For the first time in the history of NASCAR's annual all-star race, the top drivers will head to a short track. They will compete for the $1 million prize at Bristol Motor Speedway. As a bonus, they will perform in front of a sizable audience despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Bob Pockrass of FOX Sports, NASCAR officials decided to move the all-star race from Charlotte Motor Speedway due to rising coronavirus cases in North Carolina and the Charlotte area. Fans have clamored for the race to take place on a short track for years, and Bristol is just that. Tennessee officials helped make the move possible with a willingness to allow up to 30,000 fans at sports events. Now the drivers will fight for the prize money at the "Last Great Colosseum" instead of at the 1.5-mile Charlotte track.
OFFICIAL: The 2020 NASCAR All-Star Race will be held July 15th at Bristol Motor Speedway WITH fans. pic.twitter.com/HZXH19uMM7— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 15, 2020
"You all are on Twitter, and I get hammered every day on, 'More short tracks, please,'" NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O'Donnell said on Monday night. "So here you go. All the teams recognize this is an opportunity for us to showcase our sport, to do something we've always talked about and let's take a chance and see how it works. I couldn't be more excited. I think the whole industry is ready to go."
Following this announcement, driver Matt DiBenedetto showed his excitement. He wrote that he is "heavily in favor" of holding the all-star race at a short track. Bristol, in particular, happens to be the site of his career-best Cup Series finish. NASCAR has held 35 all-star races, 34 of which took place at Charlotte. The lone exception occurred in 1986 when NASCAR drivers headed to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
When the drivers headed to Bristol in 2019, DiBenedetto nearly secured the victory. He had the lead with 12 laps remaining, but Denny Hamlin passed him and never relinquished. DiBenedetto finished in second place while Keselowski took third. This victory would have been DiBenedetto's first Cup Series win of his career, and he has since referred to it as "one of the most defeating and toughest days" of his life, as well as one of the "most rewarding."
If DiBenedetto secures a spot in the all-star race, he will have an opportunity to secure a victory at this beloved track, as well as $1 million. He currently has not qualified for the all-star race, but fans can vote for him on the NASCAR website. The all-star race is open to winners of races in 2019 and 2020, former all-star winners and past Cup champions. One spot is available from an online fan vote, while another four are available to winners of the three stages of the Open.
Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliot, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. have all secured spots for the all-star race. Five more drivers will join them on July 15, and DiBenedetto hopes to be among this group. If he secures a place, he will have the opportunity to race in front of 30,000 screaming fans.