News & Media

Notebook: Showdown could be as competitive as main event

May 19, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

JGR gives nod to McDowell, Herring at Iowa; Said to compete in No. 32 at CMS

The format of Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race alone -- a 100-lap race with a 10-lap dash to the finish -- all but guarantees the sort of intensity we've come to expect from the non-points race for a $1 million top prize.

With one of the most potent fields in its history, the Sprint Showdown, the qualifying race that precedes the All-Star Race and sends two drivers on to the main event, could be every bit as interesting.

Topping the list of Showdown competitors is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is not guaranteed a spot in the All-Star Race under current eligibility rules. Earnhardt won the All-Star Race in 2000 but is beyond the 10-year window for past race winners.

Likewise, 2000 Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte has aged out of eligibility for a race that guarantees a berth to Cup champions from the past 10 years. Perennial Chase contender Jeff Burton must fight his way into the main event through the Showdown; in addition to the All-Star Race winners and Cup champions of the past decade, the event is open to Cup race winners from the previous and current years, and Burton, like Earnhardt, hasn't won a race since 2008.

After the Showdown, the final spot in the All-Star Race field goes to the driver not otherwise eligible who wins the Sprint Fan Vote.

The list of Showdown drivers also includes A.J. Allmendinger, a front-row starter last Sunday at Dover; Marcos Ambrose, who finished third in the Dover race; Joey Logano, 2009 rookie of the year; and Brian Vickers, who won a race and qualified for the Chase in 2009 before being sidelined by medical issues last year.

Add to that group David Ragan, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard, any of whom could be in the mix for the win.

Accordingly, the Showdown for the two transfer spots to the main event could be just as competitive as the All-Star Race itself.

Said heads to Charlotte

Boris Said will attempt to make the Sprint All-Star Race for the first time in his career, as FAS Lane Racing is fielding the No. 32 Ford for him for the Sprint Showdown. The 48-year-old Said, an accomplished road racer, regularly competes in the Sprint Cup events at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International, both road-course venues. His best finish last season came at Infineon, where he finished eighth.

His best finish on an oval came in the 2006 summer race at Daytona, when he finished fourth after qualifying on the pole.

Gibbs giving McDowell, Herring a shot

Bravo to Joe Gibbs Racing for supporting one of the most important functions of the Nationwide Series -- its developmental aspect.

You won't see Kyle Busch and Logano in JGR's No. 18 and No. 20 Toyotas this weekend when the Nationwide Series races at Iowa Speedway. Instead, Michael McDowell and Drew Herring will be driving those two formidable machines.

McDowell, 26, has 72 starts in the Nationwide Series, but none this year -- and none in equipment comparable to the No. 18 Toyota he'll drive in Sunday's John Deere Dealers 250. The No. 18 is the ride in which Busch has won five of the 10 Nationwide races he's entered this season.

McDowell is perhaps best known for walking away from a spectacular crash in Sprint Cup qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway in April 2008. This season, he has maintained a presence in the garage by starting and parking for Phil Parsons' No. 66 Cup team.

A former instructor for the Bondurant Driving School in Phoenix, McDowell also happens to be one of the most likable, unassuming drivers on the circuit, and Iowa is an ideal place for him to showcase his talents. In 2009, McDowell posted one of his six top-10s in the Nationwide Series at Iowa, in a Dodge sponsored by a Honda dealership.

Herring, 23, has four Nationwide starts to his credit, all last year in the No. 27 Baker Curb Ford. His best finish came at Iowa -- 15th. As a teenager, Herring raced against JGR driver Denny Hamlin in Late Model stock cars.

The opportunity to drive a car as strong as the Gibbs Toyotas is a rarity. Now it's up to the drivers to do something with it.