Even though there's a new wrinkle in the format, the favorite in Wednesday night's Prelude to the Dream charity race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, is the same as it ever was—the guy who owns the track and stages the event.
Tony Stewart, who launched the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Prelude to the Dream at the half-mile dirt track in 2005, has won the event the past two years and three of the five since its inception. Stewart set the one-lap qualifying record last year (15.405 seconds) and led all 30 laps of the main event.
The new variation this year includes a team competition, with each team representing one of four children's hospitals that are the beneficiaries of the Prelude, which will be televised live on HBO Pay-Per-View at 7 p.m. ET, with a replay to follow immediately.
Stewart chose four captains and handicapped each team. Clint Bowyer heads the Riley Hospital for Children (Indianapolis) team that includes Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, AJ Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier, inaugural Prelude winner Kenny Wallace and drag racer Ron Capps.
Kahne Kahne leads the Cincinnati Children's Hospital contingent that features Stewart, Joey Logano, Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott and NHRA star Cruz Pedregon.
Kyle Busch's Levine Children's Hospital (Charlotte) team includes Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, David Reutimann, Dave Blaney, Marcos Ambrose and motocross champion Travis Pastrana.
Denny Hamlin leads a team competing for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital (Memphis) featuring Carl Edwards, Ken Schrader, Aric Almirola, Ricky Carmichael, IndyCar star Tony Kanaan and former Cup champion crew chief Ray Evernham.
“You look at it, and they lined up the teams really well,” Busch said Friday at Pocono Raceway. “You look at it, and it's like, 'Man, that's a really, really good guy,' and, 'Oh, that's a really good guy,' and, 'I want that guy.' It will be a hard-fought race for sure. I don't know who picked the teams, but I will give them credit. They did a nice job of picking the teams.”
Stewart acknowledged that the teams were seeded largely on the basis of past performance in the Prelude, but he wasn't reluctant to pick a favorite.