In perhaps what was the most complicated Sprint All-Star Race format in the history of the exhibition event, many drivers went in without a full comprehension of what the rules were, and left still not knowing. Not only that, but the drivers were able to find some holes in NASCAR’s plot to bring some life back into a race that in previous years hadn’t lived up to the hype.
One incident in particular was when Matt Kenseth pushed the limit on NASCAR’s requirement for teams to make a green-flag pit stop with a minimum of two tires. He was leading as Jamie McMurray spun on Lap 46, bringing the caution out. Because Kenseth had not pitted yet, he was forced to make a pit stop under yellow, which generated a one-lap penalty from NASCAR for not meeting the requirements of the 50-lap segment.
This created even more confusion.
Many drivers were trapped a lap down when the caution came out as they had just finished making their stop as well. Kenseth, though penalized, was still scored as the leader. However, because of this irregular situation, the lapped cars weren’t able to take a wave-around like they would have in a regular race scenario.
Many teams and drivers were unsure of what their position was on track, as they were now being scored a lap down, when in “normal” racing conditions, they would have been able to get their lap back via the wave-around.
Kenseth, of course, was confused and frustrated after the race was over.
“I still don’t understand,” Kenseth said. “I’ve never been this confused in a race car in my entire life. I hope everybody watching understands because I have no idea what happened ever since the first car pitted until right now.”
Tony Stewart was already frustrated after having been involved in a multi-car accident on Lap 72, but the format he found confusing just added insult to injury.
“I’m as baffled as everybody,” Stewart said. “I don’t know how in the hell we were scored a lap down after they stopped the [No.] 20 car [of Kenseth] and the pit everybody together a lap down, then lead lap and then lap down. It’s the most screwed up All-Star Race I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad it’s my last one. I’m all right. I’m just madder than hell because I don’t understand how the hell they’ve officiated this from start to finish.”
Multiple drivers experienced similar sentiments, saying the format needs to be simplified,
and that you can’t “make” exciting finishes happen just by changing up the format.
Brad Keselowski is largely credited for having constructed this format. Though he admitted that it was complicated, he stuck by the format, saying that it did exactly what it was supposed to do: created exciting racing and generate some late-race excitement.
“There was a next-to-last lap pass for the lead,” Keselowski explained. “There were several passes for the lead. The last four races there hasn’t been a pass for the lead in the last 20 or 30 laps. I think our fans deserve a better format than that and they got that today. I don’t know how you can get much more compelling racing than what we saw today, so they need to get unconfused and enjoy the racing.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
However, reading and hearing many of the comments after the race, it certainly seems that the Penske duo were the only two that actually liked the format. Even then, Logano admitted post-race that he didn’t even understand what was going on most of the time.
“There was a point I came over the radio and said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,” Logano said. “I don’t really want to know what’s going on. Let me drive the car and you call the race because I was confused. All I know is if there’s a car in front of me, we should pass them. That’s kind of where my head was. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think it is.
“It’s complicated for this man [crew chief Todd Gordon], but not so much for me. Sometimes, the simple life is a little easier inside your racecar. I had my hands full with enough things, so I was able to focus in on my job and Todd was able to focus in on his job.”
It’s hard to imagine the format will stay the same for the 2017 (insert title sponsor name here) All-Star Race, even with such a “glowing” review from its framer. In fact, this might be the one time where fans and (most) competitors alike agree that the format actually should change next year.
Keselowski was right. The All-Star Race did need some spicing up. Bu, after the race Saturday night, it seems like no one really wanted this.