If any of this season’s lauded rookie class hopes to join the field for Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, they’ll have to pick up their performance.
Nothing short of second place will do.
Six of the seven rookie drivers – Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Michael Annett, Alex Bowman, Cole Whitt and Ryan Truex – are entered in Friday night’s Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the qualifying race for the All-Star main event.
Justin Allgaier’s team withdrew this week, preferring to focus on the Coca-Cola 600, which is scheduled for May 25.
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The top two finishers from the Showdown will qualify for the All-Star Race, as will the top vote getter in the Sprint Fan Vote.
The rookies race each week with NASCAR’s top stars, but getting to share the stage for a showcase event with $1 million on the line is a special opportunity.
“To be with just them is pretty cool. It’s such a big stage and all your friends and family are there,” said Bowman, who drives the No. 23 Toyota for BK Racing. “It would be an awesome experience.”
Dillon has watched more All-Star events than he can remember, most from a condo in Turn 1 owned by his grandfather and team owner, Richard Childress.
“I remember Kevin Harvick winning here (in 2007), and being able to run down the stands to Victory Lane and to be a part of that was awesome,” said Dillon, who is 14th in the series standings.
“It’s so cool how they announce the drivers and their teams. I think it’s very special to have that moment with them. Being a part of the elite of our sport and walking across that stage would be amazing.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) and Ryan Newman (2002) are the only rookies to have won the All-Star Race. In 1999, then-rookie Tony Stewart won the qualifying race to transfer into the main event, where he finished second to Terry Labonte.
Dillon and Kyle Larson so far have been the stars of this rookie class.
Larson is 13th in points and earned a career-best second-place finish in Fontana, Calif. – one of his five top-10 finishes this year.
Dillon’s best finish in ninth at the season-opening Daytona 500, where he also won the pole.
Thanks to a change in the race weekend format, the drivers who earn the three transfer positions Friday night will have an opportunity to win the pole for Saturday night’s All-Star Race.
In previous seasons, the three transfer drivers started at the rear for the main event.
So, not only could one of the rookies join the main field, he could lead it to the green-flag.
“All of us in this rookie class have won in what we’ve raced before and we all want to get back to that,” said Bowman. “To see the emotion and what those (other) guys feel like when they’ve won, it makes you want it that much more.”