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Burton: Think big but go small — It’s time to move the All-Star Race to its hard racing roots

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The All-Star Race should be unique and offer something different from the rest of the schedule.

So next year, let’s make it one hell of a race. A knock-down, drag-out short-track show unlike any other.

We’re going to South Boston Speedway.

Or any relevant short track within a day’s drive of the Charlotte area.

This will add a new measure of excitement to the All-Star Race. It’s good for the overall health of the sport while restoring its grass-roots passion as well.

I’ve watched teenagers in Late Models put on amazing shows at these short tracks.

A NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at South Boston Speedway. (Tom Whitmore/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Imagine if race fans had the chance to see Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick at a three-eighths of a mile oval. Imagine a one-day show in which the pole-sitter spins a wheel from 1 to 12 after qualifying, and that determines the starting spot. Imagine if a $1 million prize was posted at a track that’s smaller than anything on the Cup circuit.

The cars will have too much horsepower, and that’s awesome.

They will weigh too much, and that’s awesome.

They will be sideways trying to get the rear tires to hook up, and that’s awesome.

The restarts simply will be fabulous.

When you can put drivers in situations where they really can get aggressive, how is that possibly wrong?

We would be delivering what the fans say they want: Hard racing, drivers working their guts out, and racing with something big on the line.

Drivers are doing all that now at Charlotte, but it’s hard to see some of those things at a 1.5-mile track.

You don’t need to improve the race by changing the format. You can do it by changing the venue.

A place like South Boston will challenge all the drivers and teams with a race that will be completely different than what you see the following week even though the rules are the same.

There will be no crazy formats. The reason those are needed is the racetrack, and a smaller racetrack helps eliminate the need for those rules to ensure good racing while embracing the history of the sport.

As a native, I’m naturally partial to South Boston, Virginia. But you could put the All-Star Race at a different short track every year, creating a process in which tracks lobby to hold the race. This would be great for some small-town economies but more importantly it would be great for the enthusiasm about the Cup Series.

The longtime fans who like the racing at North Wilkesboro Speedway again – this is a way to honor those traditions.

Bring in temporary grandstands to seat about 10,000 fans. This would create an incredibly difficult ticket to get, and that would help bring more excitement and enthusiasm for the fans to be there.

It’d be like the successful Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora, except this would be 10 times what you see there because it’s Cup.

It would bring big names to places like South Boston Speedway – imagine Virginia native Rick Hendrick entering the gates there. Or Chad Knaus, a future Hall of Fame crew chief.

It’ll be fun to watch and fun to do for the teams as a one-day show. Practice for a little more than hour, line them up and go. Drive to the track on Saturday morning and head home by midnight.

If there’s a downside to this idea, it’s one less event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track that’s just down the road from my house that I love.

But Speedway Motorsports Inc. executives Bruton and Marcus Smith would understand this concept. They have shown the utmost commitment to embracing NASCAR’s lower levels by running the K&N and Modified series at their tracks. They have promoted the youth of our sport.

I believe if Bruton and Marcus Smith looked at what’s best for the sport, they wouldn’t like to give any race up, but they gladly would participate because they have NASCAR’s best interests in mind.

They understand as well as anyone that if the fans are excited about the All-Star Race, that will make them more excited the next week to buy tickets for the Coca-Cola 600. The All-Star Race has historical significance at Charlotte. You generally don’t want to disturb tradition, but if you can help the overall health of the sport, you do that.

I understand that to some this idea is absolutely nuts but step back and consider the potential.

Taking today’s big-time drivers, teams and modern race cars to tracks that helped build the sport from the ground up. Embracing the hard-core fan and the roots of the sport and rewarding them.

This is no gimmick. It’s joining the past and the present to enhance the future.

A unique event and a unique facility producing the one thing that everyone wants, one damn good All Star race unlike any other.

Kyle Larson posts fastest lap in Saturday morning practice at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Kyle Larson recorded the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Larson topped the field with a lap of 132.586 mph.

He was followed by fellow playoff contenders Ryan Blaney (132.517 mph), Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. (132.503), Matt Kenseth (132.163) and Denny Hamlin (132.071).

Truex had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 131.396 mph. He was followed by Jimmie Johnson (131.173) and Ryan Blaney (131.064).

The final Cup session is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. ET.

Fourteen teams will miss practice time in that final session because of inspection issues.

Click here for practice report

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Long: Time for NASCAR to regulate victory burnouts? What’s the fun in that?

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — Strip away the debate, peel away the nuances and look not at NASCAR but yourself.

Can you enjoy watching someone smoke the tires after winning a race, or must you see tires blow, thus damage the car and possibly hinder officials in inspecting the vehicle afterward?

Denny Hamlin knows how many of you will vote. He’s seen your reaction when he’s done burnouts down the frontstretch like he did in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — site of Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He blew a left rear tire in that celebration.

“The moment that the tires pop … that’s the moment the fans get excited,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports after qualifying Friday.

Is that what it comes down to for you? After half a day at the track and three hours of racing, one of the key moments of your trip is seeing someone blow a tire in their victory burnout?

If it’s that important to see those tires blow, then are you OK that it could allow a car to skate the rules?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says NASCAR should regulate those celebrations because they’re as nefarious as they are exhilarating.

“I’ve been kind of waiting all this time for NASCAR to say, “Look we’d just rather you guys not blow the tires out,’ ‘’ Earnhardt said Friday. “They talk about not being the fun police. Being the fun police is not on the radar of their damn problems. I don’t think they need to worry about it. That’s a cop-out in my opinion.’’

Why?

“I just feel like that they should step up,’’ Earnhardt said. “They’re the governing body. It’s obvious (blowing tires) is done intentionally.’’

Earnhardt said that the penalty to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott and Elliott’s team for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties was too severe compared to drivers who are not penalized for damaging their cars in victory celebrations.

“(Elliott’s team) is going to get a suspended crew chief and car chief for this tape mess and the winner of the race (Martin Truex Jr.) was riding into victory lane with a damn rear tore all to hell,’’ Earnhardt said of last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway “Can’t even tech it. I love Martin. It ain’t about Martin. Every guy out there has done it.’’

Truex says he did nothing wrong when he blew a rear tire in his celebration at Chicagoland. He was overjoyed after coming back from a speeding penalty and having to pit a second time under caution for loose lug nuts to win. So, yes he had a robust celebration.

“It was definitely not something that was on purpose or somebody told me to do it,’’ Truex told NBC Sports. “It was just caught up in the moment. The burnout was pretty nice. Maybe it went on a little longer than it should have. In that case, there’s no rules against it. Nobody said you can’t do it. If there was obviously a rule against it, then we would probably not do it anymore.

“People are just reaching for unicorns at this point and trying to figure out why we’re so fast. They can say what they want. We’ve not had any inspection issues (after a race). We’ve been to the R&D Center probably more than everybody this year.’’

Section 8.5.2.1.c of the Cup Rule Book allows burnouts, stating: “The first place vehicle may engage in appropriate celebratory activity (such as a victory lap, burn-out(s) or donuts) prior to reporting to victory lane.’’

The key word in that rule is “appropriate.”

This isn’t the first time victory celebrations have been debated. It has become as regular as shorter days and birds flying south in autumn.

Excessive victory celebrations was a topic during the playoffs in Oct. 2015 after Kevin Harvick’s car appeared to hit the inside wall while he did a donut after winning at Dover. His car passed inspection after the race.

Last year, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, hinted on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials could address victory celebrations. His comments came two days after Hamlin had to walk to victory lane at Watkins Glen after his celebration. Hamlin’s car passed inspection.

“We hear the same thing from them all the time,’’ Hamlin said, recalling the last time NASCAR commented publicly on the issue. “Until they really do something, people are going to do the same things.’’

Still, shouldn’t there be a line on what is allowed and what isn’t? Why give drivers the chance to damage their car before going through inspection after the race?

NASCAR has docked teams practice time for swerving after a race to ensure they make it through inspection. Those weren’t winning cars. So, should the benefit of winning be that as long as the driver gives fans one last thrill show, they’re given more leeway in possibly damaging or resetting their car?

If NASCAR penalizes teams for celebrations, it likely will take away some of the emotion the sport wants to display, particularly at the end of the race. Few want to see a winner treat a victory nonchalantly. Such achievements are difficult and are worth reveling in.

“The hard part of judging that is that sometimes, when it’s a big enough win and you’re celebrating the heck out of it, it’s hard to make that call between a celebration and trying to get through tech after the race,’’ Austin Dillon told NBC Sports.

Dillon, who scored his first Cup win this year, isn’t sure he likes the idea of NASCAR constraining a celebration.

“I’ve been really excited and blew the tires off it when I won my first couple of races,’’ he said. “When you win more than that, the issue with me is I want to take that clean car and race it again.

“Blowing the wheel tubs out of it, I’m probably going to do it if everybody else is doing it, if it helps getting through tech. The bad part about it is it kind of looks bad on the money side of things when you’re tearing cars up and they’re crying we don’t have any money.’’

By not doing anything, is NASCAR inhibiting its ability to properly inspect cars afterward, assuring a level playing field among competitors?

It’s not like ‘Oh, my bad, blew my tire.’ I mean it’s deliberate,’’ Earnhardt said. “So, it tells me there’s some purpose behind it. It just upset me with what happened to Chase and how they sort of got zeroed-in on when all this is sort of going on right under everybody’s nose. It doesn’t make sense.”

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14 Cup teams to lose practice time in final session at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — More than a third of the Cup starting lineup will lose practice time today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because of inspection issues.

Joey Logano will be forced to sit out the entire 50-minute session after failing qualifying inspection four times Friday. Logano never made it on track for qualifying and will start last in the 39-car field for Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Four teams — playoff drivers Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr., along with Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones — will be forced to miss 30 minutes of the final practice.

Truex and McMurray are serving their penalties because their cars failed inspection before last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway three times.

Suarez and Jones are serving their penalties because their cars failed inspection before last weekend’s Chicagoland race twice and failed inspection twice before qualifying Friday at New Hampshire.

Nine teams will miss 15 minutes of practice in the final session for failing inspection before qualifying two times Friday.

Those docked are playoff contenders Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. Also docked 15 minutes are Danica Patrick, Ty Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Matt DiBenedetto and David Ragan.

Final practice will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. today.

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Saturday’s NASCAR schedule includes races at New Hampshire (Trucks) & Kentucky (Xfinity)

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While the countdown to this weekend’s main event — Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 — continues, there’s plenty of racing action for NASCAR fans today.

After two Cup practices, New Hampshire Motor Speedway will play host to the UNOH 175 Camping World Truck Series race this afternoon.

Then this evening, Kentucky Speedway hosts the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

Here’s today’s schedule:

(All times Eastern)

At NEW HAMPSHIRE

6:30 a.m. – Truck garage opens

7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Cup garage open

9 a.m. – 9:55 p.m. – Cup practice (CNBC)

10:05 a.m. – Truck qualifying (FS1)

11:15 a.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBC Sports App)

12:30 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

1 p.m. – UNOH 175 Truck race (175 laps, 185.15 miles) (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

At KENTUCKY

1:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage opens

5:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN)

6:45 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

8 p.m. – VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 race (200 laps, 300 miles) (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)