An All-Star Race Sans All-Stars

The annual Nextel All-Star Challenge has produced some exciting racing over the years, but calling it an all-star event is a bit of stretch. The 2007 race automatically includes Dale Jarrett, Casey Mears, Brian Vickers and Bobby Labonte, four guys who aren’t exactly all-star quality this season. Hey, Michael Waltrip actually won this thing once. Ouch! Sorry, Michael! And failing to guarantee a spot for Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray, three drivers who would make the Chase if it started today, also misses the “all-star” concept. Eighteen drivers have a spot in the event this year based on a long list of criteria: winners from 2006 and 2007 (drivers or car if the driver changed teams), past Cup champions and past all-star winners over the past 10 years. The 1-2 finishers from the Nextel Open qualifying race (40 laps over two 20-lap segments) also make it. One lucky driver gets voted in by the fans, but he has to finish on the lead lap in the Open. Excuse me while I go take a couple of Tylenol (the official pain reliever of NASCAR) to deaden my headache from explaining all that mess. It’s easy to see why the casual fan doesn’t really understand how this thing works, but once you get past the constantly shifting and convoluted rules, the on-track action usually is a heck of a show.