Choose Rule took ‘funny business’ out of All-Star Race restarts

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The first NASCAR All-Star Race held at Bristol Motor Speedway is in the books and so is the first major NASCAR event with the Choose Rule.

The Cup Series got its first taste of drivers being able to choose which lane they restarted during Wednesday night’s race at the half-mile track.

Drivers chose their lanes on the lap before the restart when they drove to the right or left of an orange cone symbol painted on the track just beyond the start-finish line.

After the experiment, drivers asked about the rule had positive reactions.

“I think the thing that it does is it just takes all the question out of where everybody is and who is where,” Kevin Harvick said. “When you get to that line everybody has already made their choice and there’s no funny business of people trying to start in a different lane or do something that they didn’t choose to do. I think that went really well and, for the most part, I don’t think there were any issues.”

The most enthusiastic support came from race winner Chase Elliott.

“I think the choose rule’s been needed for a long time,” he said. “I think it should be that way every week. I don’t think there’s really a reason to not have it. There’s no reason to me why you shouldn’t have the choice or you should be automatically told where you’re going to line up when one lane has an obvious advantage, just based on where you come off pit road. Life ain’t fair I guess, but just makes way more sense to put it in our hands and it either works out for you or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s your own fault and not luck of the draw and where you come off pit road.”

Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said his team had gone over a “statistical analysis” of the effectiveness of each lane beforehand. He said other than once, Elliott went “against the grain” when it came to lane choice.

“We certainly leave that up to him,” Gustafson said. “He knows what the car’s driving like and what the opportunities are. I don’t think it’s a just absolute monumental change to the sport, but … I’ve been in this situation a lot of times where it’s just really frustrating when you get taken out of an opportunity to race for a win because of a lane.

“There are some tracks, and (Bristol) is one of them, the lanes can get huge amounts of disparity and it kind of sucks when you’re second or third and you get stuck on the bottom and you end up seventh or eighth and you don’t get a chance to race for the win. I do think it gives an opportunity to make it a little bit more fair for the competitors, but I don’t think it’s going to be a monumental shift. It’s probably going to affect a row or two, which you saw tonight.”

After the end of the first stage, Harvick restarted first in the outside lane while Ryan Blaney restarted second on the inside. That was made possible by Elliott going from second to fourth to restart on the outside thanks to the choose rule.

After Stage 2, Blaney did not pit and assumed the lead. Brad Keselowski was first off pit road thanks to taking two tires and chose the outside lane behind Blaney instead of starting on the front row on the inside lane. Elliott was next to choose and selected the front row inside spot, restarting second.

Kyle Busch, who finished second, thought the experiment “worked well.”

“It was kind of interesting how it played out, how a few guys took to it,” Busch said. “Seemed like a lot of times guys were restarting kind of in their positions, maybe one off here or there, but not a whole lot different. There was a time where I think there was like four or five guys that chose the outside, one guy on the inside. I went ahead and took that inside spot. I think I netted out back even again.

“The inside here tonight, for whatever reason, even though the inside is the preferred groove once you get going, it’s such a detriment when you fire off. I don’t know why. It’s just weird. I thought it worked. … Maybe we’ll see it happen more.”