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The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous.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.”
Larson joins Stage 2 winner Bubba Wallace and Stage 1 winner William Byron in transferring into the All-Star Race. A fourth driver, Alex Bowman, also advances to the All-Star Race by virtue of winning the Fan Vote.
Larson briefly had a challenge by Ty Dillon in the 10-lap final stage, but then pulled away and won uncontested.
The All-Star Race is slated to begin shortly after 8 p.m. ET.
MONSTER ENERGY OPEN UPDATE — END OF STAGE TWO:
Bubba Wallace held off a late charge by Daniel Suarez — sending the latter spinning after colliding — and Kyle Larsen in Stage 2 of the Monster Energy Open to advance to the NASCAR All-Star Race later tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Wallace joins Stage 1 winner William Byron in advancing to the All-Star Race. One final stage remains in the Open.
“This has been tough and I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time, I didn’t give a damn out there,” Wallace told Fox Sports 1. “I love Suarez to death but he knows what’s on the line. … We needed this. I needed this.”
Like Stage 1, the scheduled 20-lap Stage 2 went into overtime. Ryan Preece and pole-sitter Daniel Hemric collided with two laps remaining, bringing out the caution.
Stage 2 ultimately went 25 total laps, including five laps of overtime. Kyle Larson finished second, followed by Suarez, Ty Dillon and David Ragan.
Sixth through 10th were Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece, Corey LaJoie and Alex Bowman
One final stage — a 10-lap shootout — remains in the Open. The winner of the final stage will also advance to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will also advance by winning the Fan Vote.
MONSTER ENERGY OPEN — END OF STAGE 1
William Byron bumped his way into tonight’s NASCAR All-Star Race, bumping and then passing Bubba Wallace in the final turn to take Stage 1 of the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway and will advance into the NASCAR All-Star Race later tonight.
Due to a caution late in Stage 1 when B.J. McLeod‘s car started smoking heavily, the scheduled 20 laps of Stage 1 went 27 laps. Byron was fourth when the white flag fell on the 24-driver Open field and was able to get by Wallace at the start-finish line to take the checkered flag.
“It was just crazy, the seas just parted for us,” Byron told Fox Sports 1. “It feels awesome to be in the All-Star Race. It’s a huge accomplishment for myself and Chad (crew chief Chad Knaus) has been here a number of times. It feels good.”
Two more stages remain: the 20-lap Stage 2 and the final 10-lap Stage 3 (the race winner). The winners of Stage 2 and the overall race winner will then join Byron in advancing to the All-Star Race.
A fourth driver will transfer to the All-Star Race by virtue of winning the fan vote.
Wallace finished second in Stage 1, followed by Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman.
Sixth through 10th were pole-sitter Daniel Hemric, Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard, David Ragan and Ryan Preece.
We’ll have the results of Stage 2 and the overall full results of the Open after their completion.
After rain on Sunday, the Cup series will run Monday. Can Chase Elliott, who is starting on the pole, follow his playoff win at Dover last year with another victory at this track?
Here’s all the info you need for today’s event:
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines will be given at noon. The green flag is scheduled for 12:08 p.m.
PRERACE: Cup garage will open at 9 a.m. Drivers will report to their cars at 11:55 a.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 400 laps (400 miles) around the 1-mile track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 120. Stage 2 ends on Lap 240.
COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 40
TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race with coverage beginning at noon. Motor Racing Network’s coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast, which is also available at mrn.com.
FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 67 degrees and a 15 percent chance of rain for the start of the race.
Each team had a crew member ejected and will lose practice time next weekend at Kansas Speedway. Tifft also must serve a pass-through penalty after taking the green flag at the start of the race.
The cars of Bowman, Truex and Preece failed inspection twice. Tifft’s car failed inspection three times.
The teams of Bowman and Truex each had an engineer ejected. Preece’s team had its car chief ejected. The different crew members ejected were related to areas those cars failed inspection. All three teams will be docked 15 minutes of practice at Kansas.
Tifft’s team had its engineer ejected and will lose 30 minutes of practice time at Kansas.
Bowman was to have started fifth Sunday. Truex was to have started 13th. Preece was to have started 29th. Tifft was to have started 32nd in the 37-car field.