The 20-strong field for the 2015 Sprint All-Star Race has been decided, with Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer winning entry into the non-championship exhibition race with wins in Friday evening's Sprint Showdown event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Sprint Showdown results from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Also through to Saturday night's race is Danica Patrick, who progresses by winning the fan vote.
The three drivers will join the 17 already pre-eligible for this weekend's race by virtue of having won Cup races in either 2014 or 2015 together with previous All-Star race winners or Cup champions.
Biffle, Bowyer and Patrick were among the remaining 29 Cup drivers not already in the All-Star Race who instead had to fight over the two remaining All-Star places being offered to the drivers who won either of the two 20-lap segments comprising the Sprint Showdown.
A two-round qualifying session earlier on Friday afternoon had seen Paul Menard and Greg Biffle seal the front row for the start of the Showdown, but Biffle immediately took the lead and went on to lead all 20 laps of the first segment. When he was still out in the lead when the chequered flag was out, he was allowed to drive the #16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford to the garage and park, his mission for the night well and truly accomplished.
"I'm really excited," said Biffle as he played spectator for the second half of the Showdown. "We've worked really hard and we had good track position, we qualified well. It seems like we're getting our cars a little bit better. We know we still have work to do, but when it got out in clean air it was pretty fast and we were able to hold off Clint and have a pretty good lead.
"I definitely didn't want to see a caution flag, I wasn't ready for a restart and mix it up again, but we're pretty happy with the car," he added. "It gives us a bunch of confidence. We know we still have a lot of other cars to compete against, but it felt good to win half a race, so we'll see what happens."
Pole winner Menard had dropped behind Bowyer to third place in the first segment, and although Biffle's departure from the field promoted him back up to second place he then lost places on pit lane and took the restart down in sixth place behind David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Justin Allgaier and Clint Bowyer who had taken four new tyres while those ahead had opted for two.
Wen the green flag came out, JJ Yeley spun just two laps into the second segment to bring out a brief red flag. When the race resumed, Larson took the lead from Truex Jr. before Bowyer pushed his way to the front a lap later and proved uncatchable for the rest of the race. Larson hit the wall on lap 31 but averted an outright wreck, allowing he race to continue to the chequered flag which saw him one and a half seconds clear of Menard who had recovered to finish in second place.
"We had a pretty good car, our 5-hour ENERGY Toyota was good especially on the long run - that gives me a little bit of confidence," said Bowyer, who has been struggling for form so far in 2015. "I think we'll be a little bit better. I appreciate all the guys' efforts and all their hard work. The way we're running is not due to a lack of effort.
"It's such a tough thing when you're struggling and you're trying to figure everything out," he added. "You're running bad and you're confidence gets beat up and you just can't seem to figure it out. Just like anything in life, you keep digging and you keep working hard at it and eventually you'll figure it out and we'll have the success we've worked so hard for."
Danica Patrick finished in ninth place but was later announced as the winner of the fan vote meaning that she would join Biffle and Bowyer in transferring to Saturday's qualifying session for the All-Star Race.
"I have great fans. I know I didn't make it in last year, but I heard that they voted even more last year than the year before that and so I'm sure that this year was nothing different," she said after learning she had topped the poll. "I think I got close at the end and they came through. They always come through. I am lucky to have such great fans.
“I just really hope that we can learn enough tonight to make the car better tomorrow," she added. "It would be cool to be able to have a car good enough to march our way forward and then ultimately see how good we can get it."
Earlier on Friday, Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch made an immediate statement of intent on his return from injury by topping the sole All-Star practice session.
"I was excited to get back in and see my guys and just kind of get the taste of all of that again," said Busch of his first day back at the office. "Just trying to get a feel for the seat, the car and being back behind the wheel - it's been a while. As far as I was concerned, it felt like everything went according to plan and we had some decent speed in race trim."
Jamie McMurray was second in the session, followed by Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth in tenth. Rounding off the field for Saturday's race are Aric Almirola, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman.
The All-Star qualifying session consists of three timed laps for each of the 20 participants, including one four-tyre pit stop with no pit road speeding penalty in force. The other usual pit lane penalties (such as removing equipment from the pit stall) still apply and will earn the driver a five second penalty added to their aggregate time used to set the starting grid order.
The All-Star Race itself consists of five segments, the first four consisting of 25 laps apiece with the opportunity to pit between each. The field then gets re-ordered based on the average finish for the first four segments and goes through a mandatory four-tyre pit stop to decide the starting order for the final remaining ten-lap sprint to the finish.
See full NASCAR Sprint Showdown results from Charlotte Motor Speedway.