Welcome to the Frontstretch Five, a brand-new column for 2014! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers, and the storylines that drive NASCARand produces a list of five people, places, things, and ideas that define the current state of our sport. In the latest edition, Amy has five ways to make the All-Star Race something really special.
1. Go back to making it about teams.
NASCAR is, at the end of the day, a team sport. The driver is in the spotlight, but the team, from the crew chief to the pit crew and the guys at the shop, is what makes a winning effort. Since winning a race in the last two seasons is the main entry criteria, it makes sense to use this race, in particular, to highlight how important an entire team is. Interestingly enough, this used to be the case. The crew members had the chance to shine in the pit crew competition, while the driver usually stood on the sidelines and cheered for them the way they cheer for him from the pit wall on race day. There were perks to winning, such as pit stall selection for the race, so there was something important on the line. That went away last year, replaced by a pit stop during qualifying. That’s exciting as well, but the onus there is still on the driver to turn fast laps, and the emphasis and spotlight are turned away from the teams. At the very least, it is only shared.
Also, winning a race once meant that both driver and team qualified for the next All-Star event. That way, if a driver left an organization and his replacement had not yet won a race, the team was not penalized for it. Now, they are. That just doesn’t sit well. This year, the No. 3 team has to race their way into the show, despite the fact that the teamwon four times in 2013 with Kevin Harvick. Some will argue that Dillondidn’t qualify for the race, but the way the rules are now seem to penalize the team for something they had no control over, and that’s just not okay at the end of the day when they’re running the consolation race while watching the driver they helped get into the show prepare for the big event.
2. Revamp the burnout contest and add another fun event or two.
Part of the fun of other sports’ all-star festivities are things like home-run hitting contests and slam-dunk contests and other activities for fans. NASCAR has the burnout contest, but it’s lacking something…only a few teams participate and it’s not the sport’s biggest names in general. Why not add something else. A few years back, the crew chiefs raced Legends cars on the quarter mile, and that was pretty entertaining. Why not add that event back in, with the drivers spotting for their crew chiefs?
The All-Star Race is one time where a few gimmicks are ok…all sports have them, and they’re fun, because they don’t affect much other than pride and bragging rights. It’s time to add a little fun to the show…if fans are going to come early and enjoy the day, maybe it’s time to give them something to really cheer for.
3. Keep it in Charlotte.
There’s been some debate about whether moving the race to another venue would produce a more exciting race. And in truth, if that track was Bristol or Martinsville, it probably would. However, making the teams travel and set up for another weekend of what’s already a grueling schedule kind of defeats the purpose of making it about the teams, most of whom call Charlotte home. Having the race in Charlotte allows them to have their friends and family on hand for the race…something they have surely earned.
4. Invite the Nationwide and Truck champs.
I’ve always said that those series should have their own All-Star event, but since that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, why not invite the series champs to this one? Surely there would be a ride available—this year’s Nationwide champion is Austin Dillon, so he’s already got one, and Matt Crafton drove some races for Richard Childress Racing as well, and could likely have found a car to drive. If the event is about letting the best drivers come out and play, why exclude these guys? Sure, there would be some cons—Nationwide cars and CWTS trucks don’t handle the same as Cup cars and the learning curve is steep. But this race is all in fun, and these guys have earned some recognition as stars in the sport.
5. Make it easier to lose.
It’s already hard to win a race, but why not make the drivers work a little harder for the million-dollar check? Once upon a time, the field was inverted for the final segment, which certainly made for some excitement as the drivers with the fastest cars had to come from the back. That could easily be reinstated. Better yet, eliminations, which were used once or twice, should be brought back. Send the last two or three guys home after each segment and fans would see some hard racing for a transfer spot. It’s still a stupid idea for a championship format, but for a race like this, it’s perfect. Australian rules is something else that is bandied about, where the last car in the field is eliminated every few laps until just the two fastest remain. Imagine the kind of electrifying event that might produce. Yes, some fans wouldn’t get to cheer for their favorites to win, but some fans don’t even get to see their drivers in the show, so that’s not a reason not to do it. Right now, it’s too easy to use the All-Star race as a prep for the points-paying Coca-Cola 600 a week later. It should be set up to make the contenders race as hard as they can go, every single lap.
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