It’s not always the drivers we know are in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race who come away with the big money.
Sometimes, it’s the drivers we don’t know.
There will be 22 drivers competing in Saturday’s all-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a potential $2 million top prize, but three entries won’t be evident until an hour or so before the scheduled 9 p.m. start.
Two drivers – the first- and second-place finishers – will advance into the all-star field through the 40-lap Sprint Showdown.
The final entry – determined after the Showdown – will come courtesy of fans, as the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote will fill out the 22-car field.
Series rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is among those trying to get in through the Showdown or Fan Vote.
“It’s a huge race,” he said. “The regular purse being a million bucks – to win the final segment – that’s a lot of money. To throw in an extra million to win all five segments, it’s crazy.
“It’s one of those things that you kind of wonder what the drivers are going to do because it’s $2 million. It definitely raises the excitement level.”
The fan vote winner isn’t a recent winner in the series and might not have ever won a race. In NASCAR’s all-star race that doesn’t matter.
In 2008, Kasey Kahne became the first and only driver to win the All-Star Race after being voted into the event by the fans.
Michael Waltrip and Ryan Newman also have won the all-star event after gaining entry into the race through the preliminary event.
There are several top Cup drivers who could race their way into the all-star field, including Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Aric Almirola and Jeff Burton.
The list of possibilities of who gets in grows even larger based on the fan vote, including both members of this season’s rookie class, Danica Patrick and Stenhouse.
Previous winners of the fan vote include Truex and Bobby Labonte, both of whom are eligible again this season.
Asked about her chances to make the all-star race through the fan vote, Patrick was noncommittal.
“I think about it from a fans’ perspective and I think that you want the driver that you cheer for to be out there, of course, but you want a good race,” she said.
“Hopefully, they think of me when they think of those two. We always have the opportunity to race in as well.”
Patrick and Stenhouse, who are dating, even created a comical video to promote their chances in the vote. In the spot, Patrick votes then leaves the motorhome after reminding Stenhouse to vote for her. Alone, Stenhouse then votes for himself.
“Obviously, we both want to be in the race and (we wanted) to try to create a little bit of buzz to get people to go vote and have some fun with it,” she said.