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Some of NASCAR’s rising stars headline Saturday’s Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
As an early appetizer before the main event, the rebranded Monster Energy Open, known as the Sprint Showdown in recent years, demands attention as its automatic bids set the stage for the All-Star Race a few hours later.
This event is meant to thrill in bite-sized bursts of action with much on the line—the All-Star Race, after all, offers a cool $1 million as the top prize.
The stage-based format and recognizable names pair with the prize to make it one of the sporting realm’s few must-see All Star events.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway
When: Saturday, May 20, at 6 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Here’s a look at the official entry list before Friday’s qualifying, per the race’s official page at NASCAR.com:
This is a stage-based format reminiscent of the sweeping changes NASCAR made to the sport this season, with the three stages going for 20, 20 and 10 laps.
Little changes from last year in this regard. The first segment is set by practice speed and the winner bows out of the event with an automatic bid in hand. Rinse and repeat for the second stage. Another mandatory stop bleeds into the 10-lap third stage, with the brevity of the stage encouraging electric action thanks to a bevy of passes.
A year ago, this format delivered the thrills, as Kyle Larson, Trevor Bayne and Greg Biffle punched tickets to the All-Star race by winning segments. Most notable was Larson slamming into Chase Elliott before making a pass to win his stage, with Elliott still winning a berth to move on via the fan vote, beating out Danica Patrick.
This year’s race should be just as entertaining, with some interesting twists from a storyline standpoint.
Colin E. Braley/Associated Press
For instance, Clint Bowyer. He’s making headlines ahead of the event for a simple reason—he’s hoping it’s the last time he has to take part in it.
“I love the Open and we’re going to do our best to run well Saturday night, but I expect this time next year the No. 14 car will already be part of the All-Star Race and we won’t have to worry about racing in the Open,” Bowyer said, according to Steven B. Wilson of Speedway Digest.
Bowyer is still in the playoff hunt on the leaderboard, but he only has five top-10 finishes on the season. To avoid the Open outright, a driver has to win the prior All-Star race or win a race featuring points at stake.
But some notable participants are more than happy to step into the fray.
The most noteworthy storyline of all in this event is Regan Smith subbing in for Aric Almirola.
Almirola suffered a fractured vertebra last week in a wreck at the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway, captured here by NASCAR:
Aric Almirola suffered a compression fracture to his T5 vertebra after this multi-car accident at Kansas Speedway Saturday night. https://t.co/bY6lkWjFVR
5/14/2017, 8:30:17 PM
Smith is what one could call a super sub, seeing as he’s replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and more. His breaking through Saturday night would make for quite the story.
He took to Twitter to talk about his latest subbing job:
Regan Smith @ReganSmith
Hate the circumstances surrounding it, but I’m looking forward to being in the @RPMotorsports #43 and very much appreciate the opportunity
5/18/2017, 3:58:26 AM
Regan Smith @ReganSmith
.@aric_almirola is a friend and a great competitor, we will work hard this weekend to do him, his sponsors and @RPMotorsports proud
5/18/2017, 4:00:27 AM
Call it one of many great storylines sure to unfold before the night’s main event even gets underway.
These storylines, alongside what is sure to be some aggressive racing, promise to make for a memorable event. Four drivers will advance for a shot at the biggest prize of all, and the momentum established in qualifying might just be enough to make it happen.
Qualifying event or not, fans won’t want to blink—especially during that blinding final stage.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.