Saturday, May 19, 2012

First-timers vying for a million in the All-Star Race


Since the inception of the All-Star Race the rules have changed so many times that fans' heads often spin. Dale Earnhardt Jr. commented that, “the most popular question in the grandstands will be, which 20-lap segment is this? Is this the third, the forth?" Regardless of how many times the format has changed and how many segments are being run, one thing has remained the same: first- time winners from the previous season and up to the cut off for the current season are automatically considered to be All-Stars. 

Saturday night three drivers will suit up for their first-ever appearance in NASCAR's showcase of the best of the best. Of the five first-time winners in 2011, Trevor Bayne, Marcos Ambrose, and Paul Menard are the first-timers who have a chance to take home a million dollars and solidify their place among the elite.

Bayne, who won the 2011 Daytona 500, was eligible last season but was forced to sit out the event because of health issues. He's back behind the wheel of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford sponsored by Good Sam and Camping World, and ready to take the green from the 11th position. On Friday Bayne talked about how, if he won, the race winnings could be used to help finance future race weekends. Bayne also discussed how his experience is different than the others in the event. Where the other drivers are running full schedules, Bayne is on a limited one, sharing, "There's a lot of money on the line and this is kind of how we race every weekend though because we don't run for points. We just run to race for wins. Now they're kind of playing in our court a little bit and we're looking forward to it."

Ambrose found his way into the Sprint All-Star Race with a victory at Watkins Glen International. The Australian driver who has yet to win on an oval is looking forward to Saturday night's race. As those participating in the qualifying race were on track for their only practice session Friday, Ambrose laughed saying, "I'm pleased I'm in the media center and not in my race car right now. It's not often you can say that, but I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of the All-Star." He'll start from 18th in the No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion. Points or not, who'd like to see Ambrose take home the checkers?

Menard earned his first All-Star berth by virtue of his victory in the 2011 Brickyard 400, a truly elite event on one of the biggest motorsports stages in the world. Menard will pilot the No. 27 Menards/Certain Teed Chevrolet starting in the 7th, the highest of the three first-timers. Menard shared his thoughts on the aggression seen during the All-Star race commenting, "It's kind of the same every week where you might want to go harder than you're capable of going or what the car is allowing you to do and in a longer race you might conserve your tires in a long run. We won't have many long runs.    

2011's other first time winners, David Ragan and Regan Smith have participated in the event before. Both raced last year. Smith by virtue of the timing of his Darlington win, and Regan by winning the 2011 Sprint Showdown.

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