The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.
While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.
A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.
While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.
There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.
Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.
Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.
All this over an exhibition race.
Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.
Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.
But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.
The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.
While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.
Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.
Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.
Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.
Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.
That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.
Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.
While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.
Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.
Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.
If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.
Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.
The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.
Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.
Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.
“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”
As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas.
While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.
“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”
It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.
Saturday night, there were no mistakes.
“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.
“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races. I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”
While he hasn’t been flashy about it, the Richard Childress Racing driver leads the Xfinity Series standings almost a third of the way through in his attempt to defend his series championship.
The first 10 races have been a stark contrast to his 2018 campaign, which ended in the championship. Reddick has a series-leading eight top fives, two more than Christopher Bell. Last year, when Reddick had just seven top fives all season, he didn’t earn his second until race No. 10 at Dover.
The only similarity to last year is his lone win has come at a superspeedway (Talladega).
“I wouldn’t say I expected it to be quite as smooth sailing as it has been,” Reddick told NBC Sports while in Philadelphia for a Xfinity Series promotion. “But I knew we had the capability of being as fast as we have been. For us to have the two bad races I would say, possibly three if you count Richmond, and still be running like we are and be where we are in points and all those things. It’s been pretty crazy honestly.
“I wish we had a win or two more along the way. To have a win, to be locked in and leading the points overall and have an average finish of (4.7) right now is pretty good so far for the first bit of the year. I’m happy.”
Reddick didn’t stay still during the first of two straight off weeks for the Xfinity Series.
He made his second career Cup Series start last weekend at Kansas Speedway, again driving RCR’s No. 31 Chevrolet.
After qualifying 30th in a car set up for the race, Reddick started 21st because many of the 11 cars that failed inspection and lost their starting spot were in front of him.
“The leaders could get away from us pretty early and we wouldn’t be able to match their lap times until about 25 laps into a run,” Reddick said. “So it kind of put us in a bad spot there. Throughout the race at times we could stay in the top 15, kind of linger right there.”
The team got a boost when a caution came out in the middle of green flag stops on Lap 219, leaving Reddick and six other drivers on the lead lap.
That allowed Reddick to restart in the top 10, where he’d stay the remainder of the race, running as high as the top five before settling for ninth.
“I think we still could have had a shot at running top 10 without that (caution),” Reddick said. “To ultimately get in the spot where we were and almost get to third place, fourth place after one of those restarts. It was a really good feeling. I was ashamed the next restart I threw it all away, just had a mistake and lost it. To still finish ninth after the issues we had on the restart and to bounce back from that, that was really cool.”
Reddick will return to Kansas in the Xfinity Series in October during the playoffs. But due to the Cup Series rules package, Reddick says nothing he experienced Saturday will translate back to his full-time ride.
“They couldn’t be any more different right now than they are at this moment,” Reddick said. “Everything that you know and teach yourself in Xfinity you pretty much have to throw it all away and disregard it when you step into a Cup car.
Reddick added, “It’s quite unreal to be honest with you how much different they are.”
The next three Xfinity races see the series visiting Charlotte Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway.
After his stellar start, Reddick isn’t too enthusiastic about the next stretch.
“Those are all really bad tracks for me,” Reddick said. “I’ve never ran Pocono with what the Xfinity cars are now. We ran the drag duct race there (in 2018 and finished ninth). My first time there at Michigan was with Chip Ganassi Racing (in 2017 and finished 13th). We had good speed but I just wasn’t quite comfortable in race cars yet, especially at a 2-mile race track. …
“Charlotte’s a place I’ve had a lot of rough luck at (finishes of 10th and 23rd). I don’t even think of Charlotte as a mile-and-a-half, but it is. Hopefully, I was hearing it was going to be 94 degrees. I’m hoping it’s really, really hot and really, really slick. It might work out OK for us. So I’d say Charlotte is the one I’m looking to the most.”
Through 10 races Reddick’s main competition in defending his title would appear to be Bell and Cole Custer, who have three wins and two wins respectively.
But Reddick is keeping his head up when it comes to one other driver.
“Definitely as we get into the summer stretch you can’t forget about Justin Allgaier,” Reddick cautioned. “He’ll run really good at the short tracks. He’ll be really good at the road courses. You can’t ever forget about him.”
Allgaier has four top fives this season and is coming off a runner-up finish at Dover and a third-place finish two races before that at Richmond.
“Trying to forget about him is exactly when we’re going to get in trouble and that’s when he’s going to pop his head back into the race and make himself known. He’s had some really bad luck but you definitely can’t rule him out.”