The Frontstretch: Is the All-Star Format a Template for NASCAR’s Future? by Danny Peters -- Tuesday May 25, 2010

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Is the All-Star Format a Template for NASCAR’s Future?

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday May 25, 2010

 

The implementation of the double-file restarts (Shootout Style! – bleurgh) into the regular Cup schedule was one of the two changes NASCAR made on the back of the 2009 Sprint All-Star race. There can be little doubt the double-file restarts have made for some compelling final lap battles: Denny Hamlin at Martinsville and Ryan Newman at Phoenix are the latest in several shocking endings that have enhanced the end of races almost from the moment this change was enacted. The other, the “Wave Around Rule,” has been greeted with less enthusiasm, but remains a crucial component to NASCAR’s list.

Will the double-file restart be the last great rule change to evolve from the All-Star Race? Let’s hope not.

So, in watching the 2010 Sprint All-Star race this past weekend, it got me thinking about other possible changes the sport might implement based on the non-points paying spectacular.

Here’s my rationale: With the negative trend in at–track attendance and TV viewership, along with a fan base that is getting incrementally older, rather than younger, NASCAR will continue to need to evolve and develop to ensure it retains its existing fans and attracts new ones. I’d still posit getting a newbie to a race should do the trick, but that’s not been easy of late as the great swathes of empty seats (Dover, Atlanta, even Bristol) have shown. The NASCAR of 2010 is light years away from the NASCAR of 1949; and consequently, and given the pace of change in this wired world of ours, the NASCAR of 2020 is likely to be very different to what we’re watching right now.

So what then, can we learn from the All-Star format and what changes are possible in the coming years?

Fewer Laps

I think the vast majority of fans would agree with a general reduction in the number of laps. There are some races that should be considered untouchable, but the vast majority of the schedule could be shortened, and in some cases considerably. Given the advent of the double file-restarts and the green-white-checkered finishes, most races this season have come down to the last handful of laps. So it’s time to eliminate; less truly is more. Of course, some races have to stay the same distance. 500 miles is a must for the Daytona 500, Darlington, Talladega, and the Brickyard. As for the Coke 600 – that has earned its marathon length in my eyes. But as much as I’ve grown to love Pocono, a thousand miles in less than two months there is just too much. Fewer laps is definitely the way forward for NASCAR – no question.

Fewer Cars

And while we’re reducing laps, another reduction we may very well see in the future is the number of cars. 43 is a somewhat arbitrary number, and given the prevalence of start and parkers, you can’t help but wonder if NASCAR wouldn’t be better off with a field for the big show that contains cars who intend to make every lap. The reduction in number of cars would have a knock-on effect of creating fewer sponsorship opportunities and that, in turn, would shore up other programs without full funding. Like fewer laps, fewer cars is a direction the sport should and probably will go down in the next few years.

Wacky Formats

One thing I’m not in favor of is the wacky format to the All-Star race. If anyone can tell me, logically, why there is a need for four individual segments – three of which essentially don’t count – then please let me know in the comments below. Not, in my humble opinion, a good idea for the future, and not something I ever expect to see at the Cup level.

Qualification Event

There’s a desperation to the Sprint Showdown race that really seems to work. I realize that with big name sponsors being protected by the top 35 rule, it’s not a change we’re likely to see, but wouldn’t it be great for a portion of the schedule to feature, say, a 25-car race in the big show and a big old qualification scrum style event preceding it? Unlikely, but it would be an interesting experiment … until the fans would clamor to nix it the moment Dale Junior missed out on the big show.

The Winner Takes it All

At one point during the telecast, Larry Mac commented that he didn’t remember who came second to Tony Stewart in the 2009 All-Star Race — because it didn’t matter. Amen to that, Larry Mac. Now that’s not to say I’d advocate a 50-point bonus for winning a race, but something needs to be done to make that first place even more valuable. The more we see drivers busting a gut to take the win, rather than protecting a good points day, the better. Whether you like the Chase or not, one thing that is hard to argue against is the ten point bonus for regular season wins. However they finally do it (20 points, 25 points, whatever) I’m pretty sure this is an area we’ll see addressed sooner rather than later.

Emphasis on the Pit Crew

To say that pit crews can win and lose you races is to state the bleeding obvious. So, the last lap four-tire stop before the final ten-lap segment – not to mention pit boxes being chosen as a result of the Pit Crew Challenge results from earlier in the week – showcase nicely the guys who don’t typically get the endorsements and the interviews. I’m not saying I’d make a four-tire stop mandatory at the end of every race, but if there is a way to incorporate more emphasis on the work of the few who hurl themselves over the wall week in, week out, that in my eyes would be a positive step. Despite what some people would have you believe, NASCAR is a total team effort, from driver to crew chief, to pit crews, to the guys back in the shop. You can be the best driver in the world, but with a shoddy team and poor equipment you’re just not going to get it done.

Two Final Points:

As I’ve written here on a number of occasions, giving the command at a Cup race is my number one NASCAR dream, so I’m always interested in how the various grand marshals choose to give “those most famous words in Motorsports.” With that in mind, I want to give a big shout-out to Sprint customer David Kirk, who did the honors prior to the Sprint Showdown. Mr. Kirk absolutely belted out the command with the kind of relish and gusto I’d like to think I’d apply to the task. Good job, dude.

And, to finish, so much for the new Kyle, huh? Just in case anyone was still wondering, Kyle Busch showed his petulant side in delightful fashion. Not content with an expletive heavy rant after a late-race wreck with Hamlin, he then drove his car right up to the ramp of the No. 11 team’s hauler, exited the car, punched the air and stormed in closely followed by Joe Gibbs. As I always say, we need to see the drivers show their emotions, and Kyle did just that. Good stuff from the younger Busch.

Contact Danny Peters

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DansMom
05/25/2010 08:59 AM
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Don’t be fooled people like the wrec… Err DRAMA caused by a ten lap shootout

Jeremy
05/25/2010 08:59 AM
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Shortening races is a must, because like what Danny said, the introduction of double-file restarts sans lapped cars/rolling roadblocks makes it easier for lead lap cars to race/pass each other in less laps.

However, if there’s one track that needs a shorter race, it’s Talladega. With cars able to shoot from 25th place to the lead in a lap’s worth of distance, restrictor plate races have turned into 180 laps of following-the-leader and getting laps-lead bonus points and 20 laps of crashing the heck out of each other, totally not what racing should be about. Both Talladega races and the summer Daytona race should be shortened to at most 300 miles. Also, all the races on 1.5 mile+ non-plate tracks should also be shortened to 400 miles except for the Coke 600.

I also agree with trimming the starting field. 43 is an odd number and should be reduced to 40, which is a much-nicer number, with guaranteed starting spots given only to the top-25 in owner points.

wcfan
05/25/2010 09:31 AM
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If they shorten the races by 20-25% are they also going to lower the ticket prices the same?
If I’m going to pull my camper 5+ hours (each way) to a race I want to see more then 2-3 hours of racing.
I would not mind maybe 20-25 points extra for a win, but would really like to see the majority of the championship money taken away and given to the race winner, raise all winning purses $100,000 to the winner with NO INCREASE to any other position and watch them race for the win.
My Dad has said for years they need to make ALL PIT STOPS green flag only, this would highlight the pit crews and hopefully decrease “debris” cautions.

Dennis
05/25/2010 10:03 AM
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Yes! Green Flag pit stops ONLY.

I hate this racing for a caution. Holding back, playing it safe, hoping to get a caution Ain’t racing.

Look how many of these “lead changes” are pit stop changes.

Green flag only will put more pressure on a TEAM effort. It makes everyone critical to the win.

Caution stops allow NA$CAR to control the action.

DansMom
05/25/2010 10:13 AM
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If you cut ticket prices by 25% are you also going to lay off 25% of the people who work at the track, sell tickets, security, PR, and team members?

Do you by chance work for OHbama?

Richard
05/25/2010 10:27 AM
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My opinion: The major problem is no manfactuer recognition, junk the school bus and put cars back on the track fans can relate to.

Kevin from PA
05/25/2010 10:33 AM
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Green pitstops only? BF and Fox would love that given that the # of lead changes would actually increase (every time a leader came into pit; plus you know some drivers will stay WAAAAY out before coming to the pits just to get a cheap mention of being the race leader).

I am sure at some point BF will have a Power Point presentation showing how great racing is now due to the increase number of lead changes.

While the above points are great ideas, I would really hate for the races to be more gimmicky than the already are.

(I still like my idea of shortening the season – even Hockey is shorter for goodness sakes!! The ADD general public can only handle about three months of 1 thing)

Bad Wolf
05/25/2010 10:44 AM
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Instead of shortening the races shorten the amount of exposure from DW by 25%. The races are not too long, it’s just the crappy coverage and constant product placement and sponsor plugs that make it seem so.

By the way, the Brickyard 400 is 400 miles, not 500.

RamblinWreck
05/25/2010 10:56 AM
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I like the idea of qualifying events. Usually among the best races of the year are the Daytona qualifiers (they were fantastic this year) and the All-Star qualifier (which was at least much better than the feature). I realize we don’t do this because of the money and all, but the idea of someone big not making the race in qualifying makes it a ton more exciting. I know I watched Indy bump day to see if TK made the race. At any short track, the qualifying heat races tend to be the perfect mix of not leaving anything on the track but not ruining your car for the feature. I wouldn’t even mind shedding a race or two from the calendar if we had more racing across the weekend.

I agree with some that the races are too long for what they are, but I’d propose instead of shortening them to get rid of any gear rules. Go ahead, teams, build an engine that will run a whole race at 10,000+rpm every lap! Seeing more teams take the performance vs. reliability gamble would add more excitement. Perhaps multi-car teams would run different engines in different cars. Of course, a bigger winner’s purse would encourage this kind of innovation.

Really, the most important thing from this race we’d like to see year round is the attitude that says “the only thing that matters is winning this race, this day.” Who wants to buy a ticket when they know every driver out there (except maybe the #18) will be perfectly content with a top 10 and give the same cheerful interview no matter what?

JerseyGirl
05/25/2010 11:16 AM
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The All-Star race was pretty boring — most of the segments meant nothing and when one car (any car) can get that far out ahead, it doesn’t make for a reason to watch. All of the breaks are nonsense, too. Just run the darn race – make it long enough that everyone has to pit for fuel. I did like the pit crew participation — it is a part of the regular racing and it worked well. I can get on board with shorter races AND a shortened season. go to every track once per season and figure out a way to not have the chase run every year on the same tracks. If you have the finale at Homestead that’s great, but otherwise, it should be different tracks. maybe that would help with the advantage that one team has managed to figure out. I turned down free tickets to Pocono – been there twice and that was at least one time too many.

the green-white-wreckers rule has resulted in making most of the race a waste to watch – why should I buy tickets to go sit through an entire race when its going to be decided by a crapshoot at the end? I can stay home and not watch the TV until the race is almost over — its more comfortable and I can save money and get stuff done. Since TV and DW blathering on WAY too much have had the effect of making me not bother to watch the entire race any longer, I’m guessing that it also has the same effect on others.

midasmicah
05/25/2010 12:30 PM
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Was it just me or did I see Nemechek do a start and park in the open? I don’t think the length of the races is the whole problem. I do not watch the pre-race show on SPEED and the Fox broadcast crew are simply horrible. I’m hoping TNT does the job they did last year following Fox. Adding Waltrip to the pre-race mix absolutatly guarantees I won’t watch it.

George
05/25/2010 01:21 PM
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You suggest that shortening races will make for better races. Then you say that some races can’t be shortened. Which is it? Why should any race be exempt if as you say shortening races is best? As for me, if the time it takes to travel to a track takes longer than the race itself then I’ll just sit at home and watch it it on TV.

Kevin
05/25/2010 01:34 PM
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There’s another “shorter” that would be even better than shorter races or a shorter season, and that is shorter tracks. One reason why racing used to be more exciting is because we went to more short tracks, or to tracks like Rockingham which weren’t “short tracks” but still produced very good racing. It’s simple common sense that cars will get more spread out at longer tracks than they will at short tracks.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a qualifying race followed by a shorter race. That way fans still get to see about the same number of laps, but the actual race is shorter.

I loved the All-Star qualifying race, which is generally one of my favorite races of the year anyway. I hated that they cancelled qualifying, but I think the mixed-up starting order made it even more exciting!

Bill B
05/25/2010 02:04 PM
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Kevin got it right. Short tracks create better stock car races.

wcfan
05/25/2010 02:46 PM
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Dansmom
I figure it is you who works for Obama, wanting to charge the same price for 20-25% less racing. If the race length is cut the purse should also by cut, these drivers are making to much money as it is. I read that one of the start and park drivers was making $5,000 a week, must be nice for about 1-2 hrs work.

Kevin from PA
You are right, but I believe MOST FANS who have followed the sport for any amount of time give little interest to this number.
I really had not thought about the lead changes, to me lead changes for green flag pit stops and at Daytona and Dega are meaning less anyway. Give me 10-15 lead changes between 5+ drivers FIGHTING FOR POSITION for 200+ Laps\Miles and that is a good race

I would rather see 5 cars on the lead lap who had great cars then 25+ because of wave around and the lucky dog. Why bust your hump trying to put a car a lap down and then nascar just gives it back.

I also love the idea of more short tracks and qualifying races, how about a last chance race for anyone outside the top 20-25 to fill the field.

Ellen
05/25/2010 04:37 PM
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The more gimmicky you make it, the more and wilder things you’re going to have to come up with on a regular basis to keep things interesting to viewers (not fans, but viewers).

Last year, the All Star Race seemed more compelling because it had the twist of double file restarts. Now, it’s just another race with those same double-file restarts, which have become so common no one even notices them anymore.

NASCAR survived its first 50 years without making massive changes, and no one complained. It’s only after they started making changes to drum up “interest” (from whom????), that things started going downhill.

Leave it alone. Some races naturally have a lot of cars on the the lead lap. Others don’t. Some races end under caution, others don’t. The writers may have to work harder when there aren’t 88 lead changes among 29 leaders and 3 GWC’s, but that’s part of it too.

You want to fix things, lose the Chase, amend the lucky dog to be the 3 cars closest to the leader no matter how many laps down they are, lose the wave around, and go back to normal restarts, until 10% of the race to go.

With 10% of the race or less to go, double file restarts and the wave around make sense, as it allows the leaders to finish what they worked hard for all day among themselves, and on a clear track. If you want to keep GWC’s 1 is really enough.

They had a good product, and trying to please too many people, they ended up pleasing no one.

Keith
05/25/2010 04:59 PM
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If they employ some of the changes this article mentions the only thing I see in the future is me not going to anymore races or watching any on TV either. The only thing that makes sense is more points and cash to win. As for me the last thing I want to see is the speed of the guys changing tires determine a race. The biggest problem Nascar has is to many 1.5 mile race tracks and the second is the gimmicks like the lucky dog and the wave around and the Chase and the third is the CON the car of now that splitter is hideous no car should have a splitter ever.

RandyGoldman
05/25/2010 06:58 PM
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anyone see the PTI conversation regarding who would win first… danica or dale jr?

I like how both wilbon and tony picked danica. They… unlike some on this forum know what they are actually talking about.

DoninAjax
05/25/2010 07:45 PM
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RandyGoldman

They should have said,
“Neither! Next Question.”

Jed
05/25/2010 10:46 PM
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Just put things back as they were in the mid to late 90’s. That’s when NASCAR was on target, seats were packed, racing was good, and Brian France wasn’t trying to turn auto racing into the NFL. Somewhere along the way things got off track; and it all started when we saw R J Reynolds booted from motorsports, FOX Sports begin airing races and Brian France running the show. What we’re left with is a contrived made-for-TV reality series about auto racing.

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