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What you need to know about the 2018 NASCAR All-Star Race

Fans watch the fireworks during driver introductions for the NASCAR All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

It’s the weekend before Memorial Day weekend, so that means it’s time for NASCAR’s annual All-Star Race where 21 drivers will compete for $1 million and nothing more than bragging rights on Saturday night. Here’s everything you need to know about the exhibition event.

The nitty gritty

When: 8 p.m. ET Saturday, May 19
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Format: 4 stages; 30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps and 10 laps. There are no pit strategy rules or different tire types available like in the 2017 version of the race. 21 drivers will participate.

Who’s in?

All winners from the 2017 and 2018 season along with previous Cup Series champions and All-Star Race winners are automatically entered into the main event. That’s 17 drivers. Here are those 17 drivers.

1. Jamie McMurray
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Austin Dillon
4. Kevin Harvick
6. Matt Kenseth
11. Denny Hamlin
12. Ryan Blaney
14. Clint Bowyer
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
18. Kyle Busch
22. Joey Logano
31. Ryan Newman
41. Kurt Busch
42. Kyle Larson
48. Jimmie Johnson
78. Martin Truex Jr.
95. Kasey Kahne

With 21 spots available, that leaves four spots to be filled during the Open qualifying race.

Who’s trying to get in?

Unlike 2017, the qualifying race for the All-Star Race will be held Saturday night before the All-Star Race itself instead of a day earlier. The qualifying race is three 20-lap stages and each stage winner will advance to the All-Star Race. The other driver advancing to the All-Star Race will be the non-winning driver who wins a fan vote conducted this week.

Here are the drivers attempting to make the All-Star Race:

00. Landon Cassill
9. Chase Elliott
10. Aric Almirola
13. Ty Dillon
15. Ross Chastain
19. Daniel Suarez
20. Erik Jones
21. Paul Menard
23. Gray Gaulding
24. William Byron
32. Matt DiBenedetto
34. Michael McDowell
37. Chris Buescher
38. David Ragan
43. Darrell Wallace Jr.
47. AJ Allmendinger
51. Harrison Rhodes
55. Reed Sorenson
66. Timmy Hill
72. Corey LaJoie
88. Alex Bowman

What’s this new rules package?

The specifications of the All-Star Race cars are unique compared to points races in the 2018 season. After trying out a different rules package during the 2017 Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis, NASCAR implemented similar changes for the All-Star Race to help drivers pass each other more frequently.

The cars will have restrictor plates in the engines to slow down top speed and acceleration. In addition to the engine tweaks, cars will have aero ducts on the front to disperse air around the sides of the car and larger spoilers to slow the cars down further and cut a larger hole through the air.

The combination of the plates, ducts and spoilers will mean cars will turn slower laps around the 1.5-mile track and drivers will likely be flat on the gas throughout the entirety of a lap.

Is the race going to look different?

Hell yes. The combination of slower lap speeds and more air displacement will — NASCAR hopes — lead to cars utilizing the draft to slingshot past one another with relative ease as the field stays bunched together. It’s not hard to envision something similar to a race at Daytona or Talladega, tracks that are a mile larger than Charlotte.

Will that scenario play out? Who the heck knows. Charlotte gets pretty narrow on the exits of turns 2 and 4. Can drivers stay side-by-side on corner exit? Will they be able to get big enough runs to easily make passes or will they stall out as they get alongside each other?

At the very least, the All-Star Race has some serious intrigue this year to see if the tweaks work masterfully or are a big disaster. And given that the changes are just a one-off thing for a race that doesn’t matter, it’ll at least be fun to watch a race that looks different than anything else we’ll see all season. The All-Star Race hasn’t had that uniqueness in quite some time.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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