Drivers expect electric atmosphere chasing elusive $1 million prize at NASCAR All-Star Race
Red-hot Denny Hamlin, who won America's Night Race last year at Bristol Motor Speedway and was in contention to win the Food City Supermarket Heroes 500 in May, says fans can expect a night filled with intense action when the green flag drops for the NASCAR All-Star Race on July 15 at The World's Fastest Half-Mile.
Hamlin, who has won four races this season and is riding a wave of momentum in his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing machine heading into the tradition-rich event that will pay the winner a handsome $1 million, says the All-Star Race at Bristol is going to be a thriller.
"I love this race being on a short track, and I think (Bristol) is a fitting place for it," said Hamlin, who won the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2015. "With the short format, you've got to be ready and you will have to push every lap. It's going to be exciting."
The format for this race will include four stages, with a 55-lap opener followed by two 35-lap stages that will set up a winner-take-all 15-lap final dash for the cash that promises to deliver a rush of adrenaline. Only green flag laps will count in the final 15 laps.
"It's going to be intense for sure, especially for someone who thinks their bumper is within reach of the car in front of them," Hamlin said. "You just need to put yourself in position, and then see how things play out."
The all-concrete high-banked track where speeds top more than 130 mph has earned a reputation over the years as being a place where fenders are rubbed, sheetmetal is smashed, drivers beat and bang on each other and ultimately tempers will flare.
"You're likely to see a Bristol race of old where guys are fighting for the bottom of the track," Hamlin continued. "If the sticky stuff (traction compound) is put down, we won't run enough laps to wear it out."
NASCAR has also announced recently there will be a little experimentation going on during the race, with several new concepts being unveiled for the first time.
The 16 cars that are qualified for the race will showcase underglow lighting on their cars in a variety of colors, including blue, red and amber. The complete LED lighting strip assembly weighs less than six ounces and carries a small amount of current. The lighting was first unveiled last fall during the NASCAR Championship Awards Ceremony in Nashville as Kurt Busch performed a burnout on the city's famed Broadway Blvd. during a fan event with green underglow lights adding some pizazz to his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy as it billowed smoke from heating the tires.
All of the cars, in both the All-Star Race and the All-Star Open, will feature a new paint scheme concept, which moves the car's side-door numbers backward on the vehicle toward the rear wheel, allowing for more real-estate for sponsor signage on the door.
A Choose Rule also will be in effect. When drivers approach a designated spot on the track, they must commit to the inside or outside lane for the restart. Failure to make a clear choice or changing lanes after the designated spot will result in a penalty that moves the offending driver to the end of the field.
The Choose Rule is different from the current double-file restart system, where only the race leader chooses his lane. Having the rule for the All-Star Race gives every driver the ability to make his own decision, and strategy will come into play in every instance.
"I think that's going to be a great experiment," Hamlin said. "It will be the most challenging at Bristol of all tracks simply because of how small the place is and how drivers will have to make a decision right before they go green. If the Choose Rule is successful at Bristol, I definitely would like to see it implemented at future races."
Hamlin, who has two BMS victories in his career, said he has been looking forward to this race since NASCAR announced the change from Charlotte Motor Speedway a month ago. All but one All-Star Race has been held at CMS in the race's 35 year history. In 1986 Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted the second annual All-Star Race.
While Hamlin has thoroughly enjoyed all of his All-Star Race battles at Charlotte, he says Bristol under the lights will be a different vibe and there will be plenty of action, drama and even a bit of chaos.
"There's prestige in winning at Bristol," Hamlin said. "It doesn't matter if it's an exhibition, an all-star event or a 500-lap race."
A host of other eligible drivers are also among the favorites to win, including eight-time BMS Cup Series winner Kyle Busch, six-time BMS winner Kurt Busch, and past BMS winners Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. All of those drivers, except Keselowski, are also past All-Star Race winners. Ryan Newman, whose career best finish at Bristol is a second place effort in 37 career starts, earned a spot in the race by being a former All-Star Race winner.
Among the 16 eligible drivers, in addition to Food City Supermarket Heroes 500 winner Keselowski, there are several others who have never won the All-Star Race. He is joined by Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, this past weekend's Kentucky Speedway winner Cole Custer and Xfinity Series regular Justin Haley. Haley, who will drive the No. 77 Spire Motorsports entry, earned a spot in the All-Star Race by winning the weather-shortened Coke Zero 400 last summer at Daytona.
Johnson is the winningest driver in All-Star Race history with four victories and he would love to grab another All-Star Piston Trophy and big pile of cash in what is likely his final start in the race.
"There is just so much excitement that comes with this race, and when you're able to win, the celebration that follows definitely leaves a mark and is a lot of fun," said Johnson, who claimed All-Star Race victories in 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2013. "But, it's been a few years. I would love to get back to Victory Lane, and, obviously, the payday is unlike anything we see in the sport in today's world."
Meanwhile, Kurt Busch, who has been a top-10 machine at Bristol in his last six starts, including a seventh place finish in May, says the race is going to be fun. He hopes he can add another All-Star trophy to the one he earned at Charlotte in 2010. He says racing at Bristol under the lights with no points and one million up for grabs, with a few new wrinkles added in to make the race different, what's not to love?
"It's the perfect venue to switch it up and adapt to changing circumstances," Kurt Busch said. "Drivers are loving it—and the chance to pick their own lane on restarts. I love the All-Star Race with the colors, the paint schemes and the overall attitude is fun. I know Bristol will be electric."
Speaking of fun atmospheres, BMS is planning to have plenty of cool things going on for fans including quite a bit of dazzling pyro planned throughout the evening as well as a grand finale fireworks show once the checkered flag falls. Driver intros from the FS1 telecast will be displayed on Colossus TV for the fans and there will be a pre-race flyover by the famed Bandit Flight Team from Raleigh, N.C. Fans both in the stadium and watching from home are encouraged to take advantage of the Virtual Fan Zone, virtual commemorative NASCAR All-Star Race program and plenty of virtual fan engagements planned on BMS Facebook and Instagram pages with hosts Jose Castillo, Tom Taylor and Ashley Stroehlein.
The action gets underway on Wednesday, July 15 with the NASCAR All-Star Open, a last-chance qualifier race for those drivers without a starting spot in the NASCAR All-Star Race. The two stage winners and the race winner of the NASCAR All-Star Open will advance into the NASCAR All-Star Race. The winner of the NASCAR All-Star Fan Vote, which is currently ongoing at NASCAR.com, also will earn a starting spot in the NASCAR All-Star Race. The Fan Vote closes at noon on Tuesday, July 14.
The NASCAR All-Star Race and All-Star Open will be broadcast on FS1, MRN Radio and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio starting at 7 p.m. ET.
For ticket information, please visit www.bristolmotorspeedway.com/tickets/nascar-all-star-race.