn’t pay much. Why are you going to risk making the guy in fourth mad? He’s going to come after you the following week. Given the race format, I think it certainly can make things exciting.”
There’s some thought of moving the All-Star Race around to different tracks, much like other sports rotate their All-Star games. But one reason the drivers like the All-Star Race so much is nearly all of them live in and around Charlotte, N.C., and they get to spend two straight weeks at home racing in front of friends, family and race shop employees.
“I think it would be very entertaining on a short track,” Johnson said of the All-Star Race. “But living it like we do week after week, man, it’s so nice for us to be home for a couple weekends. We have 39 races in 41 weeks. The teams are based here. It’s nice to be in our own backyard. “From a selfish standpoint, I’m happy with it being here in Charlotte so we get time at home and see our families and sleep in our own beds. That’s a nice perk.”
All-time All-Star win leaders
||2003, ’06, ’12, ’13
||1995, ’97, ’01
Sprint Cup data
• The race: NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
• The place: Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval in Concord, N.C.
• The time/day: 8:10 p.m. Saturday ( Fox Sports 1)
• The distance: 135 miles, 90 laps
• 2013 winner: Jimmie Johnson
• Friday: Camping World Trucks North Carolina Education Lottery 200, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1.
• Sunday: Nationwide Get to Know Newton 250, 1 p.m. ESPN.
• Sunday: NHRA Summer Nationals, 8 p.m., ESPN2.