BROOKLYN, Mich. — Former champion Brad Keselowski cautioned against NASCAR using the All-Star package in many races, saying Friday that “if we overdose on that particular format of racing, it will have … a severe long-term negative effect.’’
Keselowski suggested that fewer talented drivers would come to NASCAR over time if this package becomes the primary one. He noted that while the All-Star race had fans excited, that shouldn’t be the sole factor to choose it, noting how IndyCar’s exciting races in previous years didn’t lift the sport, in his opinion, to a higher level.
Keselowski said he was to talk to NASCAR officials about the package Friday night but had to cancel because of a sponsor commitment.
He made his point clear with the media Friday at Michigan International Speedway.
“I think that package needs to remain solely at the All-Star race,’’ Keselowski said. “A lot of the drivers in this sport are in a position where they chose Cup racing because of the demands the cars take to drive. I think there are a lot of fans that come to our races expecting to see the best drivers.
“I think if you put a package like this out there, like what we had at the Charlotte All-Star race, on a consistent basis that the best drivers in the world would no longer go to NASCAR. They’ll pick a different sport. That won’t happen overnight. That will happen over time. I think that would be a tragedy to this sport because the best race car drivers want to go where they can make the biggest difference to their performance. There’s no doubt that you make less of a difference in that configuration.’’
Keselowski said that “we should always be mindful of our responsibility as a sport to make sure that the best drivers are able to showcase their talent. I’m apprehensive that coming with a package like that on a larger scale for the sport will, in time, deteriorate the ability for drivers to make a difference and that they will look for other racing venues to achieve that.
“I think of three things that I like to see at a race. I think of fast cars. I think I want to see the best race car drivers, and I want to see a great finish. I think that package achieved one of those three and hurt the other two. In that sense I consider it a net loss overall.’’
Keselowski said he knows the reaction fans had after the All-Star race, which helped lead the push to run this package in additional Cup races this year. Still, Keselowski suggests, one shouldn’t get caught up in emotion.
“I saw the fan videos of people in Charlotte standing on their feet,’’ he said. “Part of that is the legacy that the sport has to have the best drivers, but I think over time that would deteriorate. I think we have seen that with IndyCar. I think a decade ago if you wanted to see the best racing in the world it was in IndyCar. They ran three- and four-wide and put on great shows, but long-term it didn’t translate to the fans or better ratings than NASCAR.
“There are a lot of reasons for that and I would speculate that it goes back to the fact that the best race car drivers in the world were here in NASCAR. And we saw that when IndyCar drivers came over here and didn’t find success. And they were some of the best IndyCar drivers. We have to tread very lightly with the next steps of this sport. I like the idea of picking one or two races and running that package. I think that makes sense. But if we overdose on that particular format of racing, it will have in my opinion a severe long-term negative effect.’’
The All-Star race package — similar to what Xfinity teams are using this weekend at Michigan — is intended to keep cars closer together. Although the racing is not exactly like fans see at Daytona and Talladega, it would be closer than what is seen at other tracks.
That type of racing showcases a driver’s talent. Keselowski has won five Talladega races and is considered among the top plate drivers in this era. Keselowski agrees driver talent shows up at Talladega and Daytona but to a point.
“I would say most plate tracks, first through fourth has control of their own destiny and have acquired that finish based on talent, skill, etc.,’’ he said. “From there on back, it is a random bingo ball. That is my approach to that kind of racing. I think the top four or five generally dictates their finish and the rest do not.
“I think with this current package you are looking at more depth to the field in terms of being able to determine your own finish based on your team’s skill and talent from the driver on back. It is not meant to be a knock on Kevin (Harvick) winning the All-Star race. He deserved to win the All-Star race, but I look at Kyle Busch or myself who got wrecked out and know that we were way better than that and without that rules package we probably don’t wreck. That is the randomizer of those rules. You take Kevin and say talent played out. Top three or four finishers, the talent played out. Everyone else was just chaos theory.’’
While NASCAR searches for ways to appease drivers, fans, teams, tracks and others, the bottom line is what, if any value, does a driver have in this process?
“So your question is does it matter what drivers think?’’ Keselowski said. “Long-term yes, short-term no.
“Long term yes because if you go to a package where drivers have less ability to determine their fate, they will go to an avenue where they can. Right now NASCAR affords itself the best opportunity for drivers to determine their own fate, make a decent wage and attain notoriety. Over time, if you went to a package such as this, it will go away. It won’t be overnight but it will go away. I think that the trickle down effect to that will be that eventually fans will recognize the best race car drivers and follow them.
“There is a reason why Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon and some of the best drivers of our time moved from open-wheel to NASCAR. Kyle Larson is another great example. They know they have a better opportunity to effect their finish based on talent and know they are racing the highest caliber race car drivers. They know that they can attain the highest level of notoriety with the highest wages in motorsports in the United States. I don’t think that is a coincidence.”