Column: New All-Star Race format underwhelms

The reveal of this year’s All-Star Race format was more anticipated than usual for a few reasons.

First, Monster Energy is sponsoring the race. Getting Monster to put its stamp on the format had a lot of promise to be fresh and different.

Next, NASCAR and the tracks are enjoying an era of unprecedented collaboration with the drivers, with the exchange of ideas constantly going back and forth. Combine that with things like stage racing being introduced this year, and there seems to be an appetite for big changes in the sport.

So when the All-Star format was unveiled Tuesday afternoon, my leg was bouncing up and down with nervous energy.

They could do ANYTHING to the format! It’s a blank slate! What will be the big twist?

The answer: Tires.

Tires? Yes, tires.

Teams will get one set of tires that has a softer compound, which will theoretically enable them to go faster. If a team puts on that set before the final stage, the car has to drop to the back.

The tire twist is described as “a game-changer” in the NASCAR press release.

Tires…

……..

Look, I don’t hate this format. It’s just…underwhelming in a That’s it? sort of way.

A decade ago, the All-Star Race was special because it was the only time NASCAR had double-file restarts. Now every race has those. Then the All-Star race was unique because it had stages. Now every race has those, too.

So the fact there are going to be three 20-lap stages before the final 10-lap shootout? Eh.

I like that some drivers will be eliminated (only 10 cars make the 10-lap shootout), but it’s complicated to keep track of who they are. Three stage winners go to the final stage, plus seven drivers who had the best average finish in the three stages, which — HEY! Pay attention! You started to drift. Anyway, then the cars will be lined up in order of their average finish for the final pit stop, and the order for the final stage will be determined — HEY! Are you getting this??

OK, you know what? You’ll just figure it out when you’re watching.

The point is, with all the creative people and ideas bouncing around NASCAR these days, backed by a push from a new and innovative sponsor, the format could have been way outside the box and cutting edge.

Instead, they decided to have a race that is, in part, “an ode to the 1992 edition of the same distance.”

Tires, I’m afraid, aren’t going to sell any extra tickets.

News Analysis: Kyle Busch not penalized for Las Vegas fight

What happened: NASCAR’s penalty report from Las Vegas Motor Speedway contained no penalties of any kind for Kyle Busch, Joey Logano or any of their crew members following Sunday’s pit road fight.

What it means: Angry drivers are allowed to punch someone after a race, and NASCAR is going to embrace that emotion. If that seems like a change from recent years, welcome to the Monster Energy Era. Mixing it up on and off the track is exactly what the series sponsor wants, and apparently even fights are fair game. It’s nice to see NASCAR didn’t act in a hypocritical fashion and fine Busch while profiting from the publicity and using it to promote upcoming races.

News value (scale of 1-10): Six. It’s above average news for the reason it might set a new precedent for how NASCAR will react to such altercations.

Questions: How far can a driver go before getting penalized now? If Busch had injured Logano, would the situation be different? Should Busch get a gift card or something for all the attention he got for NASCAR this week?

Here’s a slo-mo version of the video if you want to break it down frame-by-frame:

News Analysis: Charlotte Motor Speedway road course will be used for 2018 playoffs

What happened: NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan reported Tuesday the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield road course will likely be used for the 2018 playoffs instead of the 1.5-mile oval.

What it means: Fans will finally get to see the road course race in the playoffs they’ve been asking for, and a third road course will be on the Cup schedule. In addition, this would likely leave New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the top candidate to lose a race in favor of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which is expected to get a second Cup race next season.

News value (scale of 1-10): Seven, because this news has multiple impacts. It not only adds a road course to the playoffs, but it prevents the number of 1.5-mile tracks in the final 10 races from increasing (it would stay at five).

Questions: Is this really it for New Hampshire’s playoff race, or is there some unexpected wrinkle? How will fans react attendance-wise to the Charlotte road course? And will this give a driver like AJ Allmendinger a chance to make a deep playoff run?

News Analysis: Kyle Busch’s winning Xfinity car fails post-race inspection

What happened: Kyle Busch won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but NASCAR later announced his No. 18 car failed post-race inspection. It was too low in both the left front and the right front.

What it means: This is the first real test of NASCAR’s new penalty structure. The P1, P2, P3, etc. penalties are gone; now there’s just an L1 and L2. The rulebook says failing the heights after a race qualifies as an L1 penalty. In addition, the rulebook says an L1 penalty in the Xfinity Series counts as an encumbered finish — which means the No. 18 won’t be able to use the win to make the owner’s playoffs. In addition, according to the rulebook, the “minimum” penalty options for an L1 penalty in the Xfinity Series are the loss of 10-40 points, a one-to-three race crew chief suspension and a fine of $10,000-$40,000.

News value (scale of 1-10): Four, but could go up or down next week. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR announces on Tuesday or Wednesday when the penalties are made official.

Questions: Will NASCAR follow the standards laid out in its rulebook? If so, who will crew chief for the No. 18 car next week at Las Vegas? And will Busch go 10-for-10 in Xfinity races this year?

News Analysis: Las Vegas Motor Speedway in talks for second Cup race

What happened: The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has scheduled a special session to discuss a $2.5 million sponsorship opportunity that could bring a second NASCAR Cup Series race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway as soon as Fall 2018. In response to the R-J’s report, the track said it would comment further prior to the March 8 meeting, while NASCAR said the schedule has yet to be finalized for 2018.

What it means: This is a credible report, made clearer by the quick non-comments from the track and NASCAR. If this ends up happening, another Speedway Motorsports Inc. track would likely lose a race. All tracks are in the midst of five-year sanction agreements, so SMI would either have to buy another track and move one of its races or transfer one of its existing races (by far the more likely scenario). The current SMI tracks with playoff races are New Hampshire, Charlotte and Texas — and the repave at Texas means it’s an unlikely candidate.

News value (scale of 1-10): Nine. There hasn’t been a venue change in NASCAR since 2011, so this doesn’t happen often. People have been talking about Las Vegas getting a second Cup race for years, but the talk tapered off after Vegas stopped getting the mega crowds it once did. Perhaps this means it could finally happen.

Questions: Which SMI track would lose a race? Is it possible the season would end in Las Vegas, or will the postseason banquet move away? How would Las Vegas attendance be affected by having two dates instead of one?

News Analysis: Joey Logano signs long-term deal with Team Penske, Shell

What happened: Joey Logano received a mega contract extension from Team Penske and Shell — a whopping seven-year deal the team is billing as “2022 and beyond.” In addition, crew chief Todd Gordon’s contract was also extended at the same time. “This was one of those decisions that was a no-brainer,” Logano said. “When you find yourself in an amazing opportunity with a lot of winners around you, that’s great.”

What it means: You don’t see many deals like this in NASCAR anymore, as most contracts with drivers and teams are for three years. This might be the longest contract since Jeff Gordon’s lifetime deal with Hendrick Motorsports. Logano is 26, so in seven years he’ll only be 33 — which is the same age Brad Keselowski is now — and still have perhaps another 10 years ahead of him. Team owner Roger Penske joked the expectations for the new deal are 50 wins — which is nearly unattainable at more than seven per season, but also not out of the question for Logano.

News value (scale of 1-10): Seven. Logano wasn’t expected to go anywhere, but the length of the deal is highly notable. It’s also good news during a week when NASCAR has caught heat nationally for being in decline (through coverage in the Wall Street Journal and on CBS News), which could send a message to prospective sponsors.

Questions: How many races and championships will Logano win over the next seven years? Does this set Logano/Todd Gordon/Penske/Shell to be the next generation’s Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus/Hendrick/Lowe’s? How soon will Penske be able to lock up Brad Keselowski in a long-term deal as well?

News Analysis: Denny Hamlin signs contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing

What happened: FedEx signed a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing, which ensures Denny Hamlin will remain as the driver of the No. 11 car for presumably the next few years (though the length was not disclosed). Hamlin said never considered another team. “I’ve been a horse with blinders,” he said. “Everything’s been so good at home, why venture out?”

What it means: Hamlin could have been an intriguing free agent, but now one potential Silly Season name is officially off the market. The move reaffirms Hamlin’s position as a key leader at JGR and will leave the 36-year-old in position to win races and championships in the prime of his career as older drivers continue to retire.

News value (scale of 1-10): Three. Hamlin wasn’t expected to leave JGR, nor was FedEx. Still, it’s a big-name driver signing a contract extension, so that’s notable.

Questions: With Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Busch all seemingly staying put for awhile, where does this leave Matt Kenseth (who turns 45 next month)? At some point — maybe next year — won’t JGR want Erik Jones to come back from his temporary stay at Furniture Row Racing? Also, how much longer will Hamlin race?