The Frontstretch: A Fine Line Between Fans And Fairness: The All-Star Popularity Contest Gone Awry by Thomas Bowles -- Monday May 19, 2008

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A Fine Line Between Fans And Fairness: The All-Star Popularity Contest Gone Awry

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday May 19, 2008


I’ve got a knot in my stomach, and I just can’t get it out. It’s been 24 hours, and the All-Star Race has left me torn; as well as scratching my head in disbelief.

Winner Kasey Kahne can relate; well, to the disbelief part, at least. As Kahne celebrated his surprising victory into the wee hours of Sunday morning, he was also busy figuring out how the heck he went from Sprint Showdown failure to a million dollar success in the All-Star Race. A disappointing fifth in the Showdown preliminary event – far below the cutline to transfer into the “A” main – Kahne was preparing, in his words, “to grab a couple of Budweisers, run to the motorhome, and watch the All-Star race myself.” And while he’s one of stock car racing’s more recognizable names, on paper that’s how it should have been. The fifth-year driver’s last win came in 2006, and Kahne failed to either visit Victory Lane or make the Chase last season. This year, he has yet to score a Top 5 finish in a points race, let alone win; and without the accolades of a past championship under his belt, Kahne was destined for the sidelines instead of the spotlight.

That is, until the fans spoke up. Winning the ultimate popularity contest – a fan vote for those not yet eligible to compete in the All-Star Race – Kahne got his chance to transfer into the main event. And boy, did he have a million reasons to thank them when the 100-lapper was all said and done.

“The fans put us in, and hopefully we made them happy,” Kahne said. “Twenty-fourth to 1st, that’s the best that we can do.”

But was it the fairest thing NASCAR could have done for everyone else? Now, the Fan Vote to this point had always been one of Sprint Nextel’s best additions to the All-Star Race format. It allows you — the fans — to get directly involved, to choose an old favorite, usually an underdog, that you could both cheer for and honor by participation in the big race itself. But if you look at the list of previous Fan Vote Winners: Ken Schrader, Martin Truex, Jr. (before he was even a full-time Cup Rookie), Kyle Petty, and Kenny Wallace, none of them were in a position to scare the competition out of their shorts. It was a chance for fans to let these drivers know they were loved, to acknowledge their support; not an opportunity for them to sneak in and steal away the win from the guys that earned their way in the show.

Kasey Kahne has nothing but his legion of fans to thank for being able to win this year’s All-Star Race trophy. Now, the question is … will he give them a cut of the money?

With all that said, Kahne’s on-track performance was clearly up to par. Once he got into the All-Star Race, both he and his crew put themselves in position to make the most of their opportunity. Crew chief Kenny Francis made the call of the night by having Kahne take no tires on his final stop – giving them the track position to finish the night up front – but the No. 9 was one of the best cars on the “long” run virtually all race long. By the end of segment three, Kahne had gone from starting shotgun on the field (24th) to seventh, challenging for a position in the Top 5. Clearly, the Budweiser Dodge was a fast hot rod – it just didn’t have enough time in the Sprint Showdown before it to establish a position in the Top 2.

But that’s important; for under the rules of competition, the car wasn’t good enough at the right time to earn its place in the field the right way – a scenario that leaves NASCAR in a precarious position when it comes to credibility. Yes, the All-Star Race is all about entertainment. Yes, the fans should have some input into how a race tailor-made for them is run. But when does the line between fan support and statistical brilliance get blurred? It’s certainly not Kahne’s fault he made it in under the rules, but this much we know: the All-Star Race was a won by a guy who made the field not by athletic performance, but because a lot of women think he’s hot. And because of that, 23 drivers who earned their way in on merit –and Greg Biffle in particular — find themselves one million dollars poorer.

Certainly, an argument can be made that Kahne’s been more competitive than some of the past champions in the starting field Saturday night. But those men do have a Sprint Cup trophy to call their own, similar to the way all Masters champions in golf are given a special exemption based on past performance. While Kahne’s been a good driver, he hasn’t yet achieved that level of greatness; and that’s why he should have been on the outside looking in.

Until the fans provided him with the ultimate save, of course. Whether that was a save that should have been made is a matter of much debate; but no matter which side you’re on, it’s a bit of a shame to see what was one of the best races during NASCAR’s growth period get decided via a 1-800 number. In the modern All-Star Race, we don’t have checkers or wreckers; we’ve got a parade of pomp, circumstance, and popularity.

While you chew on that, I’ll be out searching for some Allstate girls and a pair of pink and purple pajamas. If I get a head start now, maybe I’ll be eligible in 2009 …

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Jerry F. Mallard
05/19/2008 07:33 AM

If you think KK’s fans are just a bunch of girls who thinks he’s a hotty, then go to GEM on Friday and you’ll see about 2:1 men… lotsa Bill Elliott fans pull for # 9 right on!

05/19/2008 07:37 AM

MMMM, so then what would you think if Jr. was not “eligible” for the All Star “race”, and fans voted him in????

Bet we would see a story on just how great it was to let the fans vote!!


05/19/2008 09:42 AM

“steal away the win”

I love when people say this. Who stole what?

23 drivers who got their way into the race on “merit” could not stop a driver who was voted in.

Anyone one of those 23 could have out raced him. Anyone one of the 23 other crew chiefs could have out strategized his team.

I could care less about him but if you ask me that is the perfect example of a winner. Takes an opportunity and capitalizes on it. Never quits, never falters, makes lemonade out of lemons.

He was a pinch hitter who stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam. Good for him.

05/19/2008 12:27 PM

Bitter much? I’m glad the fans voted in a driver that was actually capable of winning the event. Kahne has been inconsistent during his young career, but he’s had more on track success than some of the guys who were locked into the event before the green flag flew.

I see a lot of male Kasey Kahne fans at races, so I’d not be so quick to blame women for the fact that he got voted in. Remember, he also got voted in without any of the shameless self promotion done in prior years by Kyle Petty and Kenny Wallace (at least Petty threw in the charity angle, but still), both of who are nothing more than back markers each week (due to equipment, not lack of talent). Truex got voted in simply due to his association with Dale Jr. If THAT was not a poor reason to vote somebody in, I don’t know what is.

Saying that “Kasey Kahne has nothing but his legion of fans to thank for being able to win this year’s All-Star Race trophy” is just mean spirited. He drove that car to the front and won the race with it. He can thank his crew, crew chief, and his talent for that win. And none of the drivers are “a million dollars poorer”..nobody is going into Greg Biffle’s bank account and taking out money.

05/19/2008 12:29 PM

what are you complaining about? if everyone involved agrees on the format, although they may not have a choice, hows it an issue if the fans vote wins. its like the guy on ‘pinks’ who loses his car. YOU signed on and knew what could happen !!! stop crying.

05/19/2008 01:26 PM

This was eventually going to happen and it’s the beauty of having fans dictate part of who is allowed to participate in a sporting event. You’re never ever going to get who “should” be in all the time because everyone feels differently. How many All-Star games was Cal Ripken voted into later in his career simply because he was Cal Ripken – no matter what his stats were?

05/19/2008 01:43 PM

Let me get this straight…It’s ok if we vote in a “feel good” underdog but not ok if the fans actually vote a team capable of legitimately winning the event? The rules are the rules – he got in. He won playing by the rules – got to the finish line first.

05/19/2008 01:56 PM

“it’s a bit of a shame to see what was one of the best races during NASCAR’s growth period get decided via a 1-800 number” Are you kidding me? The race was decided on the track. Kahne won by racing not by fan vote. Who had a chance to be in the race was decided by the fans.

Drivers race every weekend that didn’t earn their way in. What about all of the open wheel drivers who started races early in the season based on team points. The whole Kurt Bush trading his points to another team so a wanna be could make races. You want to talk about lack of credibility for NASCAR.

The All-Star race is nothing more than an entertainment event anyway. They keep changing the rules to get in who they want in. There was the “Richard Petty” rule then the “Dale Earnhardt” rule. The whole race is contrived to try to generate excitement. They should just follow Saturday night short track formats every week so you have to race your way into the main event. That would be exciting!

05/19/2008 01:58 PM

You think he won 6 races in 06 because of his female fans? You think he he won 2000 USAC National Midget Series Champion, 2004 Rookie of the Year, Midget driver of the Year and won his second consective “Night Before The 500 Classic” at Indianapolis, a feat achieved previously by only one other driver-Jeff Gordon because of female fans?. I don’t think so! I guess Kasey Kahne is more than just a pretty face, give the guy a break! Like it or not he passed every car on that track and won the race. He is the winner.

05/19/2008 02:03 PM

Bowles-eye View? More like Bowels-Eye View!!! Because that’s where you’re speaking out of here. So you believe that the fan vote should be a “retread” or “also-ran” with no chance to win the race? No offense to any of those guys—love all of them—-esp Schrader:)

That has to be, since no one has complained about this format since it was introduced 5 years ago.

And now, low and behold; the guy actually wins the race. Your anger should be directed at the JGR team (and others) who used this race as a test session—-the million-dollar prize just doesn’t motivate them anymore.

Also, everyone knew the rules; and supposedly, since this was a “winner take all” race—teams would take risks.

Kudos to 9, 48, and 11 for taking that risk; loved it when old DW said they would just be a roadblock—SOME roadblock! Not a huge kahne fan; but good for him and going out and taking a chance—-the same chance 21 other drivers had!!!!

05/19/2008 03:06 PM

Gee ..exactly what bothers ya about this …the fact the fan favorite won the damn thing ,or that ya couldnt write another KYLE busch is the greatest thing since sliced bread article ? I really loved seeing someone win who the media has all but forgotten due to the kyle busch craze !!

Marty C
05/19/2008 03:57 PM

I have no problem with Kasey being voted in. He’s a proven race winner and a regular competitor. I think the worst vote ever was when the fans voted Kerry Earnhardt in several years ago just because of his last name. He was hardly an “All Star.” He had hardly been entered in any races at all and usually crashed out of the ones he was in.

05/19/2008 05:24 PM

And going one step further regarding what constitutes an “All Star”?

Under what guise did Jr. make the race? Officially, for something he did in 2000!!!!

05/19/2008 07:23 PM

I’m glad Kasey got the fan vote and won. However, the voting process needs to be changed. You can vote as many times as you want. I think one and done would be more fair.

05/19/2008 08:01 PM

Let me see if I understand you. Who we the fans vote in should be a driver that has no chance of winning the race. Is that what you are saying? So we did wrong by voting in a driver that can win a race? Maybe I should contact Sprint and ask them if those are the rules.

05/19/2008 08:23 PM

What a butthead article. This sport is supposed to be all about the fans and your walking on thin ice when you take on this kind of attitude. Almost as bad as Kenny Chesney’s post award remarks. It’s a prime example that, not only has this sport forgotten that the fans made it what it is, but the networks and print media are right in line. Right on Dennis @ 9:42AM. Also sparxmoore, when Busch blew up I had to pull my sunglasses down and wipe away a tear!

Managing Editor
05/19/2008 09:17 PM

Wow … it’s been a long time since a column I wrote was so universally panned.

First off, congratulations to Kasey. It’s obvious by the collection of comments here that he’s got a lot of loyal, dedicated fans … and you’ve all made some great points.

I have nothing against the man. He won six times in 2006 and was a contender for the championship. He’s done a great job replacing Bill Elliott in the No. 9 car since 2004. However … his performance since 2007 didn’t allow him to make the All Star race on merit, under the rules.

I’ve been a fan as well as a writer since 1989, damn lucky to get paid doing this for a living. I know if my driver were still racing and he got the fan vote in and won, I’d be saying the exact same things you all are right now. But at the same time — even though the All Star Race is entertainment based — it brought attention to the fact the fan vote is the ONLY selection not based on merit for this race. And that’s something we can all agree on; it’s based on popularity. Because of that, it raises the age old question — which we have in other sports — should an All-Star event be selected based on merit or based on popularity, on who the fans want to see?

I’m of the school (very much in the minority) that you should select All-Stars based on merit — honoring the athletes that truly did have great seasons — and then create RULES fans LOVE that lead to a great race for the fans, for the drivers that truly earned their way into the All-Star show.

That’s nothing against what Kasey did on the track … he smoked ‘em! You guys are right — he totally won under the rules!

But I wonder if that fan vote rule should be there in the first place now. That’s why I brought up the other drivers — we never really realized this rule could lead to a driver winning the race until we voted in a driver who actually had a car capable of winning. And now that we’ve realized it … I just don’t know if the rule is right.

However, judging by the fan reaction on this column — and considering the All-Star Race is for the fans — maybe I’m dead wrong for suggesting it in the first place.

Thanks everyone for commenting!

05/20/2008 12:14 AM

Perhaps it would be easier to swallow if one looked at the name of the event more literally.
This is an All Star race, not an all merit race. Kahne is obviously a top five STAR in this sport and arguably top two.
One could also argue that having an All Star race without STAR’s like Kahne would be farcical.
A drivers MERIT, or lack thereof, is often just a matter of equipment.

But a star is a star.

Jerry F. Mallard
05/22/2008 10:48 AM

Quoting you: “the All-Star Race was a won by a guy who made the field not by athletic performance, but because a lot of women think he’s hot. And because of that, 23 drivers who earned their way in on merit –and Greg Biffle in particular — find themselves one million dollars poorer.” You think Casey Mears and Juan’s gas mileage victories were oldskool merit. I went to my first race in 1959 on Daytona Beach. I’m oldskool too. Martinsville race was my 506 race in person! Why would Greg have more merit than KK? His victory last year was one of the biggest gifts I’ve seen in all my races!!!


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