Hard to believe that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup schedule is already set to make its spring visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first of two consecutive weekends of racing that concludes with the running of the Coca-Cola 600 during the Memorial Day weekend.
First up will be this Saturday night's running of The Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race with its unique format and rules package that is going to be used for the first time in the series.
The All-Star race is set up to showcase the sport's winners as a driver gains entry into the starting field by having won a points-paying race in 2018 or 2019. Entry can also be earned by being a past winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race or a past Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. Fifteen drivers have qualified for the event because of their past wins but three additional drivers will get the chance to advance into the race by winning one of the three stages of the Monster Energy Open that will be held just prior to the All-Star race and will feature a format of two-20 lap stages followed by a 10-lap dash to the finish.
There is one final way that a current driver can gain entry into the starting field of the All-Star race and this path to the starting grid does not require that he has a checkered flag on his resume'. One driver will get his ticket to the main event punched by winning the fan's vote that is now open on NASCAR.com.
The race's actual format does not resemble what we are see at every other race on the schedule as it is divided into four stages. The stages will consist of 30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps and 15 laps which is five laps longer than in 2018.
Both green- and yellow-flag laps will count in stages 1-3 but for the final stage only green-flag laps will count. Series overtime rules will be in effect for stages 1-3 but in the final stage if the race is restarted with less than two laps remaining, there will be unlimited attempts at a green-white-checkered finish under green-flag conditions. It may take several attempts to finish the last stage as no points are awarded but the winner does take home a check for one million dollars.
Gaining entry into the event and the race's unique format are not the only differences of what we see on a weekly basis in the sport. NASCAR has used the All-Star Race in the past to try new ideas within the rules package in hopes of improving the racing at every stop on the schedule. Last year's rules package for the race produced one of the most exciting races of the season as it increased the amount of downforce on the car along with the introduction of special aero ducts
The sanctioning body will be introducing two new major changes with the cars on Saturday night which will actually be visible to the fans both at the track and watching on TV. The first is the use of a single-piece carbon fiber splitter/pan that should provide a more stable aero platform that NASCAR hopes will give every car a more consistent performance when it is in traffic.
The second major tweak of the rules will be highly visible as it will require that every car be set up with a radiator exit duct through the hood. This will separate aerodynamic performance and engine temperatures which should go a long way in creating more parity across the field.
It's easy to see that this race has been tweaked throughout the years to try and put on the best show possible for the fans while also providing the drivers with the opportunity to not have to worry about the point standings and just set their sights on the checkered flag. It's a recipe for excitement and if it is like in year's past, the driver that ends up in victory lane will have earned his way there.