Last weekend, NASCAR mandated the addition of restrictor plates and air ducts to the cars used for the Monster Energy All-Star Race and the Monster Energy Open. The result was pack racing and a much closer margin of victory than in the past few All-Star Races, but it led some to say that it wasn’t authentic racing. Should NASCAR use this package in points races or should it be limited to exhibition races?
One of a kind rules for a one of a kind race.
NASCAR has too many strikeouts to remember when it comes to their tweaking the Monster Energy All-Star Race. From inversions to tires to pit stops, nothing seemed to help make the event more enticing for the fans.
So the sanctioning body made a change similar to the one used in the XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis last summer. That race was drastically improved by a new rules package.
This package, a combination of aerodynamic redesign and restrictor plates, was used to try to return the once marquee event to its former glory.
This time, NASCAR stepped up to the plate and crushed a home run out of the park.
The cars ran in large groups and made passes throughout the race. It was a sight to behold and in the eyes of many, a vast improvement. Of course, this began the inevitable and nearly immediate movement to try to convince the sport’s leaders to use the package at other races and tracks.
You may need to slow the movement down, folks, before we have to put a restrictor plate on that as well.
I agree it was a great race. There was plenty of drama, with battles for the lead and other positions. It made for compelling viewership both on television and in person, which is why I actually prefer we not use this set up anywhere else.
The All-Star Race gained its notoriety for being like nothing else. Things happened there that you didn’t see at other races. An engine blew up as the winner took the checkered flag. Racing was held on a superspeedway under the lights. Teams were allowed to bring out back up cars after crashing their primary ones on a rain-soaked first lap.
Now the race once again has something unique that makes it relevant in the minds of the people who matter most: the fans. And the first thing we should do is immediately make it just like every other race?
As far as I can recall, this was the most excited I’ve seen the sport overall about the All-Star Race in a long time. The build-up was immense and for once, the result of the changes actually matched the hype surrounding them.
It wasn’t just fans that were giddy about the new and improved version of all-star Saturday. Many media members, some of them the sport’s biggest critics, were raving about the tight competition. Some even said that they wished that fans could watch the untelevised round of practice from Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday morning. How often is a practice session “must-see TV?”
There are other ways to make the Coca-Cola 600 and other races on 1.5-mile ovals more exciting.
They don’t need to use the restrictor plate. The other easy fix is to make the cars less aero dependent. Cut off that forsaken front-splitter and implement a minimum ride height to get the cars up off of the ground.
But leave the restrictor plate setup solely for the All-Star Race.
This race should matter. The fans deserve to see it matter. It has too much of a rich history to just disappear into nothing. There were so many memorable moments in the early years. The first time I watched the All-Star Race, Jeff Gordon and his T-Rex car ate the competition. NASCAR found so many “gray area” issues with that car in the post-race inspection that they told crew chief Ray Evernham never to bring it to a race track again. The No. 24 team brought a specially built car and used every trick in their book trying to win it. That’s how much it used to matter.
That’s why it needs to have a unique draw for both teams and fans. This is just the breath of fresh air it needed after basically flatlining the last few years. String together a few years of intriguing all-star events and things like ratings and attendance will gradually begin to increase. People will want to see it because the All-Star race matters again.
Which is exactly how it should be. – Frank Velat
Every Race Should Be an All-Star Race
If the package used for the All-Star Race got people excited about racing, then why only use it once?
Racing on the intermediate tracks has been so boring in recent years, with passing at a minimum. I’m not sure about the actual statistics regarding passes, but it looked like there was more passing throughout the field on Saturday night than any other race on an intermediate track that I’ve seen this year — and the All-Star Race and Open combined for 195 miles – less than half of a normal race.
The fact is that faster speeds often means worse racing. Some of the best racing in this country happens at local short tracks, and those drivers aren’t anywhere close to breaking 200 miles per hour. This package slows the cars down to around the speeds of the “good ole days” and that made the racing so much better.
I used to be on the fence about restrictor plates, but then Bobby Allison told me at Daytona earlier this year that “restrictor plates get a bad rap, but they are the most underrated thing in racing.” When Bobby Allison tells you something, you listen.
NASCAR owes it to the fans to put on the best possible show every weekend, not just once a year for a meaningless race. It wouldn’t be right for it to have this package in its back pocket and never use it any other time.
I’m not saying that this package should be mandated for every race from here on out. But it should be used once, and only once, this year for a points-paying race at a track larger than one mile during the regular season.
Due to the charter agreement, NASCAR has to let teams know a few month ahead of time before it can make a change to the cars, so the only places it would really be possible this season would be the second race at Michigan International Speedway or the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, both races that could use a spark to get fans interested in them again.
The package that we saw at the All-Star Race reminded me of the way the Indy cars race in the Indianapolis 500. The package made the XFINITY race at Indianapolis more exciting. If it is used for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race there, then we could see a Brickyard 400 that could rival the Indy 500 in terms of entertainment value.
I would only want to see this package used once in a points race this year. We need to see how it looks throughout a full race weekend because the package wasn’t entirely perfect as seen by the fact that no one could get a run purely from the draft; they had to get a push from someone.
Some of this could have been due to a lack of experience with this package. I mentioned that the All-Star is a shorter race than normal, but it also had less practice time than most race weekends. With more practice time and a 400-mile race, the drivers might be able to figure out how to better make passes and get runs.
Or we could find that the All-Star Race was a fluke and that this package will not work at just any large track. With it being a one-race experiment this season, NASCAR could find ways to tweak it for the better or scrap it altogether.
For the sake of NASCAR, I hope we see this package revisited later this season. If not, then get ready for lots of snoring during the numerous intermediate track races the rest of the year. -Michael Massie
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