Crunching numbers for All-Star Saturday

May, 20, 2010

Cold, hard cash.

Bet that got your attention, didn't it?

Well, that's what's going to be on the line Saturday night with the Sprint All-Star Challenge. None of this points racing that can drive fans up a wall. Everybody who makes the main event is going to take home a good deal of cash, but the winner gets a significant chunk of that moolah. That's the big motivator.

But there's something else on the line, the prestige. This race isn't quite like the traditional major points races like the Daytona 500 or Southern 500, but it's the All-Star race. If you win, you can say you've stared down the best of the best and were the last man standing, especially when you've held them off in a late-race 10-lap shootout, like we'll see Saturday night.

That being said, it's a million dollars to the winner. Day-umn.

Now, because it's been on my mind today as I did some NASCAR prep here in the ESPN Research Department, if you had to set a 20-car field (the minimum for the current format of the All-Star Race), who would you put in it from all of NASCAR history? We're talking jamming the 20 best drivers from throughout NASCAR history into the field.

There's the obvious drivers, like Earnhardt, Petty, Pearson, Allison that would unquestionably be put into the field, I know those. But how would you represent the early days of NASCAR? Who would represent each era? And while we're at it, who wins that race?

So what I want my loyal readers to do is submit a comment at the bottom of the blog, or shoot me an e-mail at and let me know who you want in, and I'll discuss it in my next blog.

But now, a little All-Star edition of my prerace stats blog.

Expect the unexpected

Last year's All-Star race featured a wild ending. The final 10-lap segment featured three-wide racing, beating and banging, and gutsy moves to get to the front of the field.

Don't believe me? You should know better by now! But check out this link if you have 11 minutes to spare and want to relive the finish of the 2009 race, the first win by Stewart-Haas Racing.

How topsy-turvy was that race? When the final segment began, here's the starting position of the cars that would go on to finish as the top five.

Top five finishers in 2009 All-Star race, starting position for final segment
1. Tony Stewart -- sixth
2. Matt Kenseth -- second
3. Kurt Busch -- third
4. Denny Hamlin -- seventh
5. Carl Edwards -- 12th

To further pile on, there were three cars that ran the fastest lap 10 or more times during the entirety of the 100-lap event, Jeff Gordon (24), Jimmie Johnson (15) and Kyle Busch (10). Gordon finished 19th, Johnson 13th and Busch seventh. Be prepared for some wild and wacky stuff.

Shining brightest

Coming off a pretty solid weekend at Dover, I feel safe saying that when he won both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races, Kyle Busch has to be considered a favorite Saturday night.

However, his record in the All-Star Race is, how can I put this nicely, poor. Doubting me again, you fool? Check out these finishes.

Kyle Busch, career in the Sprint Cup All-Star race
2006 -- 16th
2007 -- 20th
2008 -- 24th
2009 -- seventh

Don't let his numbers fool you, though. I'm here to dig through them and get to the chewy nougat center. Over those four years, among drivers who started all four All-Star races, no driver has a better average green-flag speed than Kyle Busch at 179.027 mph.

In fact, he's the only driver with an average speed topping 179 mph. But the rest of the top-four speeds might give you an idea of what might go down Saturday night. The rest of the top four are Hendrick Motorsports drivers: Jimmie Johnson is second, Jeff Gordon third and Mark Martin fourth.

Of course, last year, those three Hendrick drivers finished 13th (Johnson), 19th (Gordon) and sixth (Martin).

The other race

Don't tell anyone, but I'm just as excited for the undercard Saturday. I'm talking about the Sprint All-Star Showdown, the preliminary event for drivers not already qualified for the Sprint All-Star Challenge. And, you know what, you should be excited for it, too.

Part of the excitement is the do-or-die atmosphere. The payouts are much more impressive in the All-Star race, and only the top two finishers, and the winner of the fan vote, will transfer over. So, there's no use in running third, and if you have to use a little bumper, more power to you.

Sure, we have the usual ham-and-eggers that make up the field. The only qualification to get into the field is having run a race in 2009 or 2010, or attempting to qualify for that year's Daytona 500, but there's quite a star-studded lineup for which not being in the All-Star race just isn't an option.

Look at the names: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, Bill Elliott and Norm Benning. OK, I'm just kidding about Benning, but seeing some of these guys show up at the event is always a good time and a nice payday for the independent drivers. Makes you miss Carl Long, and I hope NASCAR reconsiders his fine and suspension.

But, with all these big names in the field, don't rule out somebody who's taken a lot of flak lately in the series, Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish has transferred over from the qualifying race in each of the last two years, winning last year and finishing second behind AJ Allmendinger in 2008.

Of the laps that Hornish has run in the Sprint Showdown, he's been the fastest car in an eye-popping 48.3 percent of them. Although the competition will be tougher this year, including Edwards, who was the fastest car on 37.5 percent of the laps when he had to run the Sprint Showdown.

That's all I have for you this week. Enjoy the racing, and we're all All-Stars this weekend, or something like that.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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