NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Stage Racing Makes All-Star Event Just Another Race

Finding the right formula for NASCAR’s All-Star Race has been a moving target for the last several years.  However, Saturday night’s event has presented NASCAR with a new problem.  The All-Star Race felt entirely too ordinary.

To NASCAR’s credit, the sanctioning body did throw a few new twists at its top competitors.  The most intriguing variable was the introduction of softer option tires.  Each team was given one set that it could use in any of the race’s four stages, with the stipulation that anyone who used them in the final stage would start from the rear of the field.  NASCAR also implemented an elimination component based on average finishes across the first three stages, which cut the field to 10 drivers for the final 10-lap dash.

However, the option tires and eliminations were not enough to distinguish Saturday’s contest from any other race which NASCAR sanctions during the year.  The All-Star event is always billed as a special occasion, a throwdown between the sport’s finest racers with nothing but money and bragging rights on the line.  No matter what format NASCAR used, at least the All-Star Race always felt like a unique, once-a-year treat for the fans.  Instead, the 2017 edition came off as a short race in which only half the field participated.  It was like the All-Star Race had no identity of its own.

2017 Charlotte All Star CUP Ryan Newman pack racing Nigel Kinrade NKP
Kyle Larson seemed to be the only driver up front for most of Saturday night’s race. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Unfortunately for the fans, NASCAR has sacrificed the originality of its All-Star night on the altar of stage racing.  Prior to this season, the All-Star Race was the only Cup Series event to be split into pre-determined stages, more often referred to as segments.  Depending on the format, the segments sometimes served functional purposes.  Like this year, they set points at which drivers could be eliminated and factored into calculations for average finishes.

In the past, they also served as points between which field inversions could occur.  Most of all, segments allowed teams to experiment with pre-planned pit strategies.  Having crew chiefs plan their strategies in this way increased the probability of the running order shaking up several times during the event.

All-Star race segments had an important psychological effect as well.  Until 2013, when NASCAR created special rules for its Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway, the All-Star race was the only major NASCAR event that fans knew would be split up.  Having segments made the All-Star race stand alone as a truly unique event.  The advance knowledge that the field would get occasionally re-racked demanded a different kind of mindset from competitors, which created a different kind of show for the fans.

This is not to suggest that the All-Star Race has always lived up to its billing.  Like any sport that annually showcases its best players, sometimes the event does not live up to the hype.  In fact, most of the All-Star Races within the last decade have been pretty forgettable.  It bears repeating, Saturday’s race was problematic because it was mundane, not because it was boring in the way that some other races have been this season.

By taking the defining feature of the All-Star race and implementing it in points-paying races, NASCAR has robbed the event of its uniqueness and elevated status.  Yes, NASCAR has introduced rules into points races that originated from the All-Star Race before.  The best example is probably double-file restarts with only lead lap cars at the front.  Yet double-file restarts were never the most important aspect of the All-Star Race’s rules.

2017 Charlotte All Star CUP pack racing Matthew T Thacker NKP
The racing wasn’t all that bad, but it wasn’t what the All-Star Race hypes. (Photo: Matthew T Thacker / NKP)

Fans did not think about the All-Star event as “the race with double-file restarts,” it was always “the race with segments.”  Now, every race has stages.  The All-Star Race may still be limited to the sport’s top drivers, but that still translates to 20 drivers in a 40-car field under the current rules.  Limiting, perhaps, but it is not all that exclusive.

Even more problematic is that NASCAR has used stages this year as moments for awarding mid-race points.  The sanctioning body has touted the importance is performing well in stages, constantly reminding fans that succeeding under the stage format will be crucial to winning the championship.  NASCAR is not wrong about that; a look at the points standings shows that winning stage points are important.

That said, the All-Star race remains a non-points event, and that presents NASCAR with a conundrum.  The more the sanctioning body promotes stage racing, the more it will promote the significance of stage points.

NASCAR is in the process of trying to create strong associations between stage racing and points in the minds of its fans.  The hope is that purists will hold less objections to throwing mid-race cautions for no real reason other than to bunch the field back up if those cautions represent factors that directly influence that championship battle, like awarding points.

The problem with this approach is that there are no points to be awarded in the All-Star Race, and stages only exist to bunch up the pack and provide for different strategies.  In the past, this has not been an issue because stages were directly responsible for making the All-Star race original.

Yet now, if the purpose of stages is to award points, they seem out of place in the All-Star race.  If stage racing continues to be NASCAR’s standard format, some fans may begin to wonder why the All-Star Race has stages in the first place, rendering them obsolete in the event from which they first came.

2017 Charlotte All Star CUP KAsey Kahne pit stop Matthew T Thacker NKP
Did Saturday night give us a preview to what option tires will give us in the future? (Photo: Matthew T Thacker / NKP)

Ultimately, NASCAR must do something to recapture the special, one-of-a-kind feel of the All-Star Race.  The introduction of option tires was a good idea, but Saturday’s results suggest that Goodyear did not go far enough with differentiating between the two compounds.  Clean air was still more valuable than softer tires.  As for the eliminations prior to the final stage, it was inconclusive if the threat of being knocked out actually made anyone race harder.  Furthermore, none of the eliminated drivers looked like they would have seriously contended for the win anyway.

The best option could be to move the All-Star Race to a different venue.  Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, and Darlington Raceway would all be good choices (at least from a fan’s perspective).  Perhaps NASCAR could even run the event at a track that the Cup Series does not currently visit.  The sanctioning body could even hold the All-Star Race at Eldora or another dirt track.

If NASCAR would move the All-Star Race, particularly on a rotating basis, the event would become unique again.  It would be the one and only chance for fans to see NASCAR’s finest duke it out on a track that might not hold another All-Star Race for years, if ever.  With or without stages, fans would be compelled to tune it.

On one level, it would be a shame to see the All-Star Race leave its longtime home at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  The event has a long history there, and NASCAR’s meddling with traditional race dates and venues has typically not worked out well.  That said, the spread of stage racing has finally put NASCAR’s All-Star Race at a crossroads, and the sanctioning body must choose a path that will lead the event back to its former glory.  After all, if the All-Star Race is not a special and unique event, then what is the point of having it at all?

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salb

Maybe the way to make the All star race special is to throw out the rule book…or at lest back off on enough of them to allow teams to really use their creativity ala T Rex. It would certainly be unique, wouldn’t it?

DoninAjax

I suggested years ago to make it a Runwhatyabrung race. If the car is safe it races. Brian would get real race cars on the track.

Brian

NASCAR’s problem is there is no forward thinking about consequences or unintended consequences to actions, rules, or formats. Even worse fans apathy has almost made the event worthless to a sponsor. I for one hardly ever missed an All-star races since its inception, the past three years I have completely forgot or ignored that it was on and was doing something else. Did not even check on the results when I realized I had forgotten until Sunday afternoon.
Part of the problem is NASCAR cannot have a true All-Star event in the vain of basketball, baseball and football. All the competitors are competing against each other every time out anyway.
One thing that needs to happen is restrict the rules to show some recency. Early years you had to win to be in, then a “fan favorite” did not qualify and NASCAR changed the rule for the following year to include previous event winners, etc. etc. NASCAR has done itself a huge disservice by coddling to drivers to an extent and not work on the racing and doing that business. NOTE: NBA< MLB and NFL could careless who is playing the All star games short of having all not being there. Pro-Bowl is at a similar crossroads as too many voted in players back out or do not play due to the super bowl. This is sort of similar.

Go back to a straight up you earned it format, run the Open and say top 2 get in with no stages just straight up race with enough laps to force at least one pit stop, with an interesting idea of no caution pit stops. Any pit stop has to be taken under green. If driver has a flat or some other issue that causes a caution or whatever and would need to pit under said caution, lost lap and no free pass. Earn it.
Fan vote is that really needed and worthwhile? If NASCAR is still claiming 75 million fans like it used to fans voting should easily pass 10 million total votes consistently otherwise scrap it as fans so not seem to care.

All -Star race while convenient and does give teams a "free" weekend at home (yeah right how long were the team personnel at the track Friday and Saturday? Needs to move to non-Cup tracks and its easier with the smaller fields. Iowa, Road America, Road Atlanta, IRP how fun might that be?, Pikes Peak, etc and oh the list could go on and on. Maybe pick 5 and rotate through them and keep Charlotte on the list.

I like the idea of a run what you brung completely open race with very few rules specific to safety, engine, size and weight of car, and tires. Need to have the engine stay the same for expense and parity across teams sake. Otherwise, you want to run 5 degrees of camber and potentially blow a right front your choice, skew the crab cakes out of the car see how long it lasts, go for it. drag the underbelly, fine don't blame us if a bump upsets the car and into the wall you go.

If NASCAR wants the event to stay relevant do something drastic and put the onus on the teams. If someone figures out something that works well nobody else did bully for them move on.

Al Torney

I expect very little change. Anything they do will be like putting a band aid on an elephants ass. Auto racing was never intended to be choreographed. It’s supposed to be “balls to the wall” racing with the fastest and best winning. This bs of the first car off of pit road walking the field until the next pre-determined caution is non sense. Stage racing is a farce. Contrary to what the media keeps hyping stage racing has not come anywhere close to creating passing among the top five in any stage. One race this year the top ten finished a stage single file no where close to one another and DW said “we never had Racing like this before stage racing”. Unreal.

After Saturday night’s debacle I really wonder how much effort a lot of the teams put into this race. I mean how can these supposed top notch teams be so uncompetitive? I know Jr. Was embarrassed by his performance. I can’t blame him. HMS should be ashamed of themselves for that fiasco. Again the broadcast team is raving about three wide Racing for 14 th to 20th place . Who goes to a race to watch that?

The shame of it all is that the attendence looked real good for this event. Most had to be disappointed with the race. Will they return? Will they continue to buy into the hype? I wouldn’t. The tv ratings were down from last year’s race.

O’Donnell said in Sirius radio that that are happy with where the sport is at this time. Honestly, they are happy with fading attendence and sinking tv ratings. Talk about haveing one’s head up their ass. Dave Moody espouses that the NASCAR brass possesses more smarts the he. Dave you certainly are under rating yourself.

Don’t be fooled. NASCAR knows what has to be done but doesn’t have the balls to do it. Jimmie Johnson said it “the rule book is to thick”. And you read it in blogs all the time. Get rid of the aero altogether. No more front splitter, side panels and Dean spoiler. Allow the teams to pick their own shocks, rear end ratios, suspension geometry etc. Throw that laser device away. Make the cars fit a template and call it a day. If a car passes pre race inspection that’s it. No finding something after the race to be off that should have been caught ahead of time. The Lagana and Almorola deals were absurd.

Oh I got off on a tangent. Make the AllStar race a free for all. Forget the million bucks to the winner. Have them race for their favorite charity. They’re already millionaires. Make the race all about prestige. About bragging rights. The winner gets to decal his car with “I’m the best driver” from that night until the following year’s race. Make the team trophy special.

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