This All-Star has best format

Published 6:50 pm Friday, May 21, 2010

NASCAR’s annual night of stars is Saturday night with the running of the 2010 Sprint Cup All-Star Challenge at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

This non-points race is one of the highlights of each season, with special paint schemes under the lights and a cool $1 million to the winner.

With every year the format and invitation system changes and this year is no different.

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There are six ways in which a driver can become eligible to compete in the All-Star race, and currently 18 drivers are eligible with three more becoming eligible Saturday night.

Drivers who have won races in 2009 or thus far in 2010 are eligible as are Sprint Cup champions in the last 10 years. Seventeen of the currently eligible drivers meet one of these two criteria. The remaining driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is a previous winner of the All-Star race within the last 10 years.

The other three criteria involve events scheduled for Saturday. The winning driver of the Sprint Showdown, the qualifying race held before the All-Star race, will gain entry into the big show, as will the runner-up. The final way to make the field is be voted in by the fans.

In total, 21 drivers will compete in a four-segment race with the big prize of $1 million going to the winner.

The first segment is 50 laps with a mandatory green-flag pit stop on lap 25 with each team changing all four tires. The second segment in 20 laps and teams have the option to pit at the conclusion of the segment or stay on the track to gain positions. Another 20-lap segment follows and includes a 10-minute break for teams to make adjustments to the cars.

The finishing order of the third segment will determine the starting order of the pace lap before fourth and final segment, a 10-lap dash to the checkered flag. After one pace lap, all teams must pit, change four tires and the exit order off pit road determines the green flag started order.

To me, this format is the best of recent years. The pit crews must be on point and the 10-lap dash will be hugely exciting. Expect lots of sparks, bumping and grinding in the attempt to win the big money.

There are a couple of big stories developing off the track this week that you might keep an eye on.

Brian Vickers announced Friday that he would, after sitting out last week at Dover, will take the rest of the season off to concentrate on his health issues.

Vickers was admitted to a Washington, D.C., hospital last week with chest pains. Numerous blood clots were discovered around his lungs and in one leg. After returning home to North Carolina, the symptoms returned and he spent another two night hospitalized. The wise decision was made for Vickers to not return to competition this season.

Casey Mears drove the Red Bull No. 83 last week and will drive at Charlotte this week, but no announcement has been made relative to the driver for the remainder of the season.

It appears that Kevin Harvick, the current points leader, is close to extending his contract with Richard Childress. A news conference is scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Charlotte where the announcement most likely will be made. Because primary sponsor Shell Pennzoil has already announced plans to leave Childress and Harvick next season, a sponsorship announcement could also be made. Don’t be surprised to see Harvick in a red Budweiser No. 29 next season.