Sprint Cup competition takes a week off this weekend, and instead the NASCAR drivers compete in the unique exhibition Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a $1 million prize.
Kyle Busch will start from pole position for the All-Star race, after a qualifying format consisting of three timed laps and a mandatory four-tyre pit stop - making the pit crew a vital part of the effort - saw him record a time of 119.112s and an average speed of 45.335s. Busch had earlier also topped the practice session for the All-Star field.
"We unloaded with a really fast racecar today," said Busch. "The guys did a great job there with the pit stop."
Busch was 0.709s faster in total on his qualifying run than Ryan Newman who starts alongside him on the front row of the grid, with Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle lining up a row behind. Last year's winner Carl Edwards will start from 13th, while the best pit stop time went to Brad Keseelowski (12.1s) but he will start from 19th place after incurring two lug nut penalties in the process.
Kasey Kahne managed to wreck his race car in qualifying, with a hard hit into the wall in turn 4 that effectively wrote off the car for the weekend and sent him to the backup car and to the back of the field for Saturday night's race. Regan Smith earlier blew up an engine in practice, which means he will start the All-Star race from the rear of the grid.
"I was just trying to get all I could and went a little too far," he said.
The other slots in the All-Star race go to the drivers who have won Cup races in the 2011 or the 2012 seasons to date, together with any former Sprint Cup champions or winners of the All-Star race from the last decade. This year, that gives a field consisting of Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Newman, David Ragan, Smith and of course reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart.
Trevor Bayne will be particularly happy to make the starting line-up of his first All-Star race, thanks to his victory in the 2011 Daytona 500. He was unable to take up the spot last year because of illness. He and the Wood Brothers team have already said that if they were to win the $1 million prize on Saturday that they will plough the money back into the team to allow Bayne to run an expanded 2012 Cup season.
"I'm just excited to be in the All-Star Race," said Bayne. "This is [Eddie and Len Wood]'s hobby, so it's not like they take their winnings and go buy a new boat with it or something. They love racing and they want to be a part of it, so winning on Saturday night will definitely help us add more races."
These 20 drivers will be joined in the race by three more, starting with the winner of a fan vote. That has historically been a runaway affair for Dale Earnhardt Jr.. One driver who might give him competition in the future is Danica Patrick, but she is in Iowa this weekend for the Nationwide Series and therefore not a contender.
The final two spots go to the winner and runner-up of the Sprint Showdown showdown race that is held earlier on Saturday evening. The 22-car field consists of all the Cup drivers who have not already made the All-Star race.