With the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star race merely hours away it’s all I can think about this weekend. I get super excited about the prospect of an all-out, ego-driven, no-holds-barred race where points aren’t on the line but bragging rights are.
In the past we were treated to the likes of legendary moves like Earnhardt’s misnamed “pass in the grass” or a sparks-fueled finish that sent winner Davey Allison to the hospital in 1992, but that’s for reminiscing.
This year there are so many strong contenders for the win that it defies imagination!
Here’s my list of this year’s potential winners of this one-of-a-kind contest.
Jimmie Johnson – Yes, sure this is a no-brainer pick, but I am not sold on this three-time winner of the All-Star race (2003, 2006, 2012). He certainly knows the formula to win and has enormous success at the event, but he has a lot of strong competition here. Last year Johnson had the win coming out of Darlington, but this year he does not. Johnson may be a sure bet – he has wins at the Daytona 500 and Martinsville to date. It’s hard to bet against Five-Timer.
Matt Kenseth – A new manufacturer, a new team, and being a “seasoned” older driver could have led Kenseth to stumble during the transition but he was hot right out of the gate. Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing has been a rebirth for Kenseth’s career – and he wasn’t floundering at Roush Fenway Racing last season. This year Kenseth has already racked up three wins – Las Vegas, Kansas, and Darlington – the latter coming on the heels of a high-profile penalization for Kenseth and the JGR team and a realized appeal. It seems like Kenseth doesn’t know how to lose this season and a win here, something he hasn’t accomplished since 2004, would be some great icing on the cupcake of the first leg of the season.
Kyle Busch – Kenseth’s current teammate, Busch is having a far more successful year than last. With wins at Fontana and Texas, Busch is hard charging. Winning at this venue for this esteemed contest would be a great coup for Busch and would possibly signify a career boost that could indicate a more intense, focused, and, well, lucky Busch than the past where he chokes in the Chase if he even races his way into the post-season.
Carl Edwards – Does anybody need a boost more than Edwards? Well, yeah, certainly, but Edwards wouldn’t say so. A lackluster season last year ended with a terrific win in Phoenix earlier in the season. Edwards won the All-Star Race in 2011 so he knows how to get the job done. The question is, does he have the equipment, team, and mental comfort to do it this year? Cousin Carl’s fans would say undoubtedly yes!
Kasey Kahne – Performing well in Hendrick equipment, running toward the front a lot, and earning a win at Bristol puts Kahne on the fast track to victory at this contest. Kahne won in 2008, it is possible for him to revisit victory lane five years later.
David Ragan – “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” at Talladega, Ragan may seem like a long shot to win but he raced his way into the event in 2011. Ragan is a proven racer and his team has a ton of heart. He may not be considered a front-runner, but Ragan is in the race for certain.
Kevin Harvick – “The Closer,” “Happy”, and the guy with nothing to lose and everything to gain from winning this season, Harvick is on the hunt to continue his attention-grabbing season. Harvick won here in 2007 and he’s looking to do it again to impress his alleged future boss, Tony Stewart.
Tony Stewart – A “racer’s racer” Stewart has proven in his career he can win on any surface in any equipment, including three NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. But lately “Smoke” does not indicate fire but tirades. He’s clearly unhappy with the team’s lack of performance and needs a reboot on his season. Stewart won this contest in 2009. If it’s hot in Charlotte on Saturday night, this could be his night. He certainly needs it to be to change the direction his season has been going.
Kurt Busch – Champion, hothead, a driver’s driver who has so much raw talent it cannot be contained, the elder Busch is a very possible winner at the All-Star Race. He won here in 2010 and I’d bet the farm his memory muscle remembers back that far. Kurt Busch has been running well all season and aching to score a win. Look for him to come on strongly Saturday night.
Joey Logano – Like Kenseth, Logano’s switch to a new team, Penske Racing in his case, has done much for his self-esteem. Logano is running well and seems to enjoy flexing his racing muscles. Logano may be a long shot, but a win at the All-Star race would be fabulous for this driver once labeled “Sliced Bread.” He has the goods.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – This is a good year for Earnhardt Jr. coming into the All-Star Race as he is automatically entered. In recent years he’s been brought in to the event by receiving the most fan votes and last year by racing to the win in the Sprint Showdown. This year Earnhardt Jr. is running decently and could possibly take this contest hands down. It would do so much to continue the esteem building needed and jump-start his bid to The Chase and ultimately that heretofore out-of-reach championship. Earnhardt Jr. has a legion of fans, a great team and equipment, and the knowledge to find victory lane. He’s a contender.
Denny Hamlin – Recovering from a severe back injury that took Hamlin out of contention for six weeks this season, Hamlin returned to racing for a full event at Darlington and earned a second place finish to teammate Kenseth. He is determined, focused, and under the gun to earn a ton of points to get a coveted spot in the Chase. A win at the All-Star Race would be more momentum for the team and perhaps indicate a potential win at the following week’s Coca-Cola 600. Hamlin seems to pull out all of the stops when he is injured and recovering. Look to him to be an enormous threat.
Jeff Gordon – If you’ve been around long enough people sometimes forget your greatness. Gordon is still great and is a driver who can claim three victories in this contest in the years 1995, 1997, and 2001. It’s been a long time since he’s won at this event, but Gordon’s still got it and would be a fan-favorite if he took the victory on Saturday night.
Mark Martin – Veteran, gentleman, mentor, racer, Martin is many things including winner of the All-Star Race in 1998 and 2005. A bit of a vagabond since leaving his ride with Roush, Martin still flickers brilliance at any race he competes. I would never count Martin out in this event.
Of course names like defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose and Ryan Newman are all clawing for the win as well.
It’s a fabulous time to be a NASCAR fan with the depth of competition so rich and full. The All-Star Race is a spring party that is full of music, pageantry, and ego-infused racing at its most delectable. I’ll be watching to see who wears the crown at the end of the night.
Who’s your pick?