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Friday 5: One more change that should be made to All-Star Race

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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.

Just race.

“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.

Playoff implications.

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?

Kevin Harvick continued his frustration with pit guns this week, saying on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours” that the matter was creating “a 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.

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Two Cup teams docked practice time at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – The teams of Martin Truex Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. each will lose 15 minutes of Cup practice Friday at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR announced.

Both are penalized for being late to pre-race inspection last weekend at Talladega.

Cup practice is from 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. ET today on NBCSN.

Friday’s schedule for Kansas Speedway

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NASCAR’s race weekend at Kansas Speedway begins today with Cup qualifying and practice sessions for Cup and Xfinity.

Here’s the day’s full schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

Noon – 8 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2:05 – 2:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

5 – 5:50 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:10 p.m. – Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Friday 5: Kansas could be start of dominant run for Big 3

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — The opening half of the playoffs, with its Roval and other schedule changes, saw five different winners but such parity may be replaced beginning this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Three of the season’s final five races will be at 1.5-mile tracks — Kansas, Texas and Homestead. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have dominated this season on the 1.5-mile tracks.

Consider what they’ve done this year on such tracks:

Atlanta — Harvick won, leading 181 of 325 laps; Truex was fifth.

Las Vegas — Harvick won, leading 214 of 267 laps; Busch was second and Truex was fourth.

Texas — Busch won, leading 116 of 334 laps; Harvick was second.

Kansas — Harvick won, leading 79 of 267 laps; Truex was second 

Coca-Cola 600 — Busch won, leading 377 of 400 laps; Truex was second.

Chicago — Busch won, leading 59 of 267 laps; Harvick was third and Truex was fourth.

Kentucky — Truex won, leading 174 of 267 laps; Busch was fourth and Harvick was fifth.

Las Vegas — Brad Keselowski won; Truex was third, leading 96 of 272 laps.

Also consider that Harvick, Busch and Truex combined to win 12 of the 17 stages at those tracks and one can see how difficult it could be for other drivers if this trend continues.

Keselowski (-18 points), Ryan Blaney (-22), Kyle Larson (-26 with his team appealing his Talladega penalty) and Alex Bowman (-68) enter this weekend’s race below the cutoff line. Bowman must win or he’ll be eliminated. Larson, Blaney and Keselowski will need to win or hope others have problems to advance. Scoring a victory won’t be easy against Harvick, Busch and Truex, who have combined to win the last five Kansas races.

Don’t be surprised if the Big 3 dominate the second half of the playoffs.

2. The value of playoff points

Martin Truex Jr. enters Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC) in the last transfer spot.

He holds that position because of the 38 playoff points he’s accumulated this season. His advantage would be much less without having scored so many playoff points.

Brad Keselowski trails Truex by 18 points for that transfer spot. Keselowski has scored 13 fewer playoff points than Truex.

Ryan Blaney trails Truex by 22 points. Blaney has scored 25 fewer playoff points than Truex.

All the points matter throughout the season.

3. Kind words about Kyle Busch from a competitor

At a media event Thursday to promote the upcoming Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick was asked about competing against Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

“I love racing against Kyle Busch,” Harvick said. “I think Kyle is one of the best drivers that is ever going to come through this sport. The things that he does in the car are great, but he knows a lot about the car, too.

“And Martin (Truex Jr.) and those guys have run well over the last few years, so racing with those two teams, we’ve been around each other in the garage a lot. There’s a lot of respect amongst the three teams, but we all want to beat each other.”

4. What’s at stake …

Jimmie Johnson has five races left to score a victory this season and continue his streak of seasons with at least one win.

He’s gone 16 seasons with at least one victory, tying him with Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace for third on the all-time list.

Richard Petty holds the record at 18 consecutive seasons with at least one victory. David Pearson had at least a victory in 17 consecutive seasons.

5. How much does testing matter?

Kansas was one of three tracks NASCAR held organizational tests this season, allowing one car per organization to test.

In the previous two organizational tests this season (Las Vegas and Richmond), the winner did not test.

Kyle Larson was the fastest both days of the Las Vegas test on Jan. 31-Feb. 1. He finished third, highest among those who tested.

Kevin Harvick took part in the organizational test at Richmond on Aug. 27-28. He went on to finish second, highest among those who tested.

The organizational test at Kansas Speedway was Sept. 24-25. Here’s who tested:

Playoff drivers: Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.

Drivers eliminated or didn’t make playoffs: Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Cole Custer, Ty Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard.

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Dale Jr. Download: Talladega’s wild weekends

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A mostly uneventful race at Talladega last week turned wild in Turn 1 of the white-flag lap. A multi-car crash might have ended the race if not for the fact that NASCAR judged all the drivers in the accident were safe. Some drivers – notably Kurt Busch, who ran out of gas in Turn 4 of that same lap – were not happy.

But NASCAR was in a no-win situation.

“If NASCAR throws the yellow, they’re going to get criticized for not letting it play out; if NASCAR doesn’t throw they yellow, they’re going to get criticized for not throwing the yellow,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download.

Earnhardt then recalled some other controversial calls when NASCAR threw the caution to this disapproval of the fans.

In April 2004, Jeff Gordon beat Earnhardt when the field was frozen due to a yellow flag. Afterward, irate fans hurled cans of beer at Gordon’s car.

“Jeff had just gotten up toward the front,” Earnhardt said. “And we’d been doing well all day long – and this would have been five in a row. So down the back straightaway going into [Turn] 3, Jeff side-drafted me and got ahead and I was side drafting him back and was starting to go back by him. And that motion as I’m starting to go back by him … another couple of hundred yards and I’d be back out front. And the 25 car [Brian Vickers] spun in the middle of the corner. NASCAR’s precedent at the time was the field was froze as soon as the car started to spin.”

Earnhardt was frustrated that Gordon, who had led significantly fewer laps in the race, was going to win.

We’re riding around and those beer cans are flying across the racetrack,” Earnhardt continued. “I got up against the wall behind the fence so I’m not getting many beer cans. Jeff goes further and further down toward the apron. … They were like throwing full beer cans. Now you know you’ve got some pissed off Alabama fans when they’re willing to throw a full can of beer.”

For more, watch the video above.

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