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4 Burning Questions: Who Can Win the Open?

What kind of race will the All-Star Race be?

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race will mark the first time in nearly 20 years that NASCAR will experiment with holding a restrictor plate race outside of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

The restrictor plate has always been a very controversial subject. NASCAR used the plate as far back as 1970 before making it the standard at Daytona and Talladega following a horrific crash in 1987 that featured Bobby Allison flying into the catchfence.

Although nobody was injured, NASCAR mandated the use of plates on the engine to slow the cars down at these two high-speed tracks beginning in 1988.

Since then, plates have been used outside of Daytona and Talladega just once. In 2000, in response to the fatal accidents earlier that season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr., the plates were used for the fall Cup race.

It was by far the worst race of this entire millennium. Jeff Burton started second, passed pole sitter Bobby Labonte on lap 1 and then led all 300 laps. It was impossible for the cars to gain enough horsepower on the straights to pass each other.

The next year, the invention of the kill switch eliminated the need to slow the cars down at Loudon.

The All-Star Race has been a race that, for many years, has just seemed lost in the shuffle. Plagued by boring races, bloated fields and at times just plain stupid formats, the only race that has had a bigger fall from grace than the All-Star Race in recent years has been the Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The racing should be different than the awful race at Loudon 18 years ago. Unlike that race, NASCAR has made changes to the car’s aerodynamics so that it might be able to resemble pack racing, just a bit more narrow than the wide speedways of Daytona and especially Talladega.

Regardless of what happens, restrictor plates have always gotten people talking. Whether it’s a good race or a terrible race, it’s definitely one of the most anticipated of the past few years.

Where does Roush Fenway Racing go from here?

There was a lot of interest in Matt Kenseth‘s return to NASCAR competition last weekend. It ended up being a complete dud.

Kenseth, who hadn’t raced since November, competed for Roush Fenway Racing and had just an awful race. He didn’t even crack the top 20 the entire night, and it ended with him involved in a multi-car accident with less than 15 laps to go.

I feel like a lot of people owe Trevor Bayne an apology. Kenseth didn’t set the world on fire last year, but he was a playoff caliber driver, and he did win a race. If he can’t do much better than Bayne could in the No. 6, it’s time to blow the team up and start it from scratch, maybe at least crew chief Matt Puccia.

And it’s not exactly an organization-wide problem. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led 10 laps and finished 11th the same night; it’s not a win, but it was definitely a good night for a Roush car. It’s increasingly apparent that something has to be done with the No. 6 outside of the driver’s seat.

Who gets in from the Open and who will win it all?

Take any preexisting statistics about Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Cup Series and throw them away. This weekend will be, if anything, unpredictable.

This isn’t the most stacked Open field ever, but there should be a few interesting battles to get in. Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott are both two of the safer bets to get in, but after that, it looks like it could turn into a four-way race between Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Paul Menard and Alex Bowman for that final spot. And if Elliott and/or Darrell Wallace Jr. race their way in, the fan vote race becomes wide open.

As far as the All-Star Race itself, the best bet is probably the safest bet: the Fords. They’ve been fast in both restrictor plate races and 1.5-mile tracks this season, so they should all still be pretty quick. Kevin Harvick is on a hot streak, Joey Logano just won Talladega, Brad Keselowski is lauded as the best active plate driver in NASCAR by many, etc. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are also decent picks, but as has been the case all year, stay away from the Chevrolets.

How will NASCAR handle sports gambling?

This week, the Supreme Court ruled that the states should be allowed to decide if it should be legal to bet on sports. There’s been a lot of talk about how NASCAR should implement this in the states it will be legal in (it’s already legal in Las Vegas and Delaware, which is already home to four combined NASCAR weekends).

One part of this implementation to watch is where the revenue is split. The tracks should definitely get a large piece of the action, but how much of a percentage of the money should the teams get? How about NASCAR itself?

It looks like there’s a decent chance that we’re about to have a big fight in the coming years over revenue streams between the tracks, owners and NASCAR. The television contract will be where a lot of the money is, but this particular issue will be a substantial bargaining chip in these negotiations. If the sport can generate $200 million in gambling a year (and that’s being very generous) from at-track bets, that’s going to be a lot of money to divvy up after the state takes its fair share.

But the sport needs to tread lightly; these are uncharted waters. It needs to make the process clear while also making it obvious that anybody involved with the sport who places a bet on a race will be Pete Rose’d out of the game. You don’t want to poison a pig you’re trying to make Sunday’s dinner.

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About Michael Finley

Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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11 comments

  1. If you are going to use TV ratings, use head to head events. The Daytona 500 is run after the NFL season is over and before any other major sport starts its season. Compare the Indy 500 to the Coke 600 RUN ON THE SAME DAY and Indy wins 2017 with its 3.4 rating compared to NASCAR’s 2.8 rating. The Masters Golf Tournament had an 8.7 rating this year; the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 had a 1.7 rating ON THE SAME DAY. (That stat alone should tell you all you need to know about NASCAR’s future.) And although I never brought the NCAA tournament into the conversation, since you did, I will dispute that it has no big name stars. But those stars aren’t individuals; they are teams like North Carolina, Duke and Villanova which bring automatic interest to the event along with the conferences like the Big Ten and the ACC. (It even has the annual Cinderella team, which rarely wins, but satisfies the Amy Hendersons of the world.)

    Nothing you have said disputes my contention that NASCAR is too insignificant to gain interest simply due to betting. I understand you are paid to be a shill for NASCAR, but that doesn’t change the fantasy in your head that anyone cares enough about your little sport to attend or even watch hours of boredom just to put a bet on the race. Online betting and betting with bookies may happen, but neither requires attendance or attention and that is where NASCAR will lose every battle for fans.

    And it’s always odds-on that Frontstretch will hire the most ignorant hacks to write for them. You just prove it with every column you write and every reader you foolishly engage in a debate you cannot win.

  2. It’s going to rain all weekend in Charlotte. Even God hates the All-Star race.

  3. I think the most intriguing feature is how the 10, with the current driver compared to the previous person, does against the 9, 19, 20, 24 and 88 and where the 43 fits in.

  4. I doubt the All Star Race will look anything like Daytona and Talladega. My expectation is to see something similar to the Xfinity Race at Indy or a Truck race. The ability to pick up a huge draft down the straightaway and make passes is what I expect, not pack racing. I hope this works. The only other idea to save the All Star Race is to move it, both from Charlotte and this weekend. My pick is Martinsville, under the lights the day after the MLB All Star Game. There are no other sports that night. Beating and banging under the lights sounds fun to me.

  5. The most intriguing question about betting on NASCAR is what effect “team rules” will have. This has always been a gray area, but gambling makes it even murkier. Will teams be considered a single “entry” as in horse racing or is it each horse for himself?

    The other intriguing question is how dumb does one have to be to bet on auto racing in the first place? No other sport is more dependent on equipment and mechanical performance than auto racing and less dependent on athletic prowess. And oddsmakers know how to take advantage of popularity: will Chase Elliott be favored in every race in spite of the fact he drives one of the slowest cars on the track? That’s a windfall for the bookies and a sucker bet for those who wager based on who they want to win, rather than who is most likely to win. Additionally, there are too many entries to make betting on racing practical, although putting all of Amy’s stray dogs into the “field” bet can deal with that nuisance. And do bookies even dare to tread into the crapshoot that is plate racing?

    It could be interesting, but I doubt there will be as many takers as NASCAR assumes. At least, most media members will FINALLY have to learn what “odds-on” means, since that is a concept that totally escapes them now.

    • Dude.

      There’s already talk about NBA bets on how many steps Lebron James makes per game using tracking data.

      If you open the books, people will bet on it

      • Dude.

        The difference is that the NBA has fans and LeBron James. The NFL has fans and Tom Brady. Golf has Tiger Woods. The Indy 500 would attract more bettors than all of NASCAR’s races combined.

        Sure, some addicts will bet on anything, but if a sport is flying under the radar, opening the books will not attract a significant betting base. Horse racing is all about betting, but tracks are closing and fans only watch the Kentucky Derby because the sport has lost relevance. NASCAR doesn’t even have a Kentucky Derby level event to draw the casual fan. You are living in a dream world where anyone cares about NASCAR except the few diehard fans who don’t make up the betting demographic in any case.

        • BTW, do YOU know what odds-on favorite means? Don’t google it. Answer from your vast knowledge base.

          • 2018 Daytona 500 rating: 5.3 (average of 9.8 million viewers)

            2017 Indy 500 rating: 3.4 (average of 5.5 million viewers)

            “But that one race doesn’t mean squat, the Indy 500 still means significantly more than any other race in NASCAR”

            2018 Folds of Honor 500 rating: 3.3 (average of 5.6 million viewers)

            Ratings tell a completely different version of reality than the fantasy in your head.

            When it comes to ratings the Kentucky Derby typically draws bigger numbers than both Daytona and Indy combined. But that’s a one lap sprint race in an hour long time slot, which is pretty unfair to compare to a 500 mile automobile race. And also, a lot of those causal fans show up then leave for a year unless there’s a horse with a legitimate chance at the Triple Crown.

            The NCAA Tournament has no big name stars yet has long been both a ratings and betting juggernaut.

            Also I’m not answering that because even if I do you’re still going to troll and claim I Google’d it. Or you’ll bring up articles where I have misused the term yet not realize I’m using it for emphasis, not necessarily in a literal sense because it’s near impossible to have an actual odds-on favorite in a sport with over 30 competitors every week.

          • Dude:

            If you are going to use TV ratings, use head to head events. The Daytona 500 is run after the NFL season is over and before any other major sport starts its season. Compare the Indy 500 to the Coke 600 RUN ON THE SAME DAY and Indy wins 2017 with its 3.4 rating compared to NASCAR’s 2.8 rating. The Masters Golf Tournament had an 8.7 rating this year; the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 had a 1.7 rating ON THE SAME DAY. (That stat alone should tell you all you need to know about NASCAR’s future.) And although I never brought the NCAA tournament into the conversation, since you did, I will dispute that it has no big name stars. But those stars aren’t individuals; they are teams like North Carolina, Duke and Villanova which bring automatic interest to the event along with the conferences like the Big Ten and the ACC. (It even has the annual Cinderella team, which rarely wins, but satisfies the Amy Hendersons of the world.)

            Nothing you have said disputes my contention that NASCAR is too insignificant to gain interest simply due to betting. I understand you are paid to be a shill for NASCAR, but that doesn’t change the fantasy in your head that anyone cares enough about your little sport to attend or even watch hours of boredom just to put a bet on the race. Online betting and betting with bookies may happen, but neither requires attendance or attention and that is where NASCAR will lose every battle for fans.

            And it’s always odds-on that Frontstretch will hire the most ignorant hacks to write for them. You just prove it with every column you write and every reader you foolishly engage in a debate you cannot win.

          • And regarding the Kentucky Derby, I said in a previous post that the people who go to the Derby don’t go to bet, they go for the show. Of course, once they are there, they will bet, but many winning tickets on the Derby itself are kept as souvenirs and never cashed. Serious bettors skip the Derby because of the crowds and unusual betting patterns brought about by the amateurs. They are the ones who go to watch a 9-race card during the week with horses nobody ever heard of, and for them, betting is the only draw. But, horse racing is in as much trouble as NASCAR with tracks closing and attendance down. People will bet on anything, but if they can do it online, with a bookie, at OTB, or at a casino, they never have to attend the event. So, it’s not likely NASCAR will pick up fans through betting, since those off-track betting modes have been available to them for many years.