Five thoughts after Saturday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race…
1. Heat races, anyone?
This year’s edition of the All-Star Race — also known as NASCAR’s mad science experiment — produced some intriguing leads for concepts that could be brought to the Cup Series on a regular basis.
The exhibition has been a proving ground for ideas in the past. Double-file restarts and stages both had their roots in the All-Star Race before becoming routine. The current rules package did, too.
So what can NASCAR take this time?
A lot of the focus will be on the tweaks to the rules package — the hood scoops and the ridged splitter — but the biggest takeaway should be heat races.
The Open wasn’t just a B-Main, as Kyle Larson called it. It was almost a series of B-Mains, because the winner was removed after each stage and essentially created a new race.
And based on the intensity and hard driving we saw in those short-burst races, there’s nothing wrong with putting elimination on the line in a B-Main and moving to an A-Main later.
Why not try it in an actual Cup Series points race?
NASCAR has worried for years that if a star driver didn’t make the main event, sponsors and fans would riot. But what’s the difference between having a driver get eliminated in a B-Main and having them crash out on Lap 1 of the feature race? The driver still raced at the track that day and was still part of the overall show, even if they faced an early exit.
Having a battle for those last few spots — and the drama such scenarios create — is worth any griping or sponsor headaches. Forget money or a trophy; the desperation to be included in the main event is worth more than anything in that moment.
Oh, and last night’s A-Main winner came from the B-Main, which only added to the storyline.
NASCAR could try this concept at a place like Pocono or Michigan. It could hold qualifying for the top 20 spots, then use a pair of 25-mile heat races to take four more drivers from each. Eight cars would be eliminated for, say, a 300-mile feature.
Would eliminating drivers really detract from the show? Based on the Open, it would only enhance the fan and viewer experience.
2. As for the package…
The All-Star Race itself was certainly a good race and wildly entertaining. But what made it so?
If you ask the drivers, it was largely due to bunched-up racing more than the rule package tweaks.
“I honestly don’t feel like it was any different,” William Byron said of the package. “I think it was just the circumstance of how many restarts there were and how intense this race is.”
The longest green-flag run of the 85-lap race was the opening stint, which was 27 laps. After that, here were the length of the green-flag runs (in order): One lap, three laps, 13 laps, four laps, 10 laps, one lap, 12 laps.
The All-Star Race had nine starts and restarts in a relatively short amount of time. So yes, that certainly helped the entertainment value and the intensity.
“You can’t really pass after it gets strung out, so you’ve got two or three laps to be as aggressive you possibly can be,” Aric Almirola said. “If you check out of the throttle for just the slightest little bit, they go by you three and four-wide. It’s crazy. It’s all about momentum.”
The bottom line: The tweaks certainly didn’t hurt, but they probably weren’t solely responsible for the improved quality of the racing, either.
3. Charlotte should save its money
When it comes to the prize money being a major storyline of the race, everyone seems to make a big deal out of it — except for the people actually taking home the cash.
Winning $1 million — of which the driver likely keeps half or less, depending on his contract — just isn’t that important to these guys. You think Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick taking home an extra $500 grand or something on top of their annual salary is worth going crazy over?
Even Larson indicated the thrill of Saturday was about the victory, not the money.
“A million dollars is cool, but just winning is more cool than a million bucks to me,” he said. “Us drivers — NASCAR drivers — are in a good place in our lives. It pays well. So whatever.”
It must be nice to be able to say “whatever” about a million dollars, but don’t get mad at Larson for the comment — because that’s reality for these guys. Salaries have declined in the Cup Series, but they’re still quite large compared to other forms of racing. Drivers live the good life, with private jets and multi-million-dollar motorhomes and lakeside mansions.
So the whole hysteria of “He’s going for a MILLION dollars!” is kind of funny. It’s not like a lottery winner or a reality show contestant, where a normal person’s life is transformed forever. These drivers would almost certainly race the same way for zero dollars.
“Just winning a big race, a prestigious event, means more to me than the money,” Larson said. “I’m all about trophies and big wins.”
To wit: Do you know how much the Chili Bowl winner gets? The answer is $10,000 — and I’d bet Larson would rather win that race than last night’s.
Charlotte Motor Speedway could still offer a generous prize — say $500,000, which would still be a lot for a race win — while saving itself a half-million to spend on marketing or something else.
4. Nostril holes
A quick word about the air ducts being in the center of the hood: Race teams need to match the color to their hood if this concept is used in the future.
Some teams — like the Hendrick Motorsports cars — had their nostril holes painted to go with their sponsor scheme. But others just left it that black/primer gray or however the ducts are produced. That made it look someone took a two-hole punch and just pressed it into the middle of the hood.
NASCAR confirmed it was up to the teams whether they wanted to match the vents to the paint scheme. So hopefully if this idea sticks around, every team will do that to avoid a potentially ugly sight.
5. THAT’S the guy?
Clint Bowyer threw 11 punches at Ryan Newman after the race. He may have connected with all 11, for all we can tell.
How many of them do you think Newman felt? I’ll tell you: ZERO. He’s indestructible. Throwing a punch at Newman is like when the army launches those little rockets at Godzilla. It’s not going to do anything, and if he feels it, it’ll be a tiny pinch.
Look, I get why Bowyer was mad. Newman retaliated after the race, and even though Bowyer was at fault the first time — he pulled a jerk move on Newman after thinking the 6 car was a lap down — Bowyer had a right to go fight.
But damn, you’re really going to pick NEWMAN to battle with? The burly no-neck dude who already makes racing him a living hell for everyone who tries to make a pass? THAT’S the driver you want to feud with?
I’d apologize if I were Bowyer, and here’s why: If Newman gets mad after the next race and throws 11 punches at Bowyer, he’s done. His face would not heal in time for sponsor promo shots next year. Not worth it!
I could see trying to throw down with Larson or someone like that, but not Newman. Attack with some clever quips and insults; save the fists for someone who can’t hurt you back as easily.