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.

Not to defend NASCAR again, but…

Some of you are putting me in a really uncomfortable position again: Having to defend NASCAR.

It’s more natural for me to torch NASCAR for making a bad call instead of vouching for The Man, but damn — this silliness over blaming NASCAR for cars failing inspection makes no sense!

The Nos. 42, 24, 18, 5, 77, 88, 37, 51 and 55 teams didn’t get through inspection in time to qualify at Texas. Do you know whose fault that is? The answer is the Nos. 42, 24, 18, 5, 77, 88, 37, 51 and 55 teams.

Yes, NASCAR changed the rules this season, but they’ve been the same all year. If a team fails one of the four inspection stations, they have to go through each one again (whereas in the past, teams could pull out of line, fix what was wrong on the car and jump back in line for that one station).

One reason is NASCAR wanted to cut down on all the inspection games. Officials are pushing teams to bring legal cars that pass tech on the first try — or else face the consequences.

 

That brings us to Friday. Like every week, each team had three hours to get through inspection before qualifying, and they all had the chance to go through the stations at least once before the clock really started ticking on their chances of making a lap.

And you know what? A bunch of them didn’t make it. In all likelihood, they were testing the limits (if they don’t, they’d be giving up a competitive advantage to those who do) and just went a little too far. They ran out of time and didn’t make a lap.

“We don’t feel good about anybody missing qualifying, but it is something that happens when teams are pushing the envelope,” said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR vice president for officiating and technical inspection. “Teams know our expectations and every team was afforded the opportunity to go through inspection. Some needed multiple tries and some weren’t able to get their cars ready in time to qualify. “

Hey, that’s fine; I don’t have a problem with teams trying everything they can. They take a risk when doing so, but that’s up to them.

But for crying out loud, don’t then get mad at NASCAR for your favorite driver failing inspection!

Seriously, come on. NASCAR is trying to cut down on all the little tricks teams are doing to bend the rules, and we’re going to act like that’s a bad thing?

Admittedly, I’m a stickler for rules. Those who follow the rules shouldn’t be at a disadvantage to those who don’t, just like those who bend the rules shouldn’t expect sympathy if they get caught.

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. told PRN: “It’s the same for everyone.”

Kevin Harvick said everyone in the garage was supportive of a tighter inspection as long as some rule-bending doesn’t start slipping through the cracks.

“NASCAR’s been pretty clear on where the progression of the inspection process was going to go,” polesitter Kevin Harvick said. “As long as it’s consistent and the process is the same all year, I don’t think anybody will have a problem with it.”

Fan Profile: Lee Anne Fuller

This is the latest in a series of 12 Questions-style NASCAR fan profiles, which is part of a reward tier on my Patreon page.

Name: Lee Anne Fuller
Location: Alexandria, Va. — but formerly Martinsville.
Twitter name: GFTLFAN (GTFL stands for “Go fast, turn left”)
Age: 58

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 1976.

2. How many races have you attended?

Too many to count.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

If you’re talking about all time, it’s David Pearson. But now it’s Denny Hamlin.

4. What made you a fan of those drivers?

I became a Pearson fan after the finish of the 1976 Daytona 500. As for Denny, I was a Dale Jarrett fan — and when he retired, I picked Denny because he’s from Virginia.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

At one time it was Tony Stewart, but I got over it.

6. Why didn’t you like Stewart?

He was not a fan of my hometown track, so I wasn’t a fan of his.

7. What is your favorite track?

Martinsville Speedway.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

Go back to the vendor trailers for driver merchandise. That big tent (the Fanatics tent) is a disappointment.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The interaction between drivers and fans.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

So much that it’s embarrassing.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans? 

If you can’t attend the race or be somewhere to watch, then Twitter-watch it. The Twitter feeds are faster than TV sometimes anyway. It helps to follow a driver’s spouse or significant other on Twitter.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

Even with all the rule changes and the playoff changes, when I hear the engines fire, smell the rubber coming off the tires, feel the thunder of those cars coming down the straightaway and see that green flag drop, I’m still a GFTL fan for life!

Lee Anne Fuller (Courtesy photo)

Tuesday Brainstorm: Fixing the stage breaks

In an attempt to find someone common ground, let’s have a little Tuesday afternoon brainstorming session.

Here’s the issue: I like the stages and the new format. The stages produce playoff bonus points for the winners (like it), give regular season points that reward consistently good drivers (like it), offer snack and bathroom breaks (like it) and bunch up the field to set up restarts at a point when the races are sometimes blah (LOVE IT).

Those are all great changes, and even the stage-haters seem to concede they like those things.

But the anti-stage people seem to be most upset about something else: Counting the caution laps during the breaks.

It’s important to hear these people. As customers and viewers, they feel ripped off. They feel cheated because by the time the next stage starts, it’s already six or seven laps into it at many tracks (and will be A LOT more this weekend at Martinsville Speedway).

The counter argument to this is the races would be a lot longer if these laps did not count. But the people who feel shorted by caution laps don’t want to hear that.

So this seems like a perception issue, and that means there’s a solution. Let’s figure it out together; we don’t have to fight about the stages!

Here’s one idea: Let’s say there were a set number of caution laps built into a stage break and THEN the next stage would start.

For example: At Fontana, the stages on Sunday were 60 laps/60 laps/80 laps.

Perhaps NASCAR could change it up to something like 55 laps/five-lap caution for stage break/55 laps/five-lap caution for stage break/80 laps.

That might make fans feel better, because the stages would start fresh — with the lap counter at zero. The only problem would be if there was a crash toward the end of a stage and NASCAR needed more time for cleanup, but fans would probably understand those rare circumstances.

Anyway, a small tweak might erase some of the negativity around the stage breaks (which is overshadowing what seems to be a very positive change overall).

Aside from this suggestion, what are some of your ideas to make the stage breaks better?

Fan Profile: Steven Lindon

This is part of a series of 12 Questions-style profiles of NASCAR fans. All of the people featured here are $25 or higher patrons on my Patreon page, which comes with this profile as a reward.

Name: Steven Lindon
Location: Saint Clair Shores, Mich.
Twitter name: @sclindon
Age: 41

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since 2005.

2. How many races have you attended?

I’ve attended 15 Cup races, six or seven Xfinity races and six or seven Truck races.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Jeff Gordon, although I’ve adopted Chase Elliott as my new favorite.

4. What made you a fan of his?

My brother was a big fan of Gordon’s and he took me to my first race in 2005. I like who (Gordon) is as a person and he was a great driver.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Kyle Busch.

6. Why don’t you like him?

He’s arrogant and cocky and a dirty driver.

7. What is your favorite track?

Good question. I’ve only actually been to two in person. Michigan is my home track, but sometimes those races get boring. I really enjoy Martinsville and hope to see a race there someday.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

I’d make the races a little shorter. They should be three hours or less.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The fan access. No sport gives you the fan access that NASCAR does.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

It depends where my driver is running. At least two or three times, but if the 24 is in the mix, it can go up exponentially.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

I would recommend going early enough to go to a tweetup. It’s very cool to meet other Twitter users who love NASCAR.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

I’m married, we have a 14-year-old and I’m left-handed — just like Dale Jr.

Steven Lindon with me at the 2015 Homestead tweetup. (Photo courtesy of Steven Lindon)

DraftKings NASCAR picks for Phoenix spring race

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission. Disclosure No. 2: I might be America’s worst daily fantasy player.

Last week’s results: Played the $0 entry Daily Free Contest with $250 payout (because of Nevada gambling restrictions) and finished around 10,600th out of 20,300. Won $0.

Season results: $1 wagered, $0 won in three contests.

This week’s contest: For the second straight week, I’m in a state that only allows me to play a free DraftKings contest. Lame. So I’m in the $0 entry Daily Free Contest ($250 payout) again.

This week’s picks:

— Kevin Harvick ($11,100). I was really looking for ANY excuse to stay away from him since you know a gazillion people will have him on their team, but he starts 23rd. I want that position differential when he finishes in the top five (which he could do even on a non-dominant day).

— Kyle Busch ($10,100). Being fastest in 10-lap average over the course of a race like Phoenix — which often has long, green-flag runs — is an attractive proposition. He could be the dominator.

— Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,500). Surprisingly affordable for a potential race winner. I know he starts too high (third), but damn — this team owned the fall race with Alex Bowman, was fastest in the January test and now looks good again this weekend. I’ll take that chance.

— Erik Jones ($7,500). I’m going to stay on the Erik Jones train until his price goes up. He’s one of the best deals out there lately, even though he starts a little high (eighth) for my liking.

— Jamie McMurray ($7,400). I’d love to pick Kyle Larson as well, but he’s too expensive for my lineup. The Chip Ganassi Racing cars have had a great start to the season, and although McMurray starts fifth, he has the ninth-best driver rating in the spring race over the last three years. He was also 10th-fastest in 10-lap averages for final practice.

— Matt DiBenedetto ($5,300). Hoo boy. This is a big risk. But I had to go cheap to make this lineup work. I’m essentially hoping he can get a top-25 out of this, and then give me the points differential from moving up from 30th. We’ll see.

Remaining salary: $100.