Ryan: All-Star Race’s beautiful disaster still had a massive silver lining and a good lesson


CONCORD, N.C. – It was a wonderfully shambolic mess that turned the Sprint All-Star Race into astrophysics.

In the “theater of the absurd” (not my words but those of a network host) that transpired Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, we saw:

–A Pro Bowl tight end openly wondering on national TV why teams were “punting on second down.”

–A three-time Sprint Cup champion decreeing it “the dumbest damn thing I’ve ever been a part of. … It’s the most screwed up All-Star Race I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad it’s my last one.”

–A social media meltdown that remains ongoing with flummoxed crew chiefs, drivers and spotters alternately professing disdain, empathy and exasperation about the event.

In stock-car racing’s traveling circus of silliness, Saturday represented Peak Derp (why hello, Deadspin post!).

Yet it still was captivating (however frustrating) and also featured a thrilling and unpredictable conclusion.

From start to finish, it was the most memorable All-Star Race in more than a decade.

Which is why the Sprint Cup circuit needs more of it.

No, we don’t mean the convoluted format so tricked up and impenetrable, its narrative was the NASCAR equivalent of digesting a William Faulkner novel.

Let’s dispense with the niggling codicils and unexpected consequences that had CPAs gleefully dreaming about itemized deductions from Schedule C. This race was loaded with more legal wrangling than Ferko v. NASCAR.

Focus instead on what worked: The racing.

Whether viewed as an unintended consequence or well-designed construct, the action was the overwhelming highlight on a 1.5-mile oval lately synonymous with snoozefests.

The cascading effect of a bizarre early sequence (putting nearly half the field a lap down) ensured there’d be no runaway as in the previous three All-Star Races (when the winner led every lap of the final segment).

While many teams admitted to racing for 12th after the second segment, and Jimmie Johnson successfully claimed that transfer spot into the lead for the final 13-lap dash, the plan to win in clean air couldn’t work because there weren’t enough buffer cars on older tires.

It took half a lap after the green for the front row of Johnson and Kyle Busch to be gobbled up on the last restart.

And once ensured the outcome wouldn’t be a track-position battle, things really got good.

With aerodynamic tweaks in place to keep drivers off throttle for longer through the turns on Charlotte’s grippy, supersonic asphalt, Kyle Larson, 23, and Joey Logano, 25, locked in a stirring battle that left fans cheering and NASCAR marketers swooning.

When Logano swiped first from Larson with two laps remaining, it marked the latest lead change in an All-Star Race in seven years – and it mostly salvaged the head-scratching and hair-pulling preceding it.

It couldn’t have happened without the rules changes, which were the result of a continuing collaboration between NASCAR, teams, drivers and manufacturers on rules that greatly reduced downforce this season.

“Man, if we were running the ’14 or ’15 package, (Larson) could have went wherever (Logano) was going and kept him about 10 car lengths behind him the whole time,” third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “He didn’t ever have to worry about it. The fact that (Logano) can drive up there right to him, we’re going down the right direction.”

The ill-begotten format merely was a byproduct of a NASCAR industry furiously trying to lurch toward something better.

Saturday showed all options must stay on the table in remaining vigilant to ensure Sprint Cup – really, all of racing – keeps striving for relevance.

It’s why the Indianapolis Motor Speedway jazzed up its qualifying format this weekend in the absence of any Bump Day drama. Purists might hate waiting until the final hour to determine the fastest qualifier among nine drivers, but it’s driven by desperation to hold interest (which it certainly did via feel-good pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe).

The same factors are at play in NASCAR.

Saturday night proved some ideas quickly should be cleaved.

Mandatory pit stops that must happen by a certain lap? Meh.

There is a fine line here between being innovative and asinine.

“Gimmicks and all that stuff is going down the wrong path,” Earnhardt said. “The way to make the racing exciting is to make the cars exciting.”

Or help put them in situations engendering excitement. How about shorter races (50 laps still is too long for an All-Star segment, by the way)? De-emphasizing aerodynamics without shunning technology? Incentivizing racing with no quarter as much as possible (which Larson sublimely has managed the past two weeks)?

Don’t stop devising ways to make the on-track product scintillating.

Keep generating creative suggestions … but aggressively eradicate those that don’t work.

That’s a concept that’s simple to understand.

Cup playoff clinching scenarios to make Round of 12

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The first elimination race of the Cup playoffs has arrived in the form of Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tonight’s 500-lap race on the short track will determine which drivers make up the Round of 12.

Three drivers have locked themselves into the second round. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski earned their spots via race wins at Darlington and Richmond. Denny Hamlin clinched a spot via points.

More: Brad Keselowski on pole for Bristol

That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.

If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.

Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.

Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.

Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.

Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.

Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.

Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.

Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.

Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.

William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.

Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.

Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.

Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney is last on the 16 driver playoff grid heading into Bristol. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.

More: Blaney and DiBenedetto seek history to advance to second round

Should there be a repeat winner Saturday – Harvick or Keselowski – the following drivers would advance to the next round by being ahead of the 11th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano: Would clinch with 4 points

Martin Truex Jr.: Would clinch with 17 points

Austin Dillon: Would clinch with 18 points

Chase Elliott: Would clinch with 27 points

Alex Bowman: Would clinch with 28 points

Kyle Busch: Would clinch with 37 points

Aric Almirola: Would clinch with 48 points

Kurt Busch: Would clinch with 48 points

Clint Bowyer: Would clinch with 52 points

William Byron: Would clinch with 55 points

Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney: Could only clinch with help

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.


Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.