- Make it about the teams again
NASCAR made a change to the qualifying rules a few years ago, and it wasn’t the right move. The rules used to say that if a driver and team won a race but parted ways, both driver and team were eligible for the race the following year. Somewhere along the line, that rule changed to only include the driver, and that was never the right decision. Any driver will tell you he didn’t get to Victory Lane alone, and slighting the teams that worked seven days a week for 10 months of the year to make that win happen is just a rotten thing to do.
I know that some fans will disagree, saying that Chase Elliott, who would benefit under the old rule, didn’t do anything to earn entrance to the race. Maybe that’s true, but the fact remains that the No. 24 team, which remained largely intact after the 2015 season, did. They earned a victory, something that many people never do at NASCAR’s top level. Jeff Gordon’s retirement does nothing to change that. Teams with a win should be rewarded for their work, period. The drivers didn’t earn their spots alone.
- No, really
While we’re on the subject of teams, nixing the pit crew competition was another mistake. For one night, the drivers took a backseat to the crews who work behind the scenes every week. You learned their names, saw their faces and got a close-up look at the skill involved in a part of the race fans take for granted. Yes, qualifying now includes a pit stop, but the attention is still on the driver and not the pit crew. NASCAR is nothing if not a team sport, and it’s a shame to see that aspect of it taken away on a weekend where they could be highlighted. I wouldn’t be opposed to making the pit crew competition the sum total of qualifying, with drivers lined up based on the performance of the entire team.
- Are you qualified?
Speaking of qualifying, how about a few changes to how the field is lined up. While I don’t think basing the lineup on pit stops is a bad thing, I would like to see a renewed pit crew competition have some impact. The pit crew competition used to be how pit stall selection was determined, and that was a good call. But I’ve got a couple of other thoughts here. Since the All-Star race is primarily about race winners, why not make the total number of wins a driver during the time period that qualifies them for the race (the entire previous season and current season to date) part of the equation? Whether that means setting the lineup based on wins, with qualifying being the tiebreaker among those with an equal number, or each win giving the team a certain fraction off their overall time … or maybe
something else entirely. If winning is what this race is all about, why not reward more wins?
- Fan vote? Well…
The fan vote is a good thing. Really. The sport is about the fans, and other sports do allow fans to vote for players to make their biggest event. The trouble in NASCAR is that the fan vote tends to be based on popularity rather than skill. In baseball, for example, it’s unlikely that a majority of fans will vote for the loveable but not-really-all-that-good first baseman over the best player in the league. NASCAR’s fan vote has rarely tilted toward putting in the most talented remaining team.
Also, the nature of the Internet and social media has greatly impacted the fan vote in recent years—the huge Reddit community got Josh Wise, in his greatly underfunded ride, into the race, and they’re trying again with underdog Matt DiBenedetto. If those drivers were truly the choice of millions of NASCAR fans, it would be one thing, but that’s not necessarily the case—many of those voters are more about the voting game than about the sport. While it’s great to see those small teams grab a little of the limelight, the way it’s done leaves a sour taste.
There’s no answer here, really, unless there’s a better way of determining the winner, and what that could be I’m not sure: a paper ballot like in the old days of Major League Baseball when fans at the games got to cast their ballots at the ballpark? On one hand, that would better limit the voting to actual race fans, but it would also leave a lot of those fans out. Call this one a wash, really, because eliminating the fan pick isn’t quite the right answer either.
- All-day affair
Finally, I’d like to see the All-Star event be more than an evening affair. I don’t like the concept of running the Showdown the night before. Fans of the drivers in the Showdown now have to buy two tickets if they want to see their favorite driver and the All-Star event, and that doesn’t sit well given the cost of attending a race. Why not run the entire race as a one-day show like it used to be, excluding maybe the pit crew competition (if it comes back like it should) and maybe qualifying runs, and add more interactive events like driver Q&A’s and autograph sessions throughout the day? Heck, hold some of them at the nearby Hall of Fame to attract fans to that excellent venue. Better yet, have a scavenger hunt at the Hall where the winners get race tickets or passes for driver introductions or the like. Make it a day for the fans that culminates in the race as night closes in, and the event would have the potential to make it a destination event for race fans.
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