Sprint Fan Vote: Making a case for all 30 drivers
April 17, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
There are plenty of ways for drivers to qualify for the 30th annual NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race:
• Win a race in the current and preceding season.
• Possess a Sprint Cup championship or All-Star Race win in the last 10 years
• Finish first or second in the Sprint Showdown qualifying race
• Bribe Miss Sprint Cup
OK, so only three of those four are true. But there is one alternate way to gain entry into the non-points invitational event, scheduled May 17 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The top vote-getter in the Sprint Fan Vote will advance into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race to complete the field.
As of the early season break for Easter weekend, 19 competitors have already locked into the field of the main event, but 30 eligible drivers who haven't yet qualified are just as eager to get their shot at a $1 million payday.
Torn about who should get your vote? Are your allegiances all askew? We present a friendly guide for why each of the 30 (listed alphabetically) should be your choice at the ballot box:
Justin Allgaier -- "Li'l Gator" will be entering his first invitational as a Sprint Cup regular, but he's not the first Allgaier to participate in an all-star challenge. His wife, Ashley, posted a third-place finish in a Legends Car in the 2011 Better Half Dash, meaning he'll need to do his part in May to carry the Allgaier banner at Charlotte.
AJ Allmendinger -- Much like Allgaier, you can't spell All-Star without All ... mendinger. He's a former Sprint Showdown winner (2008) ready to better his 11th-place showing in his best All-Star appearance (in 2012) and has exceeded expectations thus far in 2014.
Aric Almirola -- If there was a Hall of Fame just for car numbers, Richard Petty Motorsports' No. 43 would be in it. It's long overdue for the storied number to return to the Sprint All-Star Race.
Marcos Ambrose -- The Aussie has two previous All-Star appearances, both earned by victories at Watkins Glen International's twisty circuit. If Charlotte Motor Speedway opted to revive their infield road course in the latest tweak to the All-Star rules, Ambrose would be a shoo-in.
Michael Annett -- Before starting his driving career and joining the heralded Sunoco Rookie of the Year class in 2014, Annett was a successful youth hockey player who once led his league in penalty minutes. If tempers rise on All-Star weekend, his rivals might think twice before dropping the gloves with the driver of the No. 7 car.
Trevor Bayne -- An All-Star vote for Bayne could mean the 2011 Daytona 500 champ reprising his cool-down lap astonishment and humility -- "Are you kidding me? What?" -- after winning the Great American Race.
Dave Blaney -- A Sprint All-Star Race on a 1.5-mile track covered in dirt. Sounds like a dream come true for the Buckeye Bullet (see: Ambrose).
Alex Bowman -- In his Twitter bio, Bowman claims to be a "wannabe drifter," and it's presumed he means the form of motorsport and not a pursuit of a life of aimless wandering. Either way, a vote into the All-Star race will give him a chance to pitch his NASCAR-prepped ride sideways under the lights.
Clint Bowyer -- Hard to believe that Bowyer missed out on winning a race in 2013. He still has a few chances to come through on the race track before All-Star weekend, but if not, a landslide at the ballot box would help the circuit's favorite "aw, shucks" Kansan.
Landon Cassill -- The Iowa native lists "rounds of mini-golf" first among his hobbies on his personal website. If only the All-Star course involved obstacles such as windmills and tunnels, and was conducted on AstroTurf.
Austin Dillon -- The No. 3 back in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. That is all.
Parker Kligerman -- As an entertaining contributing author at Jalopnik, a leading motoring website, Kligerman could probably find room in his next story for how he won the Sprint Fan Vote. Hint.
Bobby Labonte -- Labonte won the All-Star Fan Vote in 2012, right on the heels of previously ineligible Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- the 11-time Most Popular Driver in NASCAR -- clinching a spot by winning the Sprint Showdown qualifier. He hasn't competed this season since finishing 15th in the Daytona 500, but his absence is nothing a Sprint Fan Vote victory couldn't fix.
Terry Labonte -- The Iceman, a two-time All-Star winner, once lamented a Darlington crash by saying "it seemed an invisible hand came out from the wall and smacked our cars into one another." Labonte won't see your hand when it votes for him, either -- all the more reason to add to the mystique.
Kyle Larson -- The finishes in the heralded rookie's first season have been mainly up and sometimes down, but the kid has seemed to always put on a show. Place him in the Sprint All-Star Race where points don't matter, and the field may have the ultimate scene-stealer.
Eric McClure -- Came up just short of qualifying for the season-opening Daytona 500, but it shouldn't stop fans from giving the likeable Nationwide Series regular another shot at Sprint Cup glory.
Michael McDowell -- It's hard to type "Michael McDowell" into a search engine without it automatically fleshing out to say "Michael McDowell crash." A Sprint Fan Vote win would help McDowell, who's driven a little bit of everything in his career, potentially make a defining highlight other than his spectacular Texas wreck in 2008.
Casey Mears -- An overachiever for much of the season so far, Mears already has some Charlotte success in his portfolio -- a Coca-Cola 600 victory in 2007.
Paul Menard -- With top-10s in half of the first eight races, all Menard needs is a fighting chance to punch his All-Star ticket. While his on-track prowess is enough to win most over, it's the rock-solid chops of facial hair that seal the deal. If Menard were a character on "The Simpsons," he'd be Mr. Burns.
Joe Nemechek -- It's been since April 2008 that the driver named "Front Row Joe" actually qualified on the front row for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. A vote into any row of the Sprint All-Star Race would give the Florida veteran a shot in the arm.
Danica Patrick -- The Sprint Fan Vote's defending champ might have the inside line on clinching her second straight All-Star Race berth, but the democratic process still needs to play out to make that happen.
Brian Scott -- The most recent driver we know of to be hit with the well-worn putdown of "dart with no feathers" (from Aric Almirola), Scott has the chance to hit the All-Star bull's-eye with the right amount of votes.
Morgan Shepherd -- The only driver among the 30 whose career began during the Nixon administration, Shepherd has a chance to rewrite the history books (at least those written after his birth year of 1941) with an All-Star berth at age 72.
Reed Sorenson -- As a five-time bridesmaid in All-Star qualifying races and never a bride in the main event, Sorenson may be the hungriest driver in the field (but not literally, thanks to his Golden Corral sponsorship).
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -- Stenhouse drove his way into the Saturday night feature with a strong runner-up finish in the Sprint Showdown qualifier. If he's able to count on the fans' votes coming in abundance, perhaps he can skip the preliminary event to make a food run to Sonic, as he did last year during a rain delay at Chicagoland Speedway.
Ryan Truex -- As part of BK Racing's new-look, two-rookie lineup for 2014, Truex hopes voters will take his team's approach. Time for some fresh faces in the All-Star Race mix? Vote here.
Michael Waltrip -- The two-time Daytona 500 winner will be at the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race regardless, be it in the TV broadcast booth or behind the wheel. Voting for Waltrip could decide if he performs his patented grid walk in a fire suit or regular suit.
Cole Whitt -- Probably 50 Cent's favorite redhead after their chummy experience at Daytona in February. A vote here could put Whitt among the All-Star starters and have him back on a first-name basis with the rapper ("Fitty" instead of "Mr. Cent").
Josh Wise -- This man completed an Ironman Triathlon in the offseason, meaning the Sprint All-Star Race should be a piece of cake. The 90-lap event equals 135 miles, or just 5.6 fewer miles than he covered through swimming, biking and running last December.