Amid the uproar of how Sunday night’s All-Star Race ended is if the NASCAR exhibition race is even needed.
It was a question asked about the Busch Clash until that event moved from Daytona to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this year. The event received strong reviews and appears headed back to LA next year.
An imaginative approach — racing inside a stadium! — revived the Busch Clash and could help the All-Star Race become more relevant.
The All-Star Race reached a flashpoint Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. A confusing finish was triggered by a caution that NASCAR conceded was called “prematurely.”
The All-Star Race, with its special rules, format and features, has grown weary for some. It’s supposed to be a shorter version of a NASCAR race and a better way to introduce new fans to the sport.
But for all the sideshows and entertainment features, the race remains the main event and that has to be good.
Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, which owns Texas Motor Speedway, among other tracks, defended the event Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track” program.
“The format is what makes these All-Star Races so special,” he said, noting that attendance was up from last year’s race. “It’s different. It’s challenging and produces a lot of excitement.”
Asked about moving the All-Star Race from Texas Motor Speedway, which has hosted the event the past two years, Smith was noncommittal.
“When we had it in Charlotte, we had some detractors who would always say, ‘Why is it in Charlotte? It’s just a warm up event,’” he said. “We move it and people say, ‘Let’s put it back in Charlotte.”
“One thing I’ve found is that nobody likes change and nobody likes anything to stay the same.”
Such is the conundrum of the All-Star Race.
If the All-Star Race goes away, then what? A 37th points race? Surely some will say give that date to teams for another weekend off. That works in a perfect world, especially with all the work teams have done since last year to get the new car ready, but this isn’t a perfect world.
“Most people don’t understand how much work was done over the winter … this is probably the most work in 15, 18 years,” Brian Pattie, crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., told NBC Sports earlier this month.
The reality is the All-Star Race has been held at a Speedway Motorsports-owned track since the event debuted in 1985 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The All-Star Race likely will be held at a Speedway Motorsports track, if not Texas, moving forward.
The event moved to Atlanta in 1986 but poor attendance sent it back to Charlotte. The All-Star Race sought to find its place in the sport but really didn’t until 1992 when it became the first night race at a 1.5-mile track.
A spectacular finish ensured the event’s place in the sport and made it a must-see event for a few years. Eventually, the notion of a night race at a big track became less special with more night races being held at such facilities, including at Daytona International Speedway.
Suddenly, the All-Star Race didn’t stand off on its own — something that any exhibition race should. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it?
The Clash also didn’t stand out as much on its own, so NASCAR moved the February event from the Daytona oval to the track’s road course in 2021.
The move also was done to limit how many cars were destroyed. The 2020 Clash on the Daytona oval saw all 18 cars listed as being in at least one accident. Only six cars finished the race, and winner Erik Jones’ car looked as if it had raced at Martinsville or Bristol instead of a superspeedway.
The move to the Coliseum, while increasing travel costs for teams, saw fewer cars destroyed than on the Daytona oval and had more vibrancy that the road course event did.
Another thing to consider, if the All-Star Race leaves Texas Motor Speedway, the track likely will end up with two points races. And it could be a second 500-mile race for the track (again).
As NASCAR has moved away from longer races, Texas Motor Speedway has remained steadfast in hosting 500-mile Cup races (other than the All-Star Race). Will the sport be willing to make such a trade-off?
Before one suggests taking the All-Star Race away from Texas and leaving the track with one Cup date, the Dallas/Fort Worth area ranks as the country’s fifth largest TV market. That’s important for the sport and key with the current TV contract expiring after the 2024 season.
Moving the Busch Clash to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, gave the Los Angeles, the No. 2 TV market in the country, a second Cup event.
OK, so if Texas has a second points race replace the All-Star Race, what happens to the exhibition event?
If the sport is willing to take a risk and try something different, Kevin Harvick mentioned an idea in March during the Bristol dirt weekend. He says to go back to special short tracks.
“We don’t have Winston anymore,” Harvick, said referring to the sponsor that also invested in short tracks by providing the red and white paint that tracks used for their walls. “There’s nobody dumping any money into those short track systems. Let’s use our All-Star Race, let’s use the notoriety and the money that comes with dropping the green flag, and sponsorship and all those things, to help those short tracks with their infrastructure before they all go away.
“And you’re going to create somewhere your Trucks and Xfinity cars can race and put on a good show. There’s a ton of benefits. It would be super cheap. It would probably be cheaper than COTA to lease (for Speedway Motorsports).
“You go to one of those short tracks and say, ‘Hey I want to lease your track for an All-Star Race and I’m going to give you a couple million dollars to put in new bathrooms and concession stands and fix your grandstands and when we leave, hey, by the way your racetrack is going to look pretty good for your fans and the people that come here for the next two decades.’ ”
There’s much for NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports to consider when it looks ahead to the future of the All-Star Race. It was some of the same questions being asked about the Clash before this year.