In North Carolina, they call late May “10 Days of Thunder” in honor of Charlotte Motor Speedway hosting the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race on May 20 and the Coca-Cola 600 eight nights later.
In honor of 10 Days of Thunder, here are 10 NASCAR drivers talking about the all-star race.
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Here’s a stat for you: Newman’s 2002 all-star victory for Team Penske makes him the last rookie to win this race. That’s how competitive it is here.
“For me, winning the All-Star Race in 2002 was totally unexpected because we weren't even in the race,” said Newman, who had to transfer in from the preliminary race. “We had to race our way in. I made the cut. We got the inversion on either the first or second segment when they were eliminating cars and then got the inversion again and I was able to stay up front. We stayed out on old tires, which was crazy for Charlotte. Somehow, we were able to hold them off. It was an amazing team victory for us and unexpected."
One of the few unchecked boxes on Busch’s list of career accomplishments is an all-star victory, something he hopes to remedy on Saturday. As for his strategy, it’s simple: Get out front and stay there.
“I think just being aggressive and knowing when to be aggressive and how to be aggressive is the biggest thing,” said Busch. “It’s a race where you have to get to the front and you have to get out there and get yourself, more importantly, in clean air in order to keep yourself out front and on your own.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
As a rookie in 2000, Earnhardt won his first and so far only all-star race in his first appearance. This event has always been important to Earnhardt, one of the few North Carolina natives in the field.
“I’m going to just miss being a competitor in that atmosphere because you get competitive in the event, but there is also a lot of pride to be in that race and to get that invitation, so to speak,” said Earnhardt. “I’ll miss that feeling of accomplishment.”
The 2007 all-star winner knows where the phrase “checkers or wreckers” comes from as it pertains to a race that pays $1 million to win and zero points.
“It ends up with a lot of bent-up sheet metal due to moves that aren’t necessarily thought out very well – and we’ve all made them,” said Harvick, the 2014 series champion. “It’s a fun race and it’s fun just for that reason. If you make a mistake, the repercussions aren’t really that great in terms of points or anything like that. It’s really about trying to win and that carrot that they dangle out in front of you is a trophy and a million bucks – so go for it.”
In 2010, gave then-boss Roger Penske his second victory in the all-star race and the first since Ryan Newman’s rookie season of 2002. Busch said to even be in the race is special.
“It’s a who’s who of the Cup Series,” said Busch, the winner of the 2017 Daytona 500. “It’s a big honor to be included in that race. Those are the winners, the top percent of our sport. To win that race in 2010 was a special moment. To beat the best of the best, and then to receive a check for $1 million, that’s a great feeling.”
Saturday night will be Buescher’s first all-star appearance and he admits the unique qualifying format, which requires drivers to run three laps and make a four-tire pit stop with no speed limit on pit road, is intimidating.
"It’s always been kind of comical to watch how difficult it is and see how easy it is to slide through the pit box and make a mistake,” said Buescher. “When you’re not trying to participate in it, it’s a lot of fun to watch. But now that we’re in it, it’s a little stressful.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader Larson nearly won here last year after transferring in from the preliminary race. This year, he’s in the main event and he’s jacked up about the qualifying format.
“I’m excited about finally being able to do the qualifying with the live pit stops,” Larson said. “I’ve always thought that is one of the most exciting things we get to see all year. To be a part of that for the first time will be pretty fun.”
Three times, Patrick has made it to the all-star main event by winning the Fan Vote, which she could do again this week, although her first choice would be to race her way in.
“I would rather race my way in but, if I have to get in by fan vote, what other way is better than that?” Patrick said of the Fan Vote. “I mean, to have the fans put you in the race was something special. I have been so lucky in my career to have such great fans everywhere I go, so I have to say thank you for that.”
Suarez, a rookie driver for Joe Gibbs Racing is not yet in the all-star field, but he has four chances to get in: Win any of the three stages in the preliminary last-chance race or get the fan vote.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway and for a chance to qualify for the all-star race,” said Suarez. “All-star weekend has such a rich history in our sport, and I’m really excited to be part of it this weekend.”
The all-time all-star winner with four race victories, Johnson likely will have another fast Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Saturday night under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"This race is all about the money – no points on the line,” said Johnson. “It’s usually a crazy night and a fun night where the pit crews get a chance to be in the spotlight more than usual, as well. Last year we were leading on the final restart and our strategy didn’t work out. There are a few different rules for this one, so I am sure (No. 48 team crew chief) Chad (Knaus) will come up with something good.”