What you need to know for the All-Star Race at Bristol

·5 min read

There are a lot of things different about the 2020 All-Star Race.

Wednesday night’s race was pushed back from May 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also being run at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time and it’s the first time the All-Star Race hasn’t been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1986.

The annual event could have easily been punted from the NASCAR calendar as it scrambles to make up races that were postponed by COVID-19. Instead, it’s still a go as NASCAR heads to Texas Motor Speedway over the weekend and then to Kansas Speedway.

Here’s what you need to know for the exhibition event that starts at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

The format

The All-Star Race will be 140 total laps over four stages. The first stage is 55 laps, the middle two stages are 35 laps and the final stage will be 15 laps. Laps take about 15 seconds at Bristol, so the final stage could take less than four minutes to complete if there aren’t any cautions.

The qualifying race for the All-Star Race is a three-stage race. The first two stages are 35 laps apiece and the final stage is 15 laps.

Who’s already in

Sixteen drivers are already qualified for the race by virtue of being a race winner in 2019 or 2020. The starting lineup was determined via a random draw and goes like this:

1. Martin Truex Jr.

2. Alex Bowman

3. Ryan Blaney

4. Justin Haley

5. Kevin Harvick

6. Matt Kenseth

7. Kurt Busch

8. Cole Custer

9. Brad Keselowski

10. Kyle Busch

11. Ryan Newman

12. Joey Logano

13. Chase Elliott

14. Jimmie Johnson

15. Denny Hamlin

16. Erik Jones

The final four spots will be occupied by drivers from the qualifying race. The drivers who win each of the three stages of the qualifying race will advance to the All-Star Race and the driver with the most fan votes who didn’t win a stage will also advance.

Who’s trying to get in

Here’s what the starting lineup will look like for the qualifying race. NASCAR also determined this via a random draw. Given that the first stage is just 35 laps and provides the winner an automatic berth into the All-Star Race, a random draw is an unfair way to determine the lineup. The drivers who drew spots at the front of the field have a huge advancement edge to start the race.

Coverage of the qualifying race starts at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.

1. Michael McDowell

2. Aric Almirola

3. Christopher Bell

4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

5. Tyler Reddick

6. Bubba Wallace

7. William Byron

8. Chris Buescher

9. Clint Bowyer

10. Matt DiBenedetto

11. Austin Dillon

12. Ryan Preece

13. JJ Yeley

14. Garrett Smithley

15. Brennan Poole

16. Quin Houff

17. Joey Gase

18. Daniel Suarez

19. John Hunter Nemechek

20. Ty Dillon

21. Corey LaJoie

The choose rule

Drivers in Bristol’s outside lane have a big advantage on restarts. As a result, NASCAR is instituting a choose rule ahead of all restarts. That means drivers will have the ability to pick which lane they want to restart in.

The leader of the race will likely choose the outside line. If and when he does, that means the second-place driver could choose to start on the inside of the front row or choose to start behind the leader of the race in the second row.

While some drivers may choose to move back a row or two to be on the outside, don’t expect drivers to be sacrificing too much track position during caution periods. You’re going to hear a lot about the significance of the choose rule throughout the coverage of the race on Wednesday, though that significance could be overblown.

“I don't want that to be the focal point going into Bristol,” Clint Bowyer said Saturday of the emphasis on the rule. “It can’t just be about the cone rule. You hear drivers talk about it and I don't want to oversell it. Can it make an impact? Absolutely. But if you oversell it, it will never hold up to the expectations of what people are expecting out of that. For the most part, I don't see that it probably will make a difference past … I just don't see people giving up two or three spots to stay on the outside.”

If the implementation of the choose rule goes smoothly, it’s not out of the question that NASCAR could implement it at points races in the future. NASCAR’s double-wide restarts are inherently unfair for drivers in the non-preferred groove at tracks where one lane is much faster than the other. Using a choose rule can help minimize that unfairness.

The cars will have an underglow

Cars in the All-Star Race will have lights attached to the bottom of them for reasons that are unknown outside of the possibility that they could look cool.

The cars will also have weirdly placed numbers

The underglow lights aren’t the only weird experiment going on. All cars racing on Wednesday night will have the side numbers pushed back toward the rear wheels of the car to make room for sponsor logos.

It’s a look that has not been popular on social media.

While the choose rule could become a NASCAR mainstay in some form or fashion in the near future, hopefully the new number system is a one-and-done All-Star Race experiment like the option tire fiasco from a few years ago. These cars simply don’t look very good.

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