The Top Five: Breaking down the NASCAR All-Star Race

Five thoughts on Saturday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway…

1. Sigh

So I’m sitting here in the Charlotte Motor Speedway press box, staring out at the track after a blahtacular All-Star Race and, well, it’s sort of deflating.

Whatever NASCAR and the track come up with for this race, it just doesn’t seem to work. That’s because it’s always the same winner: Clean Air.

So after another All-Star event that failed to deliver on the hype, it’s surely back to the drawing board — again.

It’s probably a tribute to the NASCAR and Charlotte marketing machine that we buy into the possibility of a good All-Star Race every year, only to be reminded that’s not the case. There’s only so much that can be done on a 1.5-mile track like this one.

“We all run the same speed,” Jimmie Johnson said. “The rule book is so thick, and the cars are so equal, we run the same speed. You can’t pass running the same speed. It’s just the bottom line.”

That’s why the emphasis for the All-Star Race each year is to force some sort of passing in the final stage, typically by some strategy play or gimmick. And that’s fine, because it’s an exhibition race that exists solely for entertainment.

But when the entertainment doesn’t materialize? It seems to generate more outrage than your average NASCAR-related controversy.

Ultimately, the 2017 All-Star Race was familiar in a bad way: A clean-air affair that literally required a spreadsheet to keep track of who was doing well, combined with no real action (the only cautions were for the stage breaks).

Bummer.

2. Tire storyline goes flat

As it turned out, everyone was wayyyy too optimistic about the option tire’s impact on this race. But it doesn’t mean the idea wouldn’t work for future events.

Let’s start with Saturday night, though. Remember when the big tire twist was first announced? The original theory was lots of teams would take the option tire for the final round.

It’s going to be crazy! How will the strategy play out? You have to watch!

Except a funny thing happened (well, actually not funny at all): Not a single team chose to use the option tires in the final round.

The problem was the tire was a little faster, but not fast enough to make up the track position a team would lose by taking them in the final round. And it didn’t fall off as much as anticipated, so it worked better on the 20-lap runs earlier in the race.

So the tires weren’t able to deliver on their promise in the All-Star Race.

“We could probably go a little bit softer, utilize a little bit more grip in order to be faster, have more (speed) split between the two tires,” Kyle Busch said. “The tires equalized more than maybe some would have hoped for. But it was just a guess. They didn’t necessarily pull a tire test here. I thought they did a good job testing.”

But that doesn’t mean the option tire was a bad experiment for races when it really counts. It’s a strategy wrinkle that could add something to Cup races in the future. And it wouldn’t feel overly gimmicky, either.

“I think the garage area … has a favorable opinion of how this went tonight,” Johnson said. “Personally I don’t have a problem with trying it. … It’s better than having a button that gives you more horsepower. I think it’s a good way, a competitive way to create different-paced cars in the field.”

3. If Kyles ruled the world

Kyle Busch is one of the all-time great talents. He didn’t need an All-Star win to prove that — though it’s certainly nice for his resume — nor did he need to beat Jimmie Johnson in a head-to-head showdown.

He’s only going to accomplish more and more before he’s all done, probably racing until son Brexton is in a car (Kyle is only 32; Brexton is 2). So as your favorite drivers continue to retire, it’s not a guarantee the young guns will take over — because veterans like Busch might just continue to dominate.

However, there’s certainly hope for the young guns — and that’s really led by Kyle Larson. The dude continues to be a one-man show, and his attitude is just so different than anyone I’ve covered.

Take this quote about clean air, for example: “I enjoy it. It adds an element. It’s something you have to work through and become the better driver, find clean air, do a good job with it.”

What?! All we’ve heard for years are driver quotes like, “Well, he got out in clean air and there was nothing I could do.” There’s a lot of complaining about aero.

Larson doesn’t seem to complain, though. He tries to use it as a challenge. That seems refreshing (although he might eventually get frustrated like the rest of them, because the whole dirty air phenomenon really sucks).

4. Open and shut

The battle between Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez — and eventually Erik Jones — during Stage 3 of the Open wasn’t just the best moment of the night. It might have been the best racing moment of the season so far.

Elliott was doing everything he could to get around Suarez, and they put on quite a show for a lap before Jones caught both of them and tried Pass in the Grass II. Unfortunately, Pass in the Grass I was aided by the cars not being sealed to the ground with splitters in the front, and it can’t be replicated today. So instead, Jones dug his splitter into the grass and destroyed his car, bringing out a caution with three laps to go.

You may recall last year’s Open was also quite dramatic, when Elliott and Larson banged doors en route to the finish line and both sustained damage.

The takeaway? Well, the Open is a kick-ass race, for one thing. It’s so fun and refreshing to see drivers other than the usual suspects going hard and fighting for a win at the front of the field. I love that race, and it’s one of my favorites each year just because of different faces getting the spotlight.

But it’s also another reason why heats and last-chance races would be very entertaining on a weekly basis during the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Remember, a “Norm Benning Moment” can be almost as good as a “Game 7 Moment.”

5. Come early, folks!

The pre-race experience might be on the way back after taking a big hit over the last couple years.

NASCAR fans used to have the souvenir haulers, the huge Sprint Experience and the SPEED Stage to occupy themselves before the race.

But by the end of last year, the stupid Fanatics tent had replaced the haulers, the Sprint Experience was phased out and TV stage was apparently a victim of FOX cuts.

There seems to be some movement in the right direction now though.

This weekend marked the return of the souvenir haulers, which drew a nice crowd (from what I could see during a short walk-through Saturday afternoon). Then there were Bellator MMA fights at the Monster Energy display, where people sat on the hillside as sort of an amphitheater and watched dudes beat the crap out of each other on a hot day.

Even a form of the old SPEED stage has returned, but not for TV purposes. They’re calling it the “Trackside Live” stage — with the old familiar TV show name — but it’s primarily for fans at the track. Speedway Motorsports Inc. realized people missed that element, so SMI recreated the stage for fan entertainment purposes. It’s a good move, because now there’s an additional place for driver appearances or concerts or things like that. Hopefully, the International Speedway Corp. tracks will hop on board with the stage as well.

The bottom line is NASCAR fans expect more than just a race when it comes to attending in person. They want to make a day out of it and have things to do for hours before the green flag. So all these things were positives in that regard.

25 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the NASCAR All-Star Race”

  1. Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville would put on a better ALL STAR race and we the fans beg for more short track racin. Sorry for all you that live in Charlotte from drivers, crews and media and nice to be “home” for 2 weeks. But, that is the change that would make it a true ALL STAR race.

  2. “the stupid Fanatics tent…” best line ever. 😂
    I agree about pre-race activities. Before last years Coke Zero 400 we wound up twiddling our thumbs for hours before the race. Add in a rain delay and we wished we’d had saved our money and stayed home. I renewed my tickets for 2017, but won’t head to the track until supper time.

  3. When The Open is more exciting and entertaining, as it usually is, then NASCAR needs to rethink the All Star Race. This is crazy I know. Another Crazy thought Jeff – what if, just suppose that NASCAR instead did a race with those that normally can only run in The Open? They can’t have won a race yet during the current season, they can’t be a Cup Champion etc. We would have lots of excitement from these cup drivers that for whatever reason haven’t made it over the hump. Hey, Nascar’s tried everything else, so that is worth a short.

    1. Ohhhhhh! Yes! Let the “Open” be the winners, past champs, that have to race their way into the “All-Star/Upcoming-Star” race!

  4. By the time All-Star Race was ready to be televised I’d heard and read so much about the convoluted schemes that I didn’t watch the race. I’m old school… just race!!!

  5. All star races in the old tracks like The Rock would be fun, great for TV, and help revitalize those classic tracks. Rotate them around to different tracks.

  6. Have to agree Jeff , “The Open” was fan_tastic, lots of excitement. And “The All-Star Race” was boring from the TV side of it too.

  7. NASCAR seems to be trying, but SMI and ISC need to really work on figuring things out. Charlotte might be home to NASCAR, but this race was downright awful and it’s been terrible for years now. Please move the race to another SMI track, the dirt track, or something. NASCAR fans are sick of intermediate tracks.

  8. Agree that something needs to change. Besides the Suarez/Elliot/Jones racing, you could predict who’d win a segment. And watching and listening to DaleEarnhardt Jr was just painful. His postrace podcast showed him more dejected than I’ve ever seen him. Talk about needing a change. If he wasn’t retiring, Ives would be out of a job.

  9. Maybe the All Star race needs to change the rules again…only this time about what they can run on the cars. Give those crew chiefs and engineers more leeway and see what they can come up with. Anyone remember T Rex? They just might come up with something less aero dependent and more raceable.

  10. FS1 had some issues on my Roku TV and I missed a good part of the race… seems i may not have missed anything EXCEPT my boy, Jr. suffering!! Thanks FS1A apprently for putting me out of racing misery! The TV came back on for the last 3 lap restart! and of couse, KyB going Victory Lane!

  11. “More needs to be done to make this event something fans won’t soon forget.” Hmmm…I think that ship has already left the dock. When drivers, fans and media all agree it’s a train wreck, it’s a train wreck!

  12. Go look at Rodney Childers twitter feed. The 18 only had 4 lugs tight in the last segment on Left rear… so NASCAR can’t even enforce the “rules” they publish for an exhibition race? Picture proves it… so how are they supposed to get the racing straight when they can’t even keep their rules straight? By he “rules”, the 18 should’ve had to come back down pit road, tighten it, Andy go to the tail of the field. How is this good for the sport?

    1. All the cars had their lug nuts checked AFTER leaving pit road and before racing the final segment. NASCAR didn’t want anyone playing games on that last pit stop to gain track position. The 18’s lug nut was there then and that is all that matters.

      As Tony Stewart said long ago things happen to the lug nuts on the track. That is why in the rulebook for it to become an encumbered win the car would need to be missing three lug nuts after the race. Something might happen to one lug nut, maybe two, but not three.

  13. I’ve been to Charlette for the fall race. I’ve been to several of the other 1 1/2 mile tracks . Charlotte is one of the better 1 1/2 mile tracks to watch. The All Star is not something I look that forward to the exciting moments just make the rest of the race look boring ?

  14. Darrell Waltrip said it all. When Larson was up front about to restart Waltrip made the comment that Larson was the only non millionaire up front tryn to win and he drives like it week in week out as do all the other up and coming young guys like blaney. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Same for fans you got money np on a shit show bt for us die hard poor ol NASCAR fans that have to miss payments on life to attend these races get the short end of the stick and where did racing start, the poor people tryn to make a living anyway they could whether runn booze or packing the family up in a station wagon and heading to a local track. Everything is about $ cars, entertainment not racing!!

  15. With haulers back, bring back the vendor tents and stages as well. I used to get to the track at 9am for an evening race just to enjoy all the stuff …. and spend $$$$. As for the racing, instead of every car being absolutely equal, let’s let the teams have freedom with the splitter/dam area and the spoiler. There are pluses and minuses that can happen here…let the teams roll their dice here. Not just for all star, but all races

  16. I’m hear to see a race not spend $$$. I spent my $$$ jst to get here to see a race! Lady your part of the problem not the solution. The tracks and promotors and teams make plenty when is it time for NASCAR to give back.

  17. Drivers like Dale Jr and Hamlin have been calling for eliminating the splitter and getting the cars off the ground to reduce the aero effect.

    Why hasn’t NASCAR listened? I don’t get it.

  18. It’s going to be Brian France’s way, even if it hair-lips the Pope!
    I’ve got die-cast “Winston Cup” cars that are older than Larson and Elliott but I’d rather watch NHRA and dad-gum electric Formula 1 racing than this Crap that Brian has come up with… segment winner? that’s no different than a dang participation trophy, WTF?
    Brian, Stop trying to fix/change what your Father Perfected… let these Racers, RACE ! Before they’re driving around Emptier Speedways.

  19. I’m 0ld school get rid of spliters & side skiirts & give the manufacturers somega leway. We don’t want spec racing.

  20. Thanks Jeff – FYI, NASCAR Trackside Live is broadcast on nascar.com so fans from anywhere can join in the fun during the show. The plan is that we will be at all the SMI tracks through the end of the year and hopefully move to the other tracks as we grow. We are doing this for the fans and would love to have their feedback on it, questions, comments etc. with the hashtag #NASCARtrackside

  21. The all star should go on the road.Short track racing , road course & superspeedway no more 1.5 miles for the next decade.

    I’m glad there is some change w FanX,Nascar FANZONE sucks now w the fanatic tent . Talk about the Indycar one after you experience at the 500.

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