The annual NASCAR All-Star race Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., has a couple of new twists this year. Here are five storylines to watch in the newly named Monster Energy All-Star Race (Open qualifier 7 p.m. ET; All-Star race 9 p.m., both on FS1):
1. Dash for cash
The All-Star race will have four segments — 20 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps then a 10-lap finale. That 70-lap distance around the 1.5-mile track is a throwback to the first All-Star race in 1985 (last year it was 110 laps). The leaders in Stages 1-3 advance to the final stage, provided they stay on the lead lap. The rest of the 10 cars for the final phase will be set by average finishes in the first three stages. One new option: Cars can pit to take softer tires before the final stage, but they will have to start in the back.
2. All-Star action compressed into one night
The Open race, involving cars not already qualified for the All-Star Race, precedes the main event. The Open is 50 laps, broken into segments of 20, 20 and 10 laps. The winner of each stage will earn a spot in the All-Star Race, as will the winner of a fan vote. Speaking of which …
3. How will fans greet Danica Patrick?
This would ordinarily have no effect on anything except prerace ceremonies. Any positive or negative reactions are quickly forgotten once drivers strap on their helmets. This weekend, though, public opinion really matters because of that fan vote. Patrick was frustrated last week after she was taken out in a three-car wreck at Kansas. That was understandable, except that in postrace interviews — and even later in a Twitter post — Patrick focused on her own bad luck more than the injury to Aric Almirola, who was airlifted to a hospital with a fractured vertebra. She was lambasted by a large segment of social media posters. Patrick has reached the All-Star main event via fan vote three times (2013, 2015, 2016). Will last week’s bad optics cost her this time?
4. Regan Smith steps in
Regan Smith will step into the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford to replace Almirola this weekend. Smith is without a full-time Cup series ride this year.
5. How aggressive will drivers be?
The All-Star Race, like NASCAR’s other exhibition race in February at Daytona, often sees some of the most daring moves of the season because there are no points at stake.
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