Monster Energy All-Star Race format to go back to ‘One Hot Night’ roots

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This year’s Monster Energy All-Star race format on May 20 will go back in time.

NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway announced Tuesday that the 25th anniversary of the first All-Star Race held at night will be run with the same format as the first race that was held in 1992.

The “Silver Anniversary Gold Rush” of the iconic “One Hot Night” will once again have a $1 million prize to the winning team.

Here’s how this year’s format shapes up:

  • The race will feature four stages (20 laps / 20 laps / 20 laps / 10 laps), totaling 70 laps, an ode to the 1992 edition of the same distance.
  • The final 10-lap stage will feature just 10 cars/drivers who earned their way into the main event, particularly with how they finished collectively in the prior three 20-lap stages that evening.
  • All three stage winners will be locked into the 10-lap finale for the big prize, but with a caveat – they all must be on the lead lap at the end of the third stage.
  • The cars with the best average finish in the first three stages will make up the remaining spots needed to fill the 10-car final stage.
  • The 10 cars in the fourth and final stage will be lined up by average finish of the first three stages and given the option to pit. Exit off pit road determines starting order for final stage.

“This new 70-lap format pays tribute to the 25th anniversary of ‘One Hot Night’ while pushing the drivers to the brink of insanity with the chances they’ll take to win $1 million,” Charlotte Motor Speedway president and general manager Marcus Smith said in a media release. “I’m as ready as our fans for a May 20 Saturday night shootout where only a daredevil behind the wheel truly has a shot at Victory Lane.”

There’s also one added bonus of sorts: each team will receive one set of “softer tires,” to be used at their discretion. Softer tires provide cars more grip and speed, but there’s one caveat: if a team holds off using its set of softer tires until the final stage, then its car will start the 10-car/10-lap finale at the back of the field.

According to Goodyear, “the Option set-up is projected to be three- to five-tenths of a second faster per lap, out of the box.” Also, instead of Goodyear’s traditional yellow letters – which will remain on the Prime tires to be used in both the All-Star events and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27 – the Option tires will feature bold, green lettering.

Several drivers have already clinched a starting spot in the All-Star Race based upon:

  • * Drivers who won a points event in either 2016 or 2017.
  • * Drivers who have won a previous Monster Energy All-Star Race and are competing full-time in 2017
  • * Drivers who have won a past Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and are competing fulltime in 2017.

Those drivers include: Chris Buescher, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

 

“The Monster Energy All-Star Race is designed to be fun for fans, showcasing the best drivers and race teams in NASCAR,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “With the effort that Goodyear has put into this race with multiple tire compounds, I am excited to see how the stages play out, especially the final 10-car, 10-lap sprint to the checkered flag.”

Qualifying takes place on Friday, May 19, including the “no speed limit” four-tire pit stop.

According to the media release, “Each team will have three timed laps, one of which will include a mandatory four-tire pit stop with no pit-road speed limits enforced. The five quickest teams will advance to the final round of qualifying to determine starting positions one through five. The team that completes the fastest stop will earn the Pit Crew Competition Award.”

There will be two other ways for drivers to advance to the All-Star Race:

1.) The traditional Monster Energy Open will be held prior to the All-Star Race earlier in the evening of May 20. The Open will feature three stages of 20, 20 and 10 laps. The winner of each stage will advance to the All-Star Race, Qualifying for the Open will take place on Friday, May 19, where the field will be set by two rounds of traditional knock-out qualifying.

2) By winning the popular Fan Vote.

Lastly, both the Monster Energy Open and Monster Energy All-Star Race will be televised on Fox Sports 1 starting at 6 p.m. ET on May 20. The Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 will carry the radio broadcasts of both events, as well.

Here’s a list of all winners of the All-Star Race, dating back to its inception in 1985:

1985 Darrell Waltrip
1986 Bill Elliott
1987 Dale Earnhardt
1988 Terry Labonte
1989 Rusty Wallace
1990 Dale Earnhardt
1991 Davey Allison
1992 Davey Allison (first night race)
1993 Dale Earnhardt
1994 Geoffrey Bodine
1995 Jeff Gordon
1996 Michael Waltrip
1997 Jeff Gordon
1998 Mark Martin
1999 Terry Labonte
2000 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2001 Jeff Gordon
2002 Ryan Newman
2003 Jimmie Johnson
2004 Matt Kenseth
2005 Mark Martin
2006 Jimmie Johnson
2007 Kevin Harvick
2008 Kasey Kahne
2009 Tony Stewart
2010 Kurt Busch
2011 Carl Edwards
2012 Jimmie Johnson
2013 Jimmie Johnson
2014 Jamie McMurray
2015 Denny Hamlin
2016 Joey Logano

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Starting grid for Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

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The Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway will begin Sunday with Matt Kenseth and Ryan Blaney on the front row.

They will lead a 38-car field to green in the ninth race of the Cup season.

Filling out the top five is Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano.

Click here for the full starting grid.

Denny Hamlin: Joe Gibbs Racing’s rebound won’t happen ‘overnight’ or ‘in a month’

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With NASCAR visiting a track where Joe Gibbs Racing has won the last three races, one of its drivers admits the issues that have plagued the team so far in 2017 won’t be remedied quickly.

“I think we are slowly getting better, we’re gaining more knowledge trying to figure out what it is that we need to work on,” Denny Hamlin said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen this week, it won’t happen in a month. Some things are going to take a long time for us to get better at, but I’m very confident that when push comes to shove, we’re in September starting the (playoffs), we should be hopefully back where we were, if not better.”

Entering the Toyota Owners 400, Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to win race through eight events. All four of its drivers sit outside the top 10 in points. Hamlin was the last active JGR driver to win, winning last years’ regular season finale at Richmond.

The 2016 Daytona 500 winner is 15th in the standings and has yet to finish in the top five. By this point in each of the last two seasons, Hamlin had three top fives and one win.

“It’s always taken me a long time to get over winter break,” Hamlin said. “For whatever reason, it’s taking 10 races or whatever into the season to kind of hit my stride. I’m not really sure what it is. I try just as hard at the beginning as I do at the end. It just seems like that break in the offseason, it takes myself a little while to get over that hump, get in the flow of things. I’m not really sure.”

JGR is still learning about its new 2018 Camry bodies, which Toyota introduced this year. Furniture Row Racing, which is in a technical alliance with JGR, has one win with Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas), who is also third in points. Erik Jones is 13th in the standings with just one top 10.

Truex and Jones claimed the top spots in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

“We all get the same information,” Truex said Friday. “I guess at the end of the day it’s how you use it, how you put it to use. I think our team, (crew chief) Cole (Pearn), (engineer) Jazzy (Jeff Curtis), (competition director) Pete (Rondeau), our guys in general are just – right now we’re just clicking. We have a lot of confidence. Things are going well.”

Through eight races, there have been six different winners. NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte has called this Sunday’s race “pivotal” for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I think our competition also did a phenomenal job over the off‑season of getting better,” Hamlin said. “They just showed up this year with just more raw speed than what they had at the end of last year. It’s the same drivers, same crew chiefs, but their cars are faster. That makes their job a whole lot easier. But these are the trying times, you could say, that defines your character. It makes you work hard. We were on top for probably a year and a half, every week having four out of five of the fastest cars each week. Sometimes we won, sometimes we didn’t. But we’re going to get better. We’re not on top right now, so we’ve got to work extra hard to get there.”

One piece of the JGR puzzle who has had to work harder is Daniel Suarez.

The defending Xfinity Series champion enters the ninth race of his rookie season 22nd in points. The biggest road block for him has been working with two crew chiefs. His initial partner, Dave Rogers, took an indefinite leave of absence following the West Coast Swing. Since then, the No. 19 team has been led by Scott Graves, who was Suarez’ crew chief last year during his title campaign.

“It’s been a lot going on for sure,” Suarez said Friday. “I felt like we were going in a good direction maybe a month and a half ago and then we had some changes that were out of our hands and I feel like we had to start again on these processes in the Cup car. Scott, he’s a very smart crew chief, he knows a lot and he has won two championships in a row in the Xfinity Series, but in the Cup car it’s different and he knows that and I’m learning that. I believe now we are learning together instead of I’m just learning myself.”

All of these comments were made Friday morning and afternoon. In the evening, Matt Kenseth did his part to turn things around for JGR by winning the pole for Sunday’s race.

It’s the first pole for JGR since the Kenseth claimed it last fall at Kansas Speedway.

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Matt Kenseth wins first pole of year for Toyota Owners 400

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For one afternoon at least, Matt Kenseth changed the conversation about Joe Gibbs Racing’s early season problems by winning the pole for the Toyota Owners 400.

Kenseth won his first pole of 2017 with a speed of 121.076 mph around Richmond International Raceway. It’s also the first pole for Toyota this season.

It’s Kenseth’s 19th Cup pole and his second at the .75-mile track (spring 2013). Kenseth’s previous best start this season was fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Those guys did really a job adjusting between rounds,” Kenseth told Fox Sports 1. “We had enough speed in out Circle K Camry that we only had to do one lap in each of the first two rounds to get into the third round. … This year has not been a good year for us, obviously so far. … We haven’t been getting any stage points, we’re buried in the points back there. We finally got a decent finish last week (at Bristol).

“Hopefully this week we can start up front, stay up front and collect some stage points.”

Kenseth will try to extend JGR’s win streak at Richmond to four races.

Ryan Blaney qualified second with a speed of 120.854 mph.

“The last lap of the last section we moved up (the track),” Blaney told FS1. “I wish I had done it both laps of the last session. so I knew how hard to go. I was in there little bit shallow the second lap and I knew I regretted it right away … I guess a bunch other cars did that and they picked up. I don’t know where (Kenseth) ran. It was a solid effort.”

It will be Blaney’s third start from second this season, which is a fact that annoys the sophomore driver in the No. 21 Ford.

“I really want to race the Clash at Daytona, that’s like my biggest thing right now,” Blaney said. “It’s upsetting me that we can’t get a pole.”

Filling out the top five for Sunday’s race is Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano.

In his first race since announce his retirement following this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 12th.

Other notable starting spots: Chase Elliott (14th) Brad Keselowski (15th), Denny Hamlin (16th) Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Kyle Larson (18th).

Austin Dillon will start last as a penalty for failing pre-race laser inspection five times last week at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Click here for full qualifying results.

 

Will Carl Edwards return? Denny Hamlin gives his odds of it happening

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What are the odds Carl Edwards returns to NASCAR after announcing in January he would not drive full-time?

“I would just be guessing, but I would say 50 percent,’’ former teammate Denny Hamlin said Friday at Richmond International Raceway — site of where Edwards scored one of his three Cup victories last season. “I think that Carl is a competitor. At his age (37), I’d find it hard to believe that he would just step away and not do it ever again.

“I think him leaving the window open in his press conference to say he’s not retiring, he’s just stepping away, I think it depends. I don’t know. Has anyone found out whether he’s having a good time right now or not? I think that would tell the story about whether he’s interested in coming back or not. From what I hear from all the retired drivers, it’s awesome for like a few months – then you kind of get bored a little bit.”

Earlier this week, Edwards responded by text to NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan on if he was interested in the No. 88 car after Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he would retire from the Cup series after this season.

Texted Edwards: “You may have it mixed up. I’m recruiting Dale to drive a tractor!”

Edwards also said that he was happy for Earnhardt and that it would be a great ride for someone.

Edwards announced in January that he would not race full-time in NASCAR this year, adding: “If I’m going to get back in a race car, which I’m not saying the R word (retirement) here, I’ve seen how that’s worked out for guys, but if I’m going to get back in a race car, I’m calling Coach (Joe) Gibbs first.’’

Edwards also said in January: “I don’t have any intention of going back to full‑time racing. I don’t have a plan to drive a race car right now. I just know how things work, and if it comes up and the right opportunity is there and at that moment, it’s the right thing, then for sure I’d entertain it. But like I said, the first person I’d talk to is Coach.’’

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