Just two hours from the teams’ home base, the closest option outside of Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s oldest track invites the type of racing fans want to see from a race where there is nothing but pride on the line. It’s a track where drivers can root and shove and use the bumper without necessarily crashing the other driver. Its size almost guarantees that two drivers who tangle will find themselves together again at some point, and when it’s all about pride, the polite racing we see in the playoff era could be thrown out the window for some old-fashioned short-track racing. Plus, it would be another way to showcase the track’s new lights.
The race could easily become a one-day show, with practices in the daytime, qualifying at dusk and the race at night.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the track isn’t located in an area like Charlotte that has a big draw outside of racing. The limited size of the infield means that the teams’ families couldn’t all be in attendance the way they are at Charlotte.
Overall, though, it’s the best option for the quality of racing and location.
Like Martinsville, Bristol in a no-points situation has the potential to produce a barn-burner of a race. The high banks and additional speed add to the flash and noise. There’s more room for people in the infield and stands, a plus for teams wanting to bring family along.
Ask longtime fans which track produces the most drama, and Bristol will almost certainly be on the list. Take points out of it, maybe change up the format a bit, and it’s pretty hard to ignore the potential.
Like Martinsville, Bristol doesn’t have the other draws, and at just over three hours from home, a one-day show would be harder to pull off. It’s a two-day show now, so that’s not critical, but a one-day affair could add to the atmosphere.
Why Iowa over Richmond? Because it’s not currently on the Cup schedule. That means zero teams have any reason to use the All-Star Race as prep for a points-paying race. That means every team is all in to win the race. The current points format and emphasis on the championship mean that for some, there’s more on the line than even the million-dollar purse the All-Star event boasts. There needs to be zero incentive to do anything other than race for the prize, and a track not on the schedule accomplishes that.
The big downside is distance. For an event that’s all about the teams, it’s awfully far from home. It’s also a big haul for the teams not locked in to make for the chance to win their way in. It could very well limit the field for the Open.
That’s right, Charlotte. While the racing isn’t close to what a short track might produce, it’s home. The garage and pit area are usually packed with the crew members’ families in the afternoon before the race, an opportunity they don’t often get. Drivers and crews can sleep in their own beds and have Sunday off at home.
Perhaps what NASCAR should do is ask the teams where they’d like to run the event, and if they choose their home track, so be it. If they want another weekend of travel, that’s super, but if they want to stay home, do it. It’s about them.
The other advantage of Charlotte is that there’s plenty to do, and fans in town can spend Sunday doing any number of things before heading home, including NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. Fans who stay for the week and the Coca-Cola 600 have plenty of options, making doing that week more attractive. It’s good for a lot of people.
5. Rotate it, as baseball does
Finally, other sports move their All-Star games each year. Venues bid for the event, and it’s a source of pride for the city chosen to be the host. It would be an opportunity for different tracks to showcase themselves and their cities and if each track were allowed to choose the format, it could be exciting.
The downsides of doing that are twofold. One, the distance thing again. A trip to Fontana, Phoenix or Texas takes crews far from home on a week that’s meant to be for them, with the longest race on the schedule the very next weekend, to boot. That’s a lot to ask.
Plus, there are a lot of tracks out there that aren’t going to produce any better racing than Charlotte. If teams have to travel, it should be to an event fans want to see.
A rotation among Charlotte, Martinsville and Bristol, on the other hand, would see the event move venues, all of which have a different breed of racing, while staying close to home for the teams. Perhaps coupled with a race package that’s different enough from the one they normally use to discourage using the race as a test, this trio of tracks could bring the luster back to a race that once shone brightly on the schedule.