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The Yellow Stripe: Is the All-Star Format a Template for NASCAR’s Future?

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.

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 fanbase 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, 1,000 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 Earnhardt Jr. 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 10-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 10-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.

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