Opinion: A Tired Idea
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 12, 2017 | 9:30 A.M. EST
This year’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway features another new wrinkle. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ah springtime is upon us along with all of the season’s annual traditions. Warmer weather, flowers blooming, baseball starting and changes to the annual NASCAR All-Star Race.
The 2017 edition of what will officially be known as the Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 20th is no exception. Several changes were announced for this year’s race with many going back to previous incarnations.
Four segments will comprise the event totaling 70 laps, the distance used in 1992 when what was called “One Hot Night” saw the race held under the lights at Charlotte for the first time. Three 20-lap segments capped by a 10-lap shootout is the format.
Drivers that win segments move to the finale with the balance of the field determined by average finish, something that by the way caused some math headaches the last time it was employed.
Ten drivers make the last segment and there’s still $1 million on the line. Drivers not qualified can try to make the show through the Showdown, which moves back to the Saturday night preliminary slot from Friday night, and the entire program kicks off an hour earlier at 6 p.m. ET. Those are both great moves.
But the biggest addition to the proceedings is the introduction of a tire compound choice for competitors. Goodyear will supply two options for teams to use; a regular tire option and another choice featuring a softer compound. Softer tires mean better grip and higher speed, however the trade off is accelerated wear.
Teams can choose when to employ the softer tires but if used in the final segment, those cars would have to fall to the rear of the field behind drivers on regular rubber.
There is some intrigue in the idea, which is employed in other disciplines of racing such as Indy Car with its black or red tire choice options.
Would NASCAR consider taking the concept from the All-Star Race to the entire 2018 season?
“This is something we will certainly look at for 2018,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “We want to see how this plays out. But when you look at where the levers we can look to pull from a competitive standpoint, this is certainly one of those, and one we’re excited about. We’re positive about what could happen … and it’s something we would look at for sure.”
It wouldn’t be the first time the All-Star Race has been used as a proving ground. Double file restarts and even segmented racing, now called stages in the top three tiers, were just a few concepts first seen in the annual event.
Whether this will infuse much-needed energy into the All-Star Race is still a major question. NASCAR, like all sports, faces a serious challenge of how to make its annual All-Star showcase into something fans are interested in watching. What was once unique is now very much run of the mill including breaking races into smaller bites, a concept now used on a regular basis.
The All-Star Race has been twisted around more than a pretzel. Speculation of running this year’s race on the Charlotte road course actually seemed like a good idea since the track appears ready to put its fall Cup race on it next year. I’d have much preferred to test that idea in a race that doesn’t matter rather than one with a huge bearing on the championship in the middle of the playoffs. But I’m not sure there’s anything else left format-wise to be incorporated into an event that just isn’t as fresh as it was when created back in 1985.
The tire choice has its merits and could very well lead to a strategic addition to next year’s season if NASCAR decides to adopt the idea. But how much juice does it give this year’s All-Star Race? While hard core followers may embrace and understand it, I’m not sure any casual or new fans – those who tune into special events like All-Star Races or games to see something, well, special – will notice or comprehend.
Who knows what the future of the All-Star Race will be in the coming years? Perhaps it turns into a midweek race or moves to a new location?
One thing is for certain; you can count on some kind of change every year as long as it’s in existence.
2017 is no different.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.