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Outsiders Look To Get Inside Via The Showdown

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 21 2010

The winning team of Tony Stewart climbed the fence en masse after last year's Sprint All-Star Race. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The list of drivers who have qualified for Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway is impressive. But the list of drivers who have not qualified is, well, kind of interesting, too.

In fact, the not-qualified list includes some of the top drivers in the sport. Drivers who have raced for championships the last couple of years and who are competing with gusto for victories this year.

Drivers like Carl Edwards, who came within 69 points of winning the 2008 Sprint Cup championship. Or Jeff Burton, a former Chaser who is having an impressive – though winless – 2010 season. Or former-Chaser Clint Bowyer, good this season but winless as well.

Edwards knows exactly why he is not in the race – yet. He has not been fast enough to win a race this year and was not fast enough to do it last year.

“At Roush Fenway we just need to be better,” Edwards said. “We need to be faster. We have great pit stops and great team chemistry, but we just have to be faster. The thing that is frustrating about that is that I believe that Ford as a car manufacturer is doing as well or better than anyone else. We need to work with them more closely and figure out what we are lacking here because we should be winning races here. Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle … the drivers we have over here are the best in the garage, I believe. We should be winning more races.”

While winning a race either last year or through the first 12 weeks of this year is the chosen route of getting into Saturday night’s big event, there are still three berths available.

The first two could go to those who place first and second in the the Sprint Showdown, the qualifying race which precedes the All-Star Race.

With so many good drivers chasing those berths, the Showdown could be rather entertaining, Richard Childress Racing’s Burton said.

“I certainly think that if you look at who is in that race,” he said, “it’s a lot of good teams and a lot of good drivers and none of the guys that are in it are proud to be in it. They don’t want to be in it. They want to be in the All-Star Race. Every one of those drivers and teams, as we are, are embarrassed about being in that race. But, the rules are the rules and somebody’s going to go out and find a way to win that race and transfer to the All-Star Race.”

The final berth will go to a driver voted in by fans in online balloting. The All-Star Race has actually been won via that route.

Burton only sort of likes the fan-vote route.

“If you are lucky enough and your fans vote you in, that is awesome,” Burton said. “I want to be able to earn my way in. I want to be in it because I was supposed to be in it. I think the fan vote is a great thing. It is a great tool to get the fans involved; we have very, very loyal fans. Hopefully we can get ourselves in the race and if we can’t, hopefully our fans will. That is all you can do.”

Some drivers are actively campaigning for fan votes. Some have their teams and their public relations people hard at work on those campaigns.

Bowyer, Burton’s teammate at RCR, would love to win this year’s election and makes no secret of the fact that he want’s your vote.

“It would be cool if your fans voted you in,” Bowyer said. “I would be very appreciative if that occurred. If your fans were loyal enough to go online and vote as many times as the rules allowed, that would be something special. We saw Kasey Kahne get voted in a few years ago and win the whole thing. You couldn’t have scripted that any better.”

Burton said campaigning spoils the process.

“To campaign and ask them to do it, I think that is getting a little bit out there,” he said. “I think that you have your fan base, to be able to campaign for everyone else’s fan base to vote you in is a little bit pushing it.”

Interesting talk from a driver who is rumored to be interested in running for political office after he retires from the sport.

But all of those not in as All-Stars, simply want in. Bottom line. Period.

“I really want to be in the Sprint All-Star race,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “The reason why I want to be in it so bad is I think we can win it. The NAPA Auto Parts Toyota has been really fast lately. We had a really good test at Charlotte (in March) … so I like our chances.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 21 2010
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