I will be the first one to say I don’t expect every race to have a last lap pass or a three-wide photo finish. Sometimes the fastest car wins and runs away with it, just as Carl Edwards did last Saturday. It happens; it’s a part of racing and there is no reason to be upset with it. That is, unless it happens to be the All-Star Challenge, as they now call it, where the only thing that matters is taking the checkered flag. It is the one race of the season where it is okay to throw debris cautions to bunch the field back up in hopes of producing a crazy dash to the finish.
Unfortunately, the end result can sometimes be tame, even if every driver is giving it their all. Seeing how changes seem to be made every year to this event, I figured my two cents on what can be changed to make every All Star race the absolute best would be worth a shot. (Fair warning – some of this stuff has been tried, but it worked well and would be welcomed back.)
*Sprint Showdown Modifications*
_Winner from each segment qualifies, not the top two from the entire race_
This is how it used to be, and for reasons unknown to me, the format was changed where the top two after the forty lap sprint would make the main event. Last Saturday was a perfect example of why it needs to go back. Brad Keselowski and David Ragan could have had a nice battle at the end of segment two, but Keselowski played it safe, knowing second place would secure a spot. On this day, second should not matter at all. Allowing the winner of segment one to qualify for the All-Star race would create a greater sense of urgency in the first 20 laps, even if there already is quite a good bit to begin with.
_Tweak the fan vote_
Several years back, Kenny Wallace made the All-Star race via the fan vote. That’s great for Kenny and his fans, but he didn’t add anything to the race. It felt like a wasted vote when more competitive drivers such as Carl Edwards or Clint Bowyer could have brought something more. Having said that, it would be more interesting if the fan vote was based off which driver in the top 10 of the Showdown received the most votes. For one, it could create some drama for the 10th spot in the final laps. Drivers would push harder even if they aren’t in the top two spots. Secondly, it would prevent Dale Earnhardt Jr. from automatically making the race through the fan vote every year. Assuming that his winless streak continues, Junior would at least have to run competitive in the All-Star qualifier to have the chance to race for a million dollars. Fortunately for Jr. Nation, he was a top 10 car in the Showdown, and it was a non-issue. However, it certainly killed any tension fans may have had in the past anticipating the winner of the fan vote.
*All Star Challenge*
_Get rid of the 10 minute break!_
In some ways, the intermission before the final 10 lap dash makes sense. Teams have the chance to make some adjustments to their racecars, the network can get in some valuable commercial time, and it gives you time to scoop a bowl of ice cream before the action starts. However, to the fan watching the race from his or her recliner chair, this is nothing more than a red flag where we get to hear muffled interviews from the drivers still wearing their helmets. It is a momentum killer, and doesn’t belong in this fast paced sport.
_Bring back the invert rule OR…_
Do something similar, but have more strategy involved. Restrict the teams from making the same type of yellow flag pit stop twice (i.e. only one four tire change allowed) in the event. The race would need to be three segments to make this work, where there would be a fuel only stop (or the option of staying out all together), a two tire change, and a four tire change. What order the teams decide to do it in is up to them. With no points on the line, crews aren’t going to settle for following the leader all night, and this rule would give a more natural invert feel. It would also prevent any sandbagging teams did in the past with the original invert rule. To make this work, keep the mandatory green flag four tire pit stop in segment one. This would not count as your four tire stop, as it is happening under green. Otherwise, every team would predictably be taking four new tires after 50 laps.
_Three segments, not four_
Keep the first 50 lap segment, merge the two middle sections to one 30 lap dash, and leave the final one the same for a total of 90 circuits. I’m not opposed to it still being 100, but the two 20 lap stages in the middle feel kind of meaningless. By having it as one 30 lap sprint, this would be the stretch where drivers try to work their way in position to have a solid top 10 spot before the final 10 lap dash, which leads me to my next change.
_Return of Survival of the Fastest!_
This was good for several reasons. Before I go on, let me explain to some of the newer fans what this was. Survival of the Fastest was a gimmick that ran for a couple of years in the early to mid 2000’s where a certain amount of cars where eliminated after each segment. It was something like the top 20 after the first one, and then it went down to the top 10 going into the last segment. This kept teams running hard all the way through because for some, they knew they wouldn’t make it to the next segment. It made the battle for 20th exciting. Also, it eliminated teams that were taking up space on the track. Even though it’s an All-Star race, sometimes you wonder how certain guys are out there.
If there were three parts to the All-Star race, the new rule would be the top 15 after one, and then the top 10 after segment two is done. In today’s day and age where track position is so important, taking four tires on the final stop could work with fewer cars on the track.
Maybe a fan vote could determine which track hosts the All-Star race. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea unless the same track gets voted every year. Plus, the vote would likely have to be over a year in advance to make things work.
There are a lot of opportunities here. It could go to tracks that don’t have a Cup date (Iowa comes to mind) as an audition for an eventual spot on the schedule. Tracks that have lost a race could host a second race again. This won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be nice to see Atlanta or Darlington with a second race once more, even if it’s a non-points event? This idea is certainly unoriginal as I have heard many people suggest this, and it will probably be the least likely scenario to come true as long as Bruton Smith is the owner of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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