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Long: Sentiment grows for more changes to All-Star Race, even new venue

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CONCORD, N.C. — Twenty-five years after the celebrated “One Hot Night,’’ NASCAR fans were treated to one lukewarm evening.

While Saturday night’s All-Star Race had its moments — there was some three-wide racing early and Kyle Busch’s winning pass on the final restart proved exciting — this event again didn’t measure up to its past.

Admittedly it’s difficult to match the 1992 All-Star Race — that “hot night” that marked the first night race at a 1.5-mile track and finished with winner Davey Allison crashing after a last-lap duel with Kyle Petty. But when a NASCAR fan asks another “Were you there the night that …” they’re often talking about an All-Star Race 15-20 years ago.

Saturday’s event soon will fade except to Busch fans who saw their driver win his first All-Star Race.

The problem is this event, as much as any Cup race, is meant to entertain and introduce the sport to potential fans with its club-like driver intros, on-track action and short timeframe (Saturday’s race ran 72 minutes).

Three lead changes in 70 laps is hardly considered entertaining even by the most generous fans.

So what’s next?

NASCAR has shown it is willing to make major changes to enhance the action from stage racing to a new playoff format. Stage racing has created excitement at points in races that normally might not have had as much action.

NASCAR hoped to follow that by introducing a second tire compound, a softer tire, for this event. The goal was for the tire to be quicker than the normal tire — but to also wear quicker. The hope was that it would create cars moving forward and backward, giving fans the action they want it see.

“I don’t think Goodyear hit the tire very well,’’ Brad Keselowski said after finishing ninth. “I think they missed pretty big. The tire was supposed to be much faster than it was.’’

Busch said Goodyear could have gone with a “little bit softer, utilize a little bit more grip in order to be faster, have more split between the two tires.’’

Maybe the next move is that NASCAR tries it again next year but Goodyear does more with the tire and creates the bigger difference in speed.

If not that, what else could NASCAR do to match its stance of bigger and bolder moves?

Maybe it’s time for a venue change.

“Bristol Motor Speedway,’’ Clint Bowyer said. “They (Speedway Motorsports Inc.) own them both. It’s only a three-hour drive for Charlotte. That’s where I’d have it.

“If you want to put on a show, you want to see emotion and beating and banging and being able to do something. I don’t know.

“We’ve tried and tried and tried to get ourselves in a situation here in Charlotte where we could do that, you can’t find it. It’s a great big-track program with the 600 and the long runs and that’s when the outside line widens out and you get a little better show. It’s just hard. Everybody is trying. We’re just missing it somehow.’’

Runner-up Kyle Larson, who won the opening two stages, also would like to see the event be held elsewhere.

“I think it’s really cool to change the venue,’’ he said. “I don’t know if racetracks could bid on the All‑Star Race or bid on the final race of the season.

“It would open up different fan bases to come see a big event.  You’re not going to get many people from the West Coast to fly out here for the All‑Star Race, I don’t think. It would be cool to have an All‑Star Race in Fontana or Vegas or Sonoma. Road courses, anywhere. It would be cool to switch it up every year.’’

Or maybe it’s time for a change to the rule book.

“The rule book is so thick, and the cars are so equal, we run the same speed,’’ Jimmie Johnson said after his third-place finish. “You can’t pass running the same speed. It’s just the bottom line.’’

But even a seven-time champion admits he doesn’t know how much to cut.

I’m like everybody else that is involved in this sport: I have an opinion, but I don’t have the answer,’’ he said.

“I just know when you look at qualifying and you look at the cars on the track, we want parity, we want the manufacturers to all have the same opportunity to go fast. These teams all build the same stuff. We all sit there and run the same speed. I mean, it makes sense. We all have access to the same stuff.

“I don’t have the answer. I guess I say that in trying to not say that it’s the track’s fault or something that’s going on here.  Mile‑and‑a‑half racing is mile‑and‑a‑half racing. It’s kind of that way. When all the cars are qualifying as tight as they do, we can’t pass as easily as anybody, we have to logically look at it and say, ‘Hey, we’re all going the same speed, no wonder we can’t pass.’’’

This track can still have its moments with this event but it’s time for NASCAR’s leadership to consider what’s best for the sport. It is still best for the sport to have this event on a 1.5-mile track? Or is it better to keep it here but make other changes?

More needs to be done to make this event something fans won’t soon forget.

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NASCAR America: Comparing Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final season to Usain Bolt’s

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With Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearing the end of his Cup Series career, NBC Sports analysts Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic medalist in track and field, discussed how the twilight of Earnhardt’s career compares to that of Usain Bolt, whose running career recently ended with a hamstring injury in the last race of his career.

“I think there are a lot of similarities,” Boldon said. “I think a lot of people would have loved to have seen Junior having a better year in this his final season. It’s the same thing that happened in London. That place was sold, 60,000 people, because we wanted to see how Usain Bolt would go out. The fans were hoping he would go out with a win.”

Watch the rest of the video for Boldon’s take on NASCAR, which he is discovering this year as a member of the NASCAR on NBC team.

 

Brad Keselowski Racing to cease operations in Truck Series after this season

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Brad Keselowski Racing announced Thursday it will cease operations after this season, ending a run in the Camping World Truck Series that began in 2008.

The two-truck team fields entries for Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric.

“The Truck Series is truly special to me given my family’s ties to the history of the sport, and this decision comes with much contemplation. But, for a number of reasons, and as I plan for the long-term future, I’ve decided not to field a team in 2018,” Brad Keselowski said in a press release.

“My goal with BKR was to create a top-tier team which would allow me to give back to the sport by creating opportunities and quality experience for others, whether they be drivers, mechanics, engineers, or support personnel. With outstanding leadership from BKR GM Jeremy Thompson, assistance from Team Penske, and the support of our long-time partners Cooper Standard and Horizon Global, we were able to successfully achieve this goal. I am very proud of this and intend to do my best to help my BKR team members stay and grow in the sport. I am also incredibly appreciative of the great relationships we have developed with our partners over the years.”

The team has earned nine series wins – none this year.

“The team has also provided me with meaningful experience as a team owner,” Keselowski said. “I’ve never made it a secret that I would eventually like to be an owner at the top-level of the sport. And, while this is many years down the line, I want to start to prepare for that possibility now. Part of that preparation is seeking to develop an advanced engineering and manufacturing company that would be housed out of our 78,000 square foot facility in Statesville and ultimately help to support this vision.”

Soon after the announcement, Keselowski published a blog about the decision. He said having to tell his team it was shutting down was “one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.”

Keselowski went on to share how his time driving for Roger Penske has shaped his outlook on his future ownership goals.

“One of the things I’ve learned from Roger Penske is the importance of having a successful core business outside of motorsports,” Keselowski wrote. “If you have a successful business venture outside of motorsports, you can kind of roll with the ebbs and flows of the sport as an owner. That’s the position I want to be in, and that I’ll need to be in to be an owner who lasts in NASCAR.”

BKR joins Red Horse Racing in ending its operations in the Truck Series. Red Horse Racing competed in the first five races of the season before shutting down. The teams combined to have two of the eight drivers in last year’s Truck playoffs.

Keselowski’s decision comes after he’s repeatedly talked about the costs of owning a Truck team.

“It’s a money loser,’’ Keselowski told NBC Sports earlier this year. “Big time.’’

In 2014, Keselowski told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long his team lost $1 million that season. Keselowski also said when he would know it would be time to no longer own a Truck team.

“I’m not interested in being involved in the Truck Series if I don’t feel like we can be competitive,” Keselowski said. “My breaking point is two areas – it’s going broke and not being competitive. We have to walk that line every day with every decision we make.”

Four drivers have earned BKR’s nine wins. Ryan Blaney (four wins), Tyler Reddick (three wins), Joey Logano (one win) and Keselowski (one win). Keselowski won his only Truck Series race in 66 starts in 2014 at Bristol.

Drivers who have competed for BKR include NBCSN’s Parker Kligerman (37 races), Ryan Blaney (58 races), Dave Blaney (one race), Logano (six races), Reddick (62 races), Ross Chastain (14 races), Daniel Hemric (23 races), Austin Theriault (10 races) and Alex Tagliani (two races).

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Bristol preview and more

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to analyze this weekend’s races at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts from Stamford, Connecticut. Slugger Labbe joins here from NBC Charlotte and Parker Kligerman and Ato Boldon join from Bristol.

On today’s show:

· From London to Bristol … fresh of his duties at the IAAF Track & Field World Championships, Ato Boldon joins us live from Bristol Motor Speedway. He’ll recap his introduction to NASCAR earlier this year, including a ride along at Daytona. He’ll also share what’s on his docket this weekend in Thunder Valley.

· We’ll recap last night’s Truck Series race won by Kyle Busch, as well as both sessions of today’s Xfinity Series practice.

· American Flat Track star Shayna Texter also stops by to discuss her journey to the top level of flat-track motorcycle racing.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Kyle Busch fastest in Final Xfinity practice at Bristol (video)

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Kyle Busch was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session for Friday’s Food City 300.

Busch posted a top speed of 124.315 mph around Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is attempting to sweep all three NASCAR races this weekend after he won last night’s Truck Series race.

Following Busch were Joey Logano (123.865), Brennan Poole (123.586), William Byron (123.372) and Justin Allgaier (123.308).

Tyler Reddick recorded the most laps in the session with 105.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 17th fastest in the session.

Click here for the full report.