Five things to watch in tonight’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. – For all the hype with the Sprint All-Star Race, one issue remains nearly constant.

If a driver isn’t starting the final 10-lap segment on the front row, their chances of winning the $1 million significantly decrease.

Each of the past four All-Star winners started the last segment either first or second. That trend is likely to continue unless there’s a caution in the last segment – caution laps do not count in the final segment – that bunches the field together.

So how does one win if they’re not starting the final segment on the front row?

“That’s pretty tough,’’ Kasey Kahne said. “Ten laps is a short run. If you can get in clean air, you have obviously put yourself in good position because you’ve run really well in the other segments. The four top guys when it goes green are going to probably be the fastest four guys throughout the race, so how do you start in the second row and pass someone in the first row in 10 laps? I don’t know. We’ll see. Hopefully, we’re in the first row.’’

Said Dale Earnhardt Jr: “(Saturday) is going to be so fast, there will be so much throttle and it’s real hard to come from third or fourth, fifth or sixth if you get around guys that are in the throttle as much or more than you. It will be a challenge. I think there will have to be something squirrelly happen on that restart through (turns) one and two or something like to give anyone else an opportunity. If you’re going to win from the second or third row, it needs to happen immediately in the first couple of corners. I don’t think you’ll drive up to them and pass them.’’

How drivers are aligned for the final segment depends partially on how they did in the previous four 25-laps segments. The running order after the fourth segment will be based on the average finish for each car in all four segments. Once properly aligned, all teams must enter pit road for a four-tire stop. How they exit pit road is how the field will start the final segment.

That’s just among the things to watch in tonight’s event:

The return of Kyle Busch: He was back in a Sprint Cup car Friday for the first time since breaking his right leg and left foot in a crash during the Xfinity race Feb. 21 at Daytona International Speedway. Tonight, Busch returns to racing. He was the fastest in the lone practice session Friday afternoon.

“It felt like everything went according to plan, and we had some decent speed in race trim,’’ Busch said Friday.

The best plans go away. Teams will have to adjust quickly during this short race (110 laps over five segments).

“We always have a plan and then as soon as the race starts, it all kind of gets blown up in our face,’’ said Keith Rodden, crew chief for Kasey Kahne. “We’ll see what kind of conditions we have in the race and that kind of dictates your strategy. We’ve talked about it, and all our guys are prepared, but sometimes you have to jump ship and make adjustments during the race.”

Will it be the Kevin and Jimmie show again? With a different format, maybe somebody can break the dominance of Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, who have combined to win the last seven races on 1.5-mile speedways.

Keep an eye on qualifying. The format calls for three laps and a pit stop. Typically, there are plenty of penalties that drop drivers back for the start. While there’s enough time to get back, a poor start can impact a driver’s average finish and put him further back in line for the final pit stop before the last segment.