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Notes: Earnhardt determined to win Showdown

May 20, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- Martin cherishes All-Star wins; Smith wants to stay with Furniture Row

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is promising an all-out assault on Saturday's Sprint Showdown.

Earnhardt couldn't be blamed for taking a conservative approach to the qualifying race, which will transfer the top-two finishers into the main event that follows, the Sprint All-Star Race. Realistically, all he has to do is have a car in raceable condition to take advantage of the fan vote, which fills the last position in the All-Star Race.

Showdown

Lineup
Pos.DriverMake
2.A.J. AllmendingerFord
3.Paul MenardChevrolet
4.Brad KeselowskiDodge
5.Jeff BurtonChevrolet

"The opportunity for us to win the fan vote is definitely in the back of my mind, but I don't think it will affect me at all in how I drive the race," Earnhardt said. "If we're sitting there in the second segment running fifth, I promise you that's all I can get out of it at that time."

Anyone who doesn't think Earnhardt would win the fan vote hasn't been following stock car racing for the past decade. Earnhardt has won most popular driver honors for the past eight years, and he's a lock for the fan vote, should he need it.

But the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet has a different mindset for his first appearance in the Showdown, an appearance necessary because Earnhardt's guaranteed eligibility for the All-Star Race expired this year. Winners of the past 10 All-Star Races are locked into the starting field -- that leaves Earnhardt, who won the event in 2000, in the position of having to compete in the Showdown.

And he's determined to win it.

"I would love to get into the All-Star outright," Earnhardt said. "I've paid attention for the last several months, and I know how much the fans have put into voting for me. And should we win the fan vote, it would be because of everything that they did.

"But I think they would agree with me, that they would like to see me win and go in outright, and that's what I'm going to try to do. I know there's tough competition in that race, but we're going in and we're running hard and taking all the risks."

Martin's All-Star wins rank among his favorites

Promoters of Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway bill it as no-holds-barred -- win or wreck trying. Do drivers actually drive that way?

Not really, says Mark Martin. "Not as much as you think because we race all-out all the time. It's hard to try harder than everything you got," said Martin, who has raced in the event 21 times. "It is a gloves-off kind of race. But it's not like a daylight-and-dark difference."

Even if the style of racing is largely the same as every other race, a win in the event is, indeed, different. Martin has won 40 Cup points-paying races in his career, but he lists his two All-Star wins among his favorite victories.

"I don't have a good way to rank those things, other than which ones do you remember," Martin said. "I vividly remember both those All-Star wins. Vividly. I only have a small handful of wins that I vividly remember. None of which are any more clear to me than those two wins."

Both wins had drama. In 1998, Jeff Gordon ran out of gas on the last lap, which handed the win to Martin.

"I had no idea I was going to win the race until I won it, which was really fun and exciting," Martin said. "That's the coolest way to win a race."

He said he savors the 2005 win because at the time he thought it might be the last time he visited Victory Lane. He said he felt like he contributed to it. He described as "lucky" the fact that every move he made that night worked.

That's the closest to bragging Martin will ever get; what he meant was he drove the thing to the front.

Smith staying at Furniture Row

In NASCAR, like in other sports, up-and-coming stars often are poached from low-level teams by deep-pocketed teams. The guy perceived to be next in line for a big-time ride is Regan Smith.

Smith won the first race of his career earlier this month at Darlington, driving for the unheralded and underfunded Furniture Row Racing, to qualify for Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race.

All-Star Race

Lineup
Pos.DriverMake
2.Clint BowyerChevrolet
3.Greg BiffleFord
4.Carl EdwardsFord
5.Mark MartinChevrolet

Long seen as an untapped talent, Smith finally had broken through. Just don't expect him to go to the other side yet.

The fact he is under contract through 2012 seems to be beside the point, as he was asked Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway about the possibility of drawing interest from other teams. He proclaimed his loyalty to his team, which is based in Denver.

"I've only got one win and one top five," Smith said -- and he's not talking about this year, he's talking about his career. "I want to concentrate on getting more of 'em and being consistently up front."

Besides, Smith has driven for a big-money team -- Dale Earnhardt Inc. -- and that ended horribly. He won the rookie of the year award in 2008 and the following year was out of a job. Furniture Row plucked him off the unemployment line. Smith ran 18 races for the team in 2009 and the full schedule last season.

"We've all got a lot of time and effort put into it," Smith said. "They've certainly stuck behind me, even when we were having some struggles. And vice versa -- if we were in a situation where we were breaking some parts or whatever, I'd know I was 100 percent behind them."

Who knew?

Forget what you heard from the mouths of most drivers entered in the Sprint Showdown.

Forget what you've read in most pre-race publicity, even if it came from NASCAR, the race sponsor or Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Contrary to popular belief, a driver does not have to finish on the lead lap of the Showdown to be voted into the Sprint All-Star Race under the provisions of the Sprint Fan Vote.

NASCAR clarified the rule Friday afternoon, indicating that the fan vote winner's car simply must be in "raceable condition" as determined by the Sprint Cup Series director. NASCAR defines raceable condition as meeting all safety standards and able to maintain minimum speed.

According to NASCAR officials, "raceable condition" has been the standard for several years. Because of a communication breakdown involving the sanctioning body and those charged with publicizing the race, the lead-lap provision remained in most All-Star Race literature and Internet postings.