MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Two NASCAR Cup drivers say they believe the All-Star format is nearly set and that fans will “see some exploring done with the formats in that race.’’
A NASCAR official told NBC Sports that the format is not done.
Brad Keselowski told NBC Sports that there has been “consensus and agreement” on a format for the May 20 event at Charlotte Motor Speedway but acknowledged nothing is official until it is announced. Last year’s format was not revealed until 15 days before the event.
Changes to the format are not new for this event.
“Right now the All-Star race, for us, serves a primary purpose of an exploration race,’’ Keselowski told NBC Sports Friday at Martinsville Speedway. “It’s where double-file restarts came from. It’s where stage racing came from.
“I think it has a purpose that maybe is not quite as well-defined or recognized by everyone to experiment with different things. Without giving away this year’s format, because I’ve sat in the room for it, I think you’re going to see it this year. You’re going to see some exploring done with the formats in that race, among other things.’’
So what might be the purpose of such changes?
“I think the most important focus right now is to try to get more passing in general, specifically for the lead, and that carries over to mostly 1.5-mile tracks,’’ Keselowski said. “We want to see more passing for the lead.’’
The NASCAR Drivers Council has been involved in discussions with the format, as it was last year.
“There’s still some talks about it,’’ Denny Hamlin said Friday. “I think this year’s is done, and we know what we’re going to do, but for sure in 2018, those discussions are still going on about when and where.”
The race debuted in 1985 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It moved to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986 but returned to Charlotte the following year and has been held there since even as some have called for moving the event.
Last year’s event featured three segments. The first two were 50-laps each. The final segment was 13 laps. The starting order for the final segment was determined after a random draw to determine if the top nine, 10 or 11 cars had to pit for a mandatory four-tire stop (it was 11). Pit road was closed for all other cars. Cars that pitted had to restart behind those that did not pit.
Joey Logano won last year’s race and the $1 million prize. Only two cars were forced not to pit because others were not on the lead lap. Logano restarted fifth with fresh tires and passed Kyle Larson, who also was required to pit and had fresher tires, on the next-to-last lap to win. Keselowski finished second.
Logano’s pass marked the first lead change inside the final 10 laps in the All-Star event since 2010.
“I just know it’s confusing as hell to the casual fan,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after finishing third.
“For the most part, I think Brad’s idea on the last 13 laps ended up being pretty exciting,’’ Earnhardt said. “That’s what they were looking for. If the fans liked it and enjoyed it, that’s what we’ll do.’’