The buzzword after the Monster Energy All-Star Race format was announced this week was that NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway wanted to make it a race again.
Do away with many of the gimmicks. Forego the math requirements to figure out average finishes. No more mandatory pit stops.
“We wanted to make it as much like a race as possible,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer.
But if this event — 80 laps over four stages this year — is going to be viewed as a race, then something else needs to be added.
No doubt that $1 million winner’s check is meaningful to the team, which gets a large chunk of that, but it’s time to add another carrot. Playoff points and even a spot in the playoffs.
Offer five playoff points to the winner and one playoff point for each of the stages before the end of the race.
Also, if the winner does not record a victory in the regular season, then the All-Star Race victory puts them in the playoffs.
Had this been in place in 2014 when Jamie McMurray won the All-Star Race but went on to miss the playoffs, it would have given him a chance to run for the championship that season.
Some will argue that there should not be any playoff implications for this race because there’s not a full field competing.
Drivers had since last year’s event to win a race to be eligible if they weren’t already. That’s 36 chances. With five races left to qualify for the All-Star Race, the event is guaranteed to have at least 21 drivers — nearly 60 percent of the charter teams. There are already 17 drivers qualified, three who will earn a spot via the Open, and one who will be selected based on a fan vote.
Others might argue that because there aren’t any points given in the Clash in February at Daytona, why should this race award any points?
Simple. The All-Star Race is for race winners. The Clash is primarily for pole winners. Until NASCAR pays points for qualifying, I’m fine with that race not having any points.
But it’s time for the All-Star Race to matter more.
2. Moving the All-Star Race
Maybe the package with restrictor plates, aero ducts, a taller spoiler and different splitter will work. Maybe it can make the All-Star Race a memorable event again. Or maybe it will lead the sport in a direction to make racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway and other 1.5-mile tracks more exciting.
If it does, maybe the debate of where the All-Star Race should be held goes away. But until then, voices will be raised to move the event to places such as Bristol Motor Speedway or Martinsville Speedway or even some place like South Boston Speedway as a way to return to NASCAR’s roots and give fans something different — just as the Trucks do with their race at Eldora Speedway.
It’s a great idea in concept. There’s an issue.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., a publicly traded company that owns eight tracks that host Cup events.
Take away a race and there’s the potential Wall Street isn’t going to like that, and that could further impact SMI.
Admittedly, it shouldn’t matter what Wall Street thinks, it should be what’s best for the sport. And maybe there will be a day when NASCAR moves it. Maybe that day will come as soon as 2021 when the schedule could look vastly different with the five-year sanctioning agreements ending after the 2020 season.
But to say move the race elsewhere is not that simple.
“If it is good for our sport and would be good for our company, too, I’m always thinking what we can do individually and collectively to move our sport forward,’’ Marcus Smith, president of SMI, told NBC Sports about an address change for the All-Star Race. “That’s kind of the paradigm of how I operate. Of course more specifically everything is always more complicated than it seems.’’
3. Safety issue?
Harvick blamed a spate of loose wheels last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway on inconsistent air guns.
NASCAR’s O’Donnell doesn’t quite see it the same way.
“I think you’ve got to take a step back and look at safety as part of the narrative in NASCAR,’’ he told NBC Sports in response to Harvick’s comments. “I would say if you put us up against any motorsport, we feel pretty good there. When you start looking at pit stops in general, are pit guns part of that? Absolutely, but it’s the entire pit stop. To put something all on a gun, I think, is a bit premature without the facts.
“So our job is to look at each stop and look at each race, what happens with those races and put all those facts together and then make changes if necessary. I’m confident in the partner that we have and the work that we’re doing in the industry that directionally we’re in the right spot. Certainly some improvements we can make … but we feel like we’re in a good spot in continuing to work through this to get to the best place.’’
4. Changes in Race Control?
A week after NASCAR admitted it erred in not penalizing Kevin Harvick’s team for an uncontrolled tire at Texas Motor Speedway, no significant changes are coming in how NASCAR handles such issues.
O’Donnell said the main change will be with communication.
“I think ultimately it’s always going to be a judgment call,’’ O’Donnell said of the call on an uncontrolled tire. “I would say from our standpoint just some improved communication in terms of everything moves so fast in race control and we want to make a call quickly. Maybe taking a little bit more time to have some more folks review that who could do that.
“I think taking the time on each and every call to make sure we’ve got all the resources behind that.’’
5. Postrace inspection
Last week at Texas, NASCAR completed inspection after the Xfinity race at the track so no cars were sent to the R&D Center.
That was done with the four cars that qualified for this weekend’s Dash 4 Cash race at Bristol. By completing inspection at the track, it immediately ensured the eligibility of those four cars instead of the potential of having one replaced later in the week because of a rules infraction found at the R&D Center.
While there has been movement to complete inspection at track instead of waiting a couple of days for penalties — such as occurred Wednesday with the L1 penalty to Chase Elliott’s team — O’Donnell said series officials aren’t there yet to do that on a regular basis.