With an array of radical changes from the past, NASCAR’s All-Star Race returns for its 37th consecutive year. The race is set for June 13 at a new venue, Texas Motor Speedway, after being run at Bristol Motor Speedway last season. Some changes were not well-received, but they’ll drop the checkered flag and run the race just the same.
Chase Elliott won the $1 million prize for the non-points exhibition race in 2020, moved from its longtime home in Charlotte due to the pandemic. That marked the ninth All-Star win for Hendrick Motorsports, by far the most in the event’s history.
But which drivers qualify for the NASCAR All-Star Race, and how are they determined?
Determining the grid for the NASCAR All-Star Race
Any driver who won on the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020 or 2021 is assured a spot in the field. Any full-time driver that is a past All-Star Race or Cup Series champion also gets an invitation, according to NASCAR.com.
Seventeen drivers have met at least one of the criteria, including:
- Christopher Bell
- Ryan Blaney
- Alex Bowman
- Kurt Busch
- Kyle Busch
- William Byron
- Cole Custer
- Austin Dillon
- Chase Elliott
- Denny Hamlin
- Kevin Harvick
- Brad Keselowski
- Kyle Larson
- Joey Logano
- Michael McDowell
- Ryan Newman
- Martin Truex Jr.
Are there more ways for a driver to qualify?
Drivers not included in the list above still have a chance to get into the race. The NASCAR Open qualifier precedes NASCAR All-Star Race and includes two 20-lap segments along with a 10-lap shootout. The segment winners and the overall winner earn a spot in the All-Star event. Fans will decide the final driver in the NASCAR All-Star Race via fan voting.
There are some differences between a regular NASCAR Cup Series race and the All-Star format, most notably the fact that only laps run under the green flag in the All-Star Race are counted. It’s an exhibition, after all, so why not have it be as wide open as possible.
Controversial format changes to the NASCAR All-Star Race
Determination of the starting order for the NASCAR All-Star Race is by random draw. Six rounds of racing will follow. The first four rounds are 15 laps each. The fifth round lasts 30 laps, and the final round is a 10-lap sprint.
Here’s where it gets tricky, though. After the first round of racing, the field will be inverted, starting between the eighth and 12th spots. The ever-popular random draw determines the actual position.
The entire field gets inverted after Round 2. But following Round 3, the order is shuffled in the same manner as after the first round. So far, it’s as clear as a painted window.
Round 5 is set by the cumulative finish from the first four rounds. To further clarify things (or not), they have a format for breaking ties that includes career All-Star Race wins, career Cup Series race wins, 2021 Cup Series standings, and finally, full-contact rock-paper-scissors. OK, that last one is bogus.
The finishing positions in Round 5 determine the order for the final segment. There’s no need for inversions, random draws, geometry, calculus, or gymnastics.
NASCAR fans love the traditions of the sport. They can run a little cranky when the powers-that-be toss those traditions aside. The NASCAR All-Star Race is a fun break in the middle of the season. It’s a weekend for drivers and fans to get away from the grind of the points race.
Complicate the format too much, and it sucks much of the fun out of it.