Last year’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway ended with Clint Bowyer rushing to Ryan Newman’s car and throwing several punches as Newman remained in his car.
Tonight, for the first time, the All-Star Race will be held on a short track. Bristol Motor Speedway, with a history of driver confrontations, hosts the race for $1 million.
“You’re going to have people really pissed off at each other after that one and you’ll have one guy that’s happy,” Ryan Blaney said of the All-Star Race.
“There’s going to be beating and banging for sure, so you better be ready to be the bully, I’m going to be honest with you, because everybody is going to be that way.”
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The expectations are high for the non-points race, which will pay $1 million to winner. The most recent Cup race there ended with Joey Logano upset at Chase Elliott for contact that cost both a chance at the victory and allowed Brad Keselowski to win that race.
“I don’t think (the All-Star Race) will look much different than the spring race did and that was pretty exciting,” Keselowski said of the May event.
Tonight’s race (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) will have a 20-car field. Sixteen drivers are already qualified. Martin Truex Jr. will start on the pole after a random draw. He’ll be joined on the front row by Alex Bowman.
Also in the All-Star Race are: Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, rookie Cole Custer, Justin Haley, Newman, Logano, Elliott, Keselowski and Blaney.
The three segment winners from the All-Star Open (7 p.m. ET on FS1) will compete in the All-Star Race, along with the fan vote winner.
The All-Star Race also will feature the debut of the Choose Rule, which will allow drivers to select whether to restart on the inside or outside lane.
“I think the … choose rule for restarts will be interesting,” said Custer, who qualified for the All-Star Race with his win last weekend at Kentucky Speedway. “It puts the driver’s hands in it more, where somebody is going to take that chance of going in the other lane or things like that. I think that’s going to be really interesting.”
Bowyer, though, cautions setting too high of expectations for the rule.
“You hear drivers talk about it and I don’t want to oversell it,” said Bowyer, who must advance from the Open to the All-Star Race. “Can it make an impact? Absolutely. But if you oversell it, it will never hold up to the expectations of what people are expecting out of that. For the most part, I don’t see that it probably will make a difference past … I just don’t see people giving up two or three spots to stay on the outside (lane).”
Maybe so, but we’ll soon find out. And see who leaves the track angry and who is celebrating a victory worth $1 million.