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.