Cup stars on the All-Star bubble
CONCORD, N.C. -- Want to see Scott Speed throw a pie in Kyle Busch's face? Or would you prefer to see Carl Edwards have a chance to donate his portion of the $1 million first-place prize from Saturday night's All-Star Challenge to Speedway Children's Charities? Or will Martin Truex Jr. come up with a fifth or sixth installment on YouTube that might push him over the top?
Vote, vote, vote.
Campaigns to get into the All-Star Race aren't new. Home Depot put a big push behind Joey Logano last year and got the Joe Gibbs Racing rookie into the show. Budweiser and fans got behind Kasey Kahne in 2008 and voted in the driver who went on to win the main event.
In 2006, sponsor Coca-Cola teamed with Wells Fargo and Tire Kingdom to get Kyle Petty in by promising to donate a minimum of $250,000 to Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp for chronically ill children.
But the campaigns seem to have reached a new level this season with the emergence of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
The level of star power in the main attraction also has reached a new level with four Chase drivers -- Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Edwards and Truex -- not in the no-holds-barred show and others such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Clint Bowyer who have run in the top 10 much of the year also on the outside looking in.
Of course, the easiest way for one of these drivers to make sure he's racing for the million-dollar prize is to finish first or second in the preliminary event, a 40-lap sprint around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Barring that, the only way to get in is to win the fan vote, so stakes are higher than ever.
Speed might have the inside track with the pie in the face of the driver many fans -- and some drivers -- would like to see creamed: Busch.
"I'm not sure I can compete with that," Truex said. "I think a lot of people would like to see it.
"That one is going to get him voted in," he said.
This could be the most anticipated preliminary race in the history of the All-Star Race. It could be better than the main event.
"It's gonna be good," Truex said. "They're both going to be good, but our race is going to be really good. There are a lot of guys who could win the All-Star Race in the [preliminary] race. Guys are going to come out swinging."
That could spice up an evening that typically is spicy enough with the 100-lap feature. There are more big-name drivers in the qualifier than ever.
Let's look at six drivers who feel they already deserve to be among the 20 in the All-Star Race but aren't because they haven't won in the past year and a half and aren't former All-Star or Cup champions:
• Biffle: His eight top-10s are more than anybody else in NASCAR this season outside of points leader Kevin Harvick and his nine. Biffle is ranked seventh in points and has 14 career Cup wins, not to mention he's a former Nationwide and Truck series champion.
Unfortunately for the Biff, he hasn't won in Cup since 2008.
"I feel we're a top-10 team," Biffle said. "We have to run the race to get in because we haven't won in the last year and a half, so it's a disappointment. It's a big disappointment. We're a better team than that.
"But it takes a lot to win in this sport. If you have medium-fast race cars, it takes an extraordinary amount to win. Everything has got to be perfect."
• Burton: He's been in position to win four or five races this season, but, through misfortune or untimely mistakes, he hasn't. He has three top-5s -- two more than Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Reutimann and Logano, who are out of the top 12 but in the main show -- and five top-10s this year.
He ranks eighth in points, and his 21 career wins tie for fifth among active drivers on NASCAR's all-time victory list, with only Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart having compiled more.
But he hasn't won since the October 2008 race at Charlotte, a statistic that baffles and embarrasses him.
"I certainly would like to think I'm one of the best 20 drivers in the sport and my team is one of the best 20," Burton said. "When you come to an All-Star event and feel like you're one of the top teams and you're not in it, that's embarrassing."
Burton is so embarrassed that he has suggested the only way he wants to get into the show is by winning. Truex believes that's reverse psychology to garner more fan votes.
"I'm not going to promise anything," Burton said. "We're going to go out and try to race our way into it. If the fans vote us in, I really appreciate it. The whole politicking for the fan vote, I've never done it.
"I shouldn't say I've never done it. I did ask for people to vote for me years ago, but I'll never do it again."
• Edwards: Two years ago, he led the series with nine victories and finished second in points. His six top-10s this season are one more than three-time winner Denny Hamlin and season lap leader Gordon. He is ranked 10th in points.
But he hasn't won since 2008, so he's looking to do anything to get in. Promising to donate his portion of the All-Star winnings to children's charities will tug on the hearts of some.
"It's obviously very important to have fans vote me into the race because I can't donate if I'm not in the race," Edwards said. "I'd like to earn my way in, but the fan vote would mean the world."
(Pause to wipe away tears.)
• Truex: His credentials aren't overwhelming, but he is a former Chase driver and he is 12th in points. He has four top-10s, which a lot of drivers would kill for.
Outside of Speed's proffer, Truex's "Tried and Truex" is arguably the best campaign. He has appeared in four YouTube videos, doing everything from posting "Vote For Truex" signs in people's yards to putting fliers on cars. There's one video in which he stops a mail truck to pass out fliers.
If all else fails, he has the support of Earnhardt, who has posted "Tried and Truex" campaign pictures on his Web site. In 2005, NASCAR's most popular driver helped Truex get into the show when he drove for Earnhardt's Nationwide team.
"We had a cool thing where we were going to go to [Earnhardt's] motor home and knock on his door with a Make-a-Wish kid and say, 'Vote for Truex,'" Truex said with a laugh.
No, he's not embarrassed to campaign.
"I want to be in it," said Truex, who in 2007 qualified for the All-Star Challenge by winning the All-Star Showdown. "I don't care how I get in it."
• Bowyer and Montoya: Neither is in the top 12, but both have run as consistently as anybody, garnering six top-10s each. Only Hamlin and Johnson with five have more top-5s than Montoya's four.
Both are former Chase drivers with major sponsors in Target (Montoya) and General Mills (Bowyer).
What is their motivation?
"That race pays a million dollars," Bowyer said.
Yes, it could be a wilder All-Star weekend than normal with a star-studded cast in the preliminary.
Personally, seeing a pie in Busch's face could be the highlight.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.