I just love the All-Star weekend. It’s full of excitement, glitz, glamour, and the anticipation for the event typically builds up for months. It’s a no-holds-barred, fight to the finish where the only thing that matters is the checkered flag. Everything else is simply history.
The All-Star race has quite a history in NASCAR, running yearly since 1985. It’s a traditional touch to the sport that sometimes deals with inconsistency.
As traditional as the race itself, though, is the changing of its format. The event, ranging from one segment to five since the first race, has changed roughly 11 times since the inaugural edition. And that’s just the segment variations. Inversions, eliminations, mandatory pit stops, and individual segment “winners” who receive bonuses have just been a few of the gimmicks the race has featured. Some fans loved them and some hated them; but, more often than not, it created some drama that made the highlight reels for years to come.
This year’s format, however, may have been the most asinine change of all. NASCAR, reacting to last year’s disaster that had several drivers sandbagging until the final 10-lap shootout, decided to introduce a format so complicated that even the SPEED booth couldn’t keep up.
In order to give the drivers heavier incentive to keep racing the entire event rather than just the final segment, NASCAR decided to take each drivers’ average finish from the first four segments and line them up accordingly for their final pit stop. How they came off of pit road, after that stop would determine the running order for the final few laps.
And it was just so stupid. The first time I read through the press release, I had to re-read it a few times just to make sure I understood everything correctly. So when the race started, I was already frustrated because I knew it would be nearly impossible to keep up.
It was. No one even tried to keep pace with average finishes until the fourth segment, and then the calculators started flying. SPEED, who was broadcasting the race, barely mentioned it during the first few segments but introduced a new graphic afterwards to give fans an idea of what to expect after the fourth one. It turned out that the formulas they plugged in didn’t work, because viewers about had a conniption when SPEED had Jimmie Johnson towards the back of the top 10 yet NASCAR put him in fourth. It helped him eventually win the race, and it wasn’t lost on viewers sick of seeing Johnson in Victory Lane.
It was seriously ridiculous, and this mistake is not a knock on SPEED. You shouldn’t have to do math to be able to understand what is going on in a race. Less is more, and this type of warped format is not what fans want to see. Even SPEED and other media members who follow the sport for a living couldn’t keep up. How on earth are fans supposed to? What about people tuning in for the first time? Does NASCAR actually think people who are new to the sport can figure out what is going on?
Honestly, there are a host of other things NASCAR can do to spice up the competition. While I’m not a big fan of either inversions or eliminations, for a variety of reasons, I do think there are ways to keep the race interesting from beginning to end. First of all, I actually did like the $1 million bonus for a driver who could win every single segment. Nothing incentivizes these teams like cold, hard cash.
Additionally, last year’s format wasn’t bad, in theory. They just need to reverse it. Instead of the winner of the first segment starting first in the last segment, they start fourth. The winner of the second segment starts third, etc. That way, the driver who wins the first segment still has incentive to try and better his starting position in the final one. It’s not the simplest format, but it doesn’t require calculators, and I think provides some incentive.
There is a running theme that slightly disturbs me about all these ideas, though. Yes, the All-Star Race has nearly always involved some sort of gimmick. It’s part of what makes it fun. But, honestly, are our attention spans so short that we aren’t prepared to pay attention for a mere 90 laps? Do we really need complicated formats to hold our attention for that short of a race?
When a normal race hits the “90 to go” mark, that’s normally when I start getting excited. That’s “go time” in a normal race. So can’t we just have a regular event without needing something gimmicky to hold our attention? Or is that just a staple of the All-Star Race? Because, to me, it seems a little depressing that we’re thinking of new monkey wrenches to throw into this competition when it’s not even that long to begin with.
Anyway, the point is that NASCAR cannot keep the race this complicated. It needs to be much simpler to follow and easier to understand. Then, once they do that, they need to stick with the format because I’m tired of having to re-learn it every year. Am I right?!
Connect with Summer!
Contact Summer Bedgood
©2000 - 2008 Summer Bedgood and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!