Ten days and nights of competition at Charlotte Motor Speedway kick off tonight with the first Friday night running of the Sprint Showdown, the last-chance qualifying race from which three drivers will advance to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday night.
Friday night’s 40-lap race (FOX Sports 1, 7 p.m. ET) features a field of 23 drivers. The winner and runner-up will transfer to the all-star event, as will the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote.
Here are six drivers with an excellent chance of making it to the big show and racing for $1 million.
DANICA PATRICK — The safest bet to make the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race field is Danica Patrick, who is a double threat. First, Patrick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team has been fielding fast cars all year long, with teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch combining for three victories in the first 11 races. Last week at Kansas Speedway, Patrick finished seventh, the best result of her entire Sprint Cup career. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Patrick won the fan vote last year and likely will this year, too.
KYLE LARSON — Off to an excellent start in his rookie season, Larson is 13th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings, with all 12 drivers ahead of him already locked into the all-star event. Larson nearly won at Auto Club Speedway earlier this season and was fifth at Texas Motor Speedway. All told, he has five top-10 finishes so far this season. Larson is one of the best young talents to come into the sport in recent years.
AUSTIN DILLON — Along with Larson, Dillon is the other star of the 2014 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year class. Not surprisingly, the two are also right next to each other in points, with Dillon ranked 14th. The highlight of Dillon’s year so far was a pole in the season-opening Daytona 500 and he’s been very consistent all year long. That said, his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets have at times lacked the speed of the front-running cars.
CLINT BOWYER — Without question, Bowyer’s 2014 campaign has been a disappointment so far, as he ranked just 20th in points. But he has won a points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway before and finished second in the championship standings just two years ago. On top of that, he just signed a new contract, got married and found out he has a son on the way. All things considered, he’s in a good space right now.
AJ ALLMENDINGER — Off to the best start of his Sprint Cup career, Allmendinger has looked pretty sporty this season, helping turn around the fortunes of the once woebegone JTG Daugherty Racing team. Solidly in the top 20 in points, Allmendinger could surprise a few people Friday night. Besides, he won the Sprint Showdown in 2008 and finished second in this race two years ago.
JOSH WISE — From strictly a performance standpoint, Wise frankly doesn’t belong in this discussion. But with his massive support from Dogecoin and Reddit, he could be a contender for the Sprint Fan Vote, especially if Patrick races her way into the all-star event.
WATCH! The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race: 7 p.m. ET Saturday, FOX Sports 1