For the first time since, well, he’s been a Sprint Cup driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not in the Sprint All-Star Race.
As a rookie in 2000, he qualified with a win at Texas Motor Speedway in April, just over a month before the all-star race. Then he won the all-star race – the first rookie to win it – to give him a 10-year exemption into the annual event.
Now those 10 years are up and without a win in 2010 or 2011, Earnhardt Jr. must run the Sprint Showdown qualifying race that precedes the main event Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The top two finishers in the Showdown qualify for the all-star race as well as the top vote-getter in a fan vote, provided that the driver finishes on the lead lap and has a drivable car following the Showdown.
As the sport’s most popular driver, Earnhardt Jr. appears the most likely winner of the fan vote.
“I’m not too worried about not being in the all-star race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I ain’t worried about that. However that all works out it works out.
“I’m looking forward to showing up and getting my practice on and seeing how fast we can go and seeing what happens all night long.”
Nineteen drivers are currently eligible for the 2011 all-star race (drivers that have won since the start of the 2010 season or previous all-star or Sprint Cup champions). They are Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, David Reutimann, Regan Smith and Tony Stewart.
The main event is 100 laps comprised of segments of 50, 20, 20 and 10 laps. The Showdown is 40 laps.
“It’s a fun event,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s a fun deal. I’ve never been in the open or the select or whatever in the world they call it [the Showdown] but it will be a good experience for me to go through that and know what that’s like and what being part of that show is like.
“I’m sure the intensity is high in that event as well but different and unique form the all-star race and it will be a good experience for me. I’m looking forward to going through that process.”