By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
There is a brand-spankin’ new format for this weekend’s Sprint All-Star race, and one of the big changes is how many drivers will advance from the preliminary Showdown.
The race before the big race will consist of three 20-lap segments, the leader at the end of each segment will advance to the All-Star race. There will also be two more drivers who will make it into the big show by way of the fan vote.
Conventional wisdom would tell you that drivers like Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney should advance by winning segments in the Showdown. Meanwhile other drivers like Matt DiBenedetto (has the Reddit community behind him) and Danica Patrick stand a great chance of grabbing the popularity vote for a slot in the race. But what if everything doesn’t go according to plan? Anything can — and usually does — happen in these kind of events. So if all hell breaks loose, who could sneak into the field?
How about a couple of Roush-Fenway Racing drivers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne?
The duo are among the most improved drivers from last season, and they currently sit 18th and 19th respectively in the current championship standings. Bayne and Stenhouse both showed great speed in Atlanta and Texas — tracks similar to Charlotte — so they could certainly do some damage in this opening event. Bayne has been especially hot as of late as he’s scored three top-10 finishes in his last five starts.
There’s also the Front Row Motorsports teammates, Landon Cassill and Chris Buescher.
Buescher hasn’t had much luck so far in his rookie season, but he is the Xfinity Series champion from a year ago so he obviously has more talent than his stat sheet suggests so far this season. Cassill has also shown that the FRM team is fielding capable cars, as he led 20 laps at Bristol and finished 11th at Talladega. If the two can get a little bit of luck, they could shock some people en route to a spot in the All-Star event.
Also, don’t count out AJ Allmendinger.
Allmendinger has been sneaky fast all year, as he sits 16th in the championship standings. He finished inside the top-10 at high-speed race tracks in California and Kansas. He also showcased a stirring performance in Martinsville by finishing second. His little single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team has been performing great through 12 races, and they are in a place to pull an upset in the Showdown.
Image: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images