All-Star Race Preview: A Look into the Future

All-Star Race Preview: A Look into the Future

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

NASCAR takes a break from the regular season schedule this weekend to hold its annual All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.  Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize this event in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with daily fantasy racing and many racing pools that form specifically for this event and its unique format. 

This exhibition race is divided into several racing segments which ultimately culminate in the final segment in which a winner is crowned.  The racing begins Saturday evening with the Monster Energy Open, a 50-lap sprint race divided into two 20-lap segments and a final 10-lap dash to the finish.  As many as four Open drivers can transfer into the All-Star Race, three by winning each segment of the Open, and the potential fourth by winning an internet fan vote.  To qualify for the Open, a driver must have finished in the Top 50 of the 2018 Monster Energy Cup standings, attempted to qualify for the 2019 Daytona 500 or competed in a NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series event during the 2019 season.  This is an exciting heat race, because the winners of the segments are usually drivers that are not normally contenders for the victory on most Monster Energy Cup race weekends.  

After the Open and later Saturday night is the Monster Energy Cup All-Star Race.  This is the weekend's main feature.  It is an 85-lap event divided into four segments of 30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps, and a 15-lap

NASCAR takes a break from the regular season schedule this weekend to hold its annual All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.  Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize this event in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with daily fantasy racing and many racing pools that form specifically for this event and its unique format. 

This exhibition race is divided into several racing segments which ultimately culminate in the final segment in which a winner is crowned.  The racing begins Saturday evening with the Monster Energy Open, a 50-lap sprint race divided into two 20-lap segments and a final 10-lap dash to the finish.  As many as four Open drivers can transfer into the All-Star Race, three by winning each segment of the Open, and the potential fourth by winning an internet fan vote.  To qualify for the Open, a driver must have finished in the Top 50 of the 2018 Monster Energy Cup standings, attempted to qualify for the 2019 Daytona 500 or competed in a NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series event during the 2019 season.  This is an exciting heat race, because the winners of the segments are usually drivers that are not normally contenders for the victory on most Monster Energy Cup race weekends.  

After the Open and later Saturday night is the Monster Energy Cup All-Star Race.  This is the weekend's main feature.  It is an 85-lap event divided into four segments of 30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps, and a 15-lap shootout finale.  The drivers who transfer from the Open join the drivers who are race winners from the previous and current Monster Energy Cup seasons, past All-Star event champions and Monster Energy Cup Series champions who are active drivers and have competed in at least one series event during the 2018 or 2019 season. 

 Once the field is set, racing begins in the first segment of 30 laps.  After the first 30-lap segment a break of approximately 5 minutes and optional pit stops are performed.  The next two 20-lap segments play out similarly.  The winner of each of these segments gets an automatic seed into the final 10-driver, 15-lap shootout.  The rest of the 10-driver field is set by average finishing position for the three prior heats.  Any remaining drivers that don't make the cut are eliminated from the final segment.  The winner of this fourth and final segment earns a hefty $1 million purse.  NASCAR overtime rules apply to all segments of the All-Star Race.  Only green flag laps count, so there will be no finishes under caution, and no caution flag laps taken off the board to shorten these exciting segments.

Since this is an exhibition racing event and a departure from NASCAR's normal racing format, we have to put the historical track statistics in proper perspective this week.  The stats can be skewed since most teams come to the All-Star race with "disposable cars" and are looking to hit the big payday even at the expense of wrecking the team's car.  However, we can rely to the historical stats to a certain degree when evaluating our contenders this week.  The stats in the table below cover the Top 15 drivers by average finish in the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishWinsTop 5Top 10PolesLaps Led
Chase Elliott6.001300
Jimmie Johnson6.849111237
Joey Logano6.9147012
Kyle Larson8.3012164
Daniel Suarez8.501100
Kevin Harvick8.825110124
Denny Hamlin9.5149163
Kurt Busch9.71810183
Kyle Busch10.51483256
Ryan Newman11.61371111
Brad Keselowski11.60260111
Austin Dillon12.000000
Ryan Blaney13.000001
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.13.700005
Martin Truex Jr.13.9012017

Last season at the All-Star Race, NASCAR introduced restrictor plates, special aero ducts, and a 6-inch rear spoiler with ear extensions.  The results produced 38 green-flag passes and very competitive racing.  What we saw in last year's All-Star Race led to the aero rules package for 2019 on intermediate ovals.  This season, we're going to get another glimpse into the future.  There are two elements planned for the 2021 Gen-7 car that will be used in this exhibition race.  The single-piece carbon fiber splitter pan and the radiator exit duct through the hood.  Both of these elements are being evaluated for future use and will be in play on all cars in this weekend's racing.  Once again, NASCAR will get to test some new tech in actual race conditions and see what the results bear. 

This weekend's race is unlike any of the normal Monster Energy Cup events, so we'll handle the prognostications a bit different as well.  We'll give you our picks for who'll contend for the win in the Monster Energy Open, and then our picks for who'll contend for winning the third and final segment of the Monster Energy Cup All-Star Race.

The Open Contenders – Drivers in the hunt to win the Monster Energy Open

Kyle Larson The slow start to the season has seen Larson experience some highs and some even bigger lows.  However, the speed of the No. 42 Chevrolet has come on strong the last couple races.  Larson had strong cars at both Dover and Kansas, but the breaks would not go his way to get those wins.  The Chip Ganassi Racing star falls back into the Open field this year after failing to reach victory lane in 2018 and thus far in 2019.  This will be Larson's fourth start in the Open.  He won this event in 2016, so he knows how to cash in during this wild heat race and transfer into the All-Star Race.  Larson is simply put the biggest star in this thinner Cup Series field.  Given the improvement in the No. 42 team in the last couple weeks, this should be Larson's race to lose.  A stage win and spot in the All-Star Race is all but guaranteed. 

Alex Bowman Arguably the hottest driver in the series coming into All-Star weekend is Bowman and his No. 88 Chevrolet team.  The young driver is riding a three-race runner-up streak, and is coming off a near brush with victory lane at Kansas Speedway last weekend.  Bowman will be making his fourth-career start in the Open.  Last season he won the first stage of this event and transferred into his first All-Star Race field later that evening.  Bowman would crash and fail to finish the All-Star Race, but his laps led and stage win in the Open stand out.  He's a more experienced, and more polished driver now a year later.  The driver of the No. 88 Chevy Camaro is also riding one seriously hot hand into Charlotte for All-Star weekend.

Daniel Suarez The Stewart Haas Racing youngster will put the No. 41 Ford on the Open grid this weekend and attempt to race his way into the All-Star Race.  It shouldn't be a terribly difficult feat.  Suarez did that very thing in last year's Open.  He led 18 laps and won the second stage of the Open.  Later he would race to a brilliant runner-up finish in the Monster Energy All-Star Race.  In addition, Suarez won the 2017 installment of the Open and transferred into the All-Star Race as well.  Although he didn't fare nearly as well in that exhibition.  So in summary, Suarez has won stages and transferred from the Open into the All-Star Race each of the last two seasons.  He'll put that spotless record on the line Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

William Byron The mid-range shot of the field, but with the best chance to upset the much more favored teams, has to easily be youngster Byron and the No. 24 team.  This will be his second appearance in All-Star weekend festivities.  Byron recently grabbed his second Top 10 of the season at the Monster Mile with an impressive eighth-place showing.  So things have been moving in a positive direction for this young driver and team.  Last year in Byron's Open debut, he finished a respectable seventh in the 21-car field.  That was a nice showing for a young driver making his debut in such a big exhibition race.  Byron is now a year older, wiser and more experienced.  He should race among the leaders in this 50-lap shootout. 

Paul Menard Menard will be making his amazing 12th start in the Monster Energy Open.  That makes him one of the most experienced drivers in the field.  He won the pole for this event in 2015, and finished a career-best third in that Open.  The No. 21 Ford team has been pretty decent on intermediate ovals this season, and that's a good indicator coming to Charlotte Motor Speedway.  While Menard has never won an Open race and transferred into the All-Star main event, that's a bit negated by his recent level of performance.  In this event one year ago the Wood Brothers Racing veteran ran inside the Top 5 for most of the 50 laps and finished fourth at the end of stage 3.  Menard will be in the mix again Saturday night. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The driver of the No. 17 Ford is fresh off an 11th-place finish at Kansas Speedway last Saturday night.  He led 11 laps and raced among the Top 10 for much of that 400-mile race.  The Roush Fenway Racing veteran now brings that momentum to Charlotte for All-Star weekend.  Stenhouse will be making his fifth-career start in the Monster Energy Open.  However, it will be his first entry into the Open since 2016.  He's spent the last two years racing in the night's main event as a qualified driver.  Stenhouse has once raced his way into the big race with his runner-up finish in the Open in 2013.  However, other Open outings have been quite forgettable.  It's a thinner field, and Stenhouse stands a slugger's chance, but he's clearly one of the second-tier contenders to win a stage of this race.   

Chris Buescher One of the longer shots of the field is coming off his second Top-10 finish of the season at Kansas Speedway.  Buescher was brilliant last weekend and raced among the leaders all evening to finish 10th in the Digital Ally 400.  He'll bring that speed, and likely that same car to Charlotte this Saturday night.  This will be Buescher's third-career start in the Monster Energy Open.  One year ago he raced to a respectable fifth-place finish in this exhibition event.  The No. 37 team is looking really sharp right now, and intermediate ovals have been very good for Buescher thus far in 2019.  If there's a long shot, Hail Mary contender in the field with a legitimate shot at upsetting the bigger names it's definitely Buescher and his JTG Daugherty Racing team.

The All-Star Race Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kevin Harvick Harvick is a two-time winner of the All-Star Race, and defending event champion with his victory one year ago.  He's also finished runner-up in this event three different times.  His 18-career starts in this exhibition event are tops in the driver field, and they've produced well over 100 laps led in All-Star action.  You'd be challenged to find a more experienced and knowledgeable driver in this race.  Harvick is coming off a pole position and 104 laps led performance at Kansas Speedway last weekend, so the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team is finding their stride on the intermediate ovals right now.  This is a night in NASCAR for the stars to step up and shine, and it seems very likely that this will be Harvick's night to dictate whether he wins or loses. 

Kyle Busch This will be Busch's 14th appearance in the All-Star Race. He is a one-time winner by virtue of winning here in 2017.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star started on the outside pole, led 10 laps and took his first All-Star victory in that exhibition race two seasons ago.  For years his aggressive driving style prevented him from winning this race, but he's overcome that with more maturity in recent starts.  Coming into the weekend, Busch has been a top performer on the intermediate ovals.  He finished third at Las Vegas and finished sixth at Atlanta earlier this season.  That makes the No. 18 Toyota team a dangerous squad heading into this installment of the All-Star Race.  It goes without saying that Busch is a threat to win every time he suits up to race.    

Martin Truex Jr. This will be Truex's ninth appearance in the Monster Energy All-Star Race. Although he's never won the All-Star Race, he is a two-time winner of the opening heat race (Monster Energy Open), so he knows all too well the pressure and performance required to race his way into the night's main event.  The No. 19 Toyota team Joe Gibbs Racing has been a bit inconsistent on intermediate ovals this season, but we have to look back to his runner-up finish earlier in the year at Atlanta and his eighth-place finish at Las Vegas.  Recent short track victories at Richmond and Dover have boosted Truex and this team's confidence.  Now it's time to rack up a first-time win in the All-Star Race and the big million-dollar payday. 

Brad Keselowski The Penske Racing star is due some close examination before this All-Star Race.  Keselowski is a one-time winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway in points-paying events, and he boasts a pretty strong resume in the All-Star exhibition events.  The veteran driver has racked up three wins already this season.  The most recent victory was his impressive performance at the Kansas intermediate oval last weekend.  Keselowski owns a pair of runner-up finishes in this exhibition event in 2012 and 2016, so he knows what it is to race up front and taste a near-brush with that million-dollar purse.  He had a fast car in this event one year ago, but was taken out in a late-race crash with Martin Truex Jr.  We should see a motivated driver and No. 2 Ford team this weekend in one of NASCAR's most prestigious prime-time events.   

Chase Elliott Elliott's last month of racing has been very eventful.  First, he won in thrilling fashion at the Talladega Superspeedway.  The following week he won the pole position and finished fifth in the 400-mile battle at the Monster Mile.  Last week he charged from the rear of the field to finish fourth at Kansas Speedway.  So Elliott brings a three-race Top-5 streak in tow to Charlotte and All-Star weekend.  This will be the young driver's fourth entry into the Monster Energy All-Star Race.  Elliott owns finishes of sixth-, seventh- and fifth-place in his prior three attempts.  This will be the first season that he's not had to race his way in via the Open, so some pressure is off.  We should likely see that translated into more focus in the big race.  Elliott is a dangerous driver right now, and should not be taken lightly by anyone.     

Joey Logano The Penske Racing star will be aiming for his second-career win in this prestigious exhibition event.  Logano won the All-Star Race in 2016 and he finished runner-up in the 2013 installment, so he knows what it takes to win this high profile event.  In this race one year ago, he was within striking distance of the race-winner and finished third in the 2018 All-Star Race.  Logano won at the similar oval in Las Vegas earlier this season, but he's been in a bit of an intermediate oval slump since with finishes of 17th- and 15th-place at Texas and Kansas.  With the big payday on the line, we expect the driver of the No. 22 Ford to be very motivated and rebound in Saturday night's All-Star battle. 

Kurt Busch Busch is a one-time winner of the All-Star Race, and that victory came in 2010 while he was racing for Roger Penske.  The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has over 80 laps led and eight-career Top-5 finishes in this exhibition event.  Four of those Top 5's have come in just the last six All-Star events.  It's easy to see that the 40-year-old driver has tons of experience performing on this big stage.  Busch has a pair of Top 5's and four Top 10's on the cookie cutter tracks this season, so the No. 1 Chevrolet team does have the speed on these ovals.  Busch also led 23 laps at the similar oval in Las Vegas earlier this year.  This driver and the team have the makeup to be upset minded in this All-Star Race.

Alex Bowman This pick is contingent on Bowman transferring into the All-Star field from the Open earlier Saturday night.  However, that should be a pretty safe assumption considering how well the No. 88 team is racing right now.  If that happens, it would be Bowman's second entry into the All-Star Race.  He made it in last year by winning stage 1 of the Open.  While this Hendrick Motorsports driver is short on experience in this exhibition event, his hot hand cannot be ignored right now.  Bowman rides a three-race runner-up finish streak into the All-Star break, and he very nearly won at Kansas Speedway this past weekend.  Bowman is a driver poised to win at any moment, and it could very well happen Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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