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Be the Crew Chief: How Would You Win the All-Star Race?

This year's All-Star Race marks 25 years since "One Hot Night." This year, it's the crew chief that could ultimately win the race.

It seems as though every year, when the time comes for the All-Star Race format, whether it be laps, segments, or how the field is set, there’s always some discussion.

Tuesday, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway revealed the newest installment of the exhibition race, a tribute to 25 years ago, when this particular race for the first time didn’t see daylight.  Even modern fans understand the significance of “One Hot Night” in 1992.  No one at the time thought a track of that size could be used to run a night race.  What kind of lights were needed, how will drivers see, and how different will the race be run?

That race changed the course of how this event was pictured.  Since then, it’s seen many different formats, many different winners, and a one-race payout that in the end is worth all the effort.

No points on the line, and it’s either taking home a paycheck, or leaving the track with carnage.

With Monster Energy wanting to invigorate something into the race that has been lacking in recent years, and are doing so by going back to the original Hot Night, but installing some of the current race format into the competition.

Four stages of racing, winners getting a bonus pass to the final feature, and the 10-lap dash is only 10 drivers.  Win, you’re in.  Finish strong, there’s a chance to continue.

But, now a new wrinkle.

Ever since drivers were pushing to have a lower downforce package, one that combined driver input with tires that gave out over the long run, NASCAR has used the last two years in tweaking, massaging, and testing a new package that drivers have been happy with, and crew chiefs also are enjoying since there’s more data to use from the driver.

This year, the pressure now goes from just the driver to accomplish victory, but also the crew chief for making the correct call.

Those soft tires that have made the low downforce package such a challenge, but also a joy, is the softer tires.  Drivers love the fact over a longer run, the wear makes them need to choose where to find the fastest line in order to keep pace.  However, unlike during the regular weekend, where the softer tires are the same for all, each team is given an allotment of harder compound tires, but one set of a softer compound.

That compound can be used at any point.  But, at one point it becomes a penalty.

That final 10-lap sprint, if a team elects to pit and choose softer tires for that final dash, they start at the back.  How NASCAR will showcase what tires are the softer compound is yet to be shown, but the advantage is the softer tires will be very quick for the shorter run.

So, this begs the question…what would you do?

Sitting on the pit box, is the gamble of taking the softer tires prior to the final stage worth the gamble, or is it better to possibly take the softer tires after the first or second stage since there’s no penalty of starting in the back for doing so at that time?  There’s the rub, because the softer tires will give speed to get to the front in those earlier segments, but don’t exactly guarantee victory since stages one, two, and three are twice as long as the final stage.  The tires could give out, and because of the harder compound lasting longer, may mean a guaranteed pass to the final 10 laps will disappear.

Then there’s the aspect of if the car’s handling will be different on the softer compound.  Practice for the All-Star Race could mean scuffing up the harder tires, and saving the softer sticker ones for the race, but not knowing how they will handle.

At the same time, some drivers may not care how the car handles on the softer tires, and will just go full-tilt, going into the unknown.

The pressure is now on the crew chief to make that call of putting on the softer tires when they feel is the best opportunity to gain positions, possibly a stage win, or even ultimately the checkered flag and $1 million in first-place money.

But, what is the right time to make that call.  Or is the right call to not even use those softer tires at all, and keep them in the pit stall the entire night.  All these type of calls need to be made quickly, and at the right time, with the right adjustments, and hopefully without a mistake entering or exiting pit road, and without any miscues during the stop.

All these different concepts, strategies, and risks for the opportunity to take home $1 million still begs the question.  What would you do?

About Dustin Parks

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