Thursday, May 17, 2012

All Star Weekend Ready For Liftoff

It’s All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, NC, and the attention of NASCAR Nation is firmly focused on Charlotte Motor Speedway for a two-week smorgasbord of events that begins with Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and concludes next Sunday with NASCAR’s longest race; the Coca-Cola 600.

Truck Series leader Timothy Peters
…The Camping World Trucks return to action Friday night for the first time in nearly a month, with Timothy Peters holding a tenuous lead in the championship standings over James Buescher. The Turner Motorsports driver has dug out of a hole created by a 17th-place finish in the season opener at Daytona to climb within just four points of the series lead, and claimed his first career series victory last time out at Kansas Speedway. Justin Lofton stands third – just 11 points off the lead – with rookie Ty Dillon and Nelson Piquet, Jr., completing the Top-5. Parker Kligerman, Ron Hornaday, Jr., Daytona winner John King, Jason White and Matt Crafton round out the Top-10 in the standings.

…Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All Star Race features the latest in a series of annual format tweaks. This year, the race will be contested in five segments; four 20-lappers and a 10-lap finale. The four segment winners will be moved to the head of the pack prior to a mandatory pit stop preceding the final segment, placing a new emphasis on winning. Drivers will start the final, 10-lap segment in the order they leave pit road.

Trevor Bayne is qualified
…The 2012 All-Star race will be a 22-car affair. On the list of guaranteed starters by virtue of Sprint Cup wins in 2011 or 2012 are (in order of qualification): Trevor Bayne, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Regan Smith, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle. Mark Martin makes the field by virtue of his 2005 All-Star win, leaving only the Sprint Showdown (2) and Fan Vote slots still to be filled.

…Dale Earnhardt, Jr., will compete in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. All that remains is to determine how. Winless this year and last (and then some) Earnhardt presently is not qualified for the annual event. As such, he will be required to race in Saturday’s preliminary “Sprint Showdown,” where both the winner and runner-up advance to the main event. Barring that, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver will have to rely on his fans to vote him into the All-Star Race; a bet that seems virtually ironclad. The only thing that could derail Earnhardt’s march to an All Star starting berth is the rule requiring the Fan Vote winner to finish on the lead lap in the Sprint Showdown. Problems in Saturday’s preliminary race could render Earnhardt ineligible for the Fan Vote, effectively removing his safety net. Earnhardt won the Fan Vote in each of the last two seasons.

…Despite the fact that the race itself takes place under the lights, practice for the All Star event will he held in the heat of the day. Sprint Showdown drivers are scheduled to practice from noon to 1:25 p.m. Friday, with qualifying set for 5 p.m. The 20 qualified All-Star drivers practice from 1:35 to 3 p.m., with qualifying at 6:00.

Photo Credits: RacinToday/David Vaughn, Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR

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