When the checkered flag waved Sunday night, the hottest driver currently in the sport took his third win in as many races. A familiar feeling that many are experiencing, and many are hating since they haven’t figured out a way to beat him.
But what is becoming readily familiar is that the NASCAR All-Star Race is losing the thrill, and the value, that it once had.
Sunday’s format alone had people a bit confused, including a few drivers. The inversions, the lineup requirements, the pit stop, it all had folks confused. Fans were even confused when the pit stops began in the fifth round in order to determine the winner of the extra six-figure check. Many were wanting a way to time the pit road entry and exit so they could follow along and see who was earning the first big bit of money.
Unfortunately, all this still has not proved that the All-Star Race still has the appeal and the thrill to chase a $1 million payout that it did back 20 years ago when it was first introduced.
Moving it to Bristol a year ago intrigued fans, but it didn’t give a jolt to the event that it has needed. All the razzle and dazzle of Texas tried, and certainly gave us a reason to watch, but the race itself…it had no flow. It was start, then stop, and repeat. The final pass for the lead by Larson certainly got the crowd going, but it feels like the format had the right idea, but not the right execution.
Every year people want something different with the All-Star Race, and with the introduction upcoming of the new NextGen car for 2022, next year is certainly going to be another round of changes to this event.
It’s never too early to decide on what to do for next season. Sure, it has only been a day, but here’s the concept: Lone Star Sprint.
This race needs to have a feeling of a night at the short track, and that means we need to treat it like a short track. Bristol was to do this earlier this year, but Mother Nature ruined those plans. So, if it is good enough for the dirt, it is good enough for the All-Star Race.
Let’s start with the All-Star Open, the prequal to the main event.
That race honestly doesn’t need much of a change. Three drivers get moved into the main event, with the fourth being from the fan vote, as long as they have a car that is capable of competing. All four drivers, automatically move on, but they also don’t get the advantage of being part of my conceptual All-Star Race format. That, unfortunately, is one of the downfalls of having to transfer in. Those four drivers have to start at the back.
Now, onto the main attraction, the event that needs a bit of a rework.
The format can be considered one that could only be utilized based on the amount of winners heading into the race from the prior season, as long as there’s a certain amount. From the 2020 season, and up until the All-Star Race this year, there were 18 drivers eligible to compete. Those 18 drivers get the honor of having the Saturday Night dirt track treatment.
Those 18 drivers get split between three heats, all from a random draw that is done prior to the race, but not days in advance. Drivers pull out numbers 1-6, but the numbers are colored. Whatever color they draw is their starting position in the particular heat.
All drivers will run a 15-lap heat, but the drivers that win their heats have the major advantage, and not just in track position. The winners of each heat will start in positions 1-3, but the driver that had the fastest lap starts on pole, and gets the option of which lane to choose out front. Then second and third fastest start in second and third. Drivers that finished in positions 2-6, or more, will line up based on which heat they run in, with the transfers from the Open and fan vote starting in the back.
The All-Star Open is the B-Main, with the All-Star Race itself being the A-Main.
The main event is a 75-lap run, with the mandatory four-tire pit stop coming before lap 65 when pit road will close. Only green-flag laps will count, but there is still the need for the 10-lap dash.
This is where I feel going back to what NASCAR did back in 2002 will work, an elimination. The top-10 cars will make it into the dash, and only the winner will get to take home money. Finishing second or worse, no payout.
Maybe this will make it a true all-or-nothing event because if there’s nothing that gets paid out for second, what’s the point of running second.
The All-Star Race is still going to remain, but something must be done to give it a bit of life.