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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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Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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It’s once again elimination time in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers following today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. will be looking to earn his sixth win on a 1.5-mile track this year. He won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which will air on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jay Hernandez will give the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 80. Stage 2 ends at Lap 160.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 30

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9:30 a.m. Driver-crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Angie Rosner will perform the anthem at 3:01 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBCSN will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 67 degrees and no chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 19 laps to win in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the defending winner of this race. He beat Carl Edwards and Joey Logano last October.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup