Thirty drivers for three spots.
Seventeen drivers are locked into Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with a chance to win the $1 million top prize.
Friday’s activities at the track will determine which three drivers will join them.
All-Star Race rules require a minimum field of 20 cars, so in addition to the winners of each of the 20-lap segments in Friday night’s Sprint Showdown, the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote will also gain entry to the all-star lineup.
Had Kyle Busch not returned from his injuries in time to compete this weekend, the top two in the Fan Vote would have advanced to ensure a 20-car field.
Qualifying for the all-star race will held at 7 p.m. Saturday, before the race.
While many of NASCAR’s top stars – including Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick – are already in the all-star field, there are several talented drivers who can still win their way in.
The top prospect is Martin Truex Jr., who has had one of the consistently fast cars this season, although he has not won a race. Speed will definitely be a requirement in winning one of the 20-lap segments to advance.
“The bad news heading into the weekend is that we’re not qualified for the big show,” Truex said. “The good news is that we’ll be at a 1.5-mile track, which has been one of our strong suits this season.
“Our best overall run at a 1.5 track was last Saturday night in Kansas where we led the most laps (95) and had an excellent shot of winning that race.”
Last season’s rookie of the year, Kyle Larson, is another strong candidate in the Showdown.
His background in sprint car races – typically short in length – could come in handy in the 20-lap segments. He and teammate Jamie McMurray, who won last year’s All-Star race, have shown competitive speed so far this season.
Chase Elliott, who will replace Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet next season, is using the all-star weekend to get a head start on his Cup series career.
Hendrick Motorsports announced last week that Elliott would add the Sprint Showdown to his Cup schedule this season. He is also running next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.
In two Cup series starts so far this season, the 19-year-old son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has finished 38th and 16th.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to run the Showdown,” Elliott said. “It allows me to gain more experience before we race again at Charlotte a week later.”
Danica Patrick is the favorite to win the Sprint Fan Vote. She entered the all-star race two years ago by winning the vote but finished second behind Josh Wise last season after an ambitious campaign by Wise’s sponsor.
This week Sprint announced the current top five vote-getters in alphabetical order: Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Patrick, Truex and Josh Wise.
Elliott is not eligible for the fan vote because he did not start the 2015 Daytona 500.
The fan vote winner will be announced after Friday night’s Sprint Showdown.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
The following 17 drivers are already qualified for Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race:
A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart.