All-Star Race

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N.C. Senators want NASCAR to race at Charlotte minus fans

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Five North Carolina Republican senators are calling on Gov. Roy Cooper to allow NASCAR to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans.

The May 16 All-Star Race and May 24 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway are the next scheduled Cup races after NASCAR postponed the May 9 Cup race at Martinsville Speedway on Friday.

North Carolina is under a stay-at-home order through April 29 that has closed race shops. The North Carolina order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least six feet away from each other. The order requires all residents to stay at home except for essential activities. The order states: “non-essential business and operations must cease.”

In a statement from Gov. Cooper’s spokesperson Monday: “Governor Cooper knows the importance of NASCAR to our state and he’s already been talking with track and team owners about how we could potentially restart racing. It’s too soon to predict specific decisions about future sporting events but any plan would prioritize public health and safety and preventing spread of the virus.”

In a press release on Sunday, N.C. Sen. Todd Johnson (Union County) states: “People are going stir-crazy with very few live sports underway, and allowing NASCAR racing in Charlotte would be a good first step toward returning to some semblance of normalcy. Gov. Cooper should permit fan-less racing.”

N.C. Sen. Paul Newton, who represents Cabarrus County, which is home to Charlotte Motor Speedway and some race teams, said in the press release: “NASCAR has already demonstrated it can safely run races without fans while practicing social distancing. Gov. Cooper should allow racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway.”

N.C. Sen. Vickie Sawyer, who represents Iredell County, home to some race teams, said in the press release: “We should be looking at every safe example of a way to partially reopen society, and fan-less NASCAR racing seems like a simple step that Gov. Cooper can take right now.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis supports a fan-less NASCAR race in his state, saying on April 14 that people are “starved” for entertainment.

“I think if NASCAR does a race and can televise it without having a large crowd, I think that’s a good thing,” DeSantis told reporters.

“People are chomping at the bit. If you think about it, we have never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had so little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, we are watching reruns from like the early 2000s.”

NASCAR stated on Friday that it intends to run all 36 races, “with a potential return to racing without fans in attendance in May at a date and location to be determined.” NASCAR has postponed eight races because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

 

Tony Stewart: Clint Bowyer ‘has got to take his helmet off’ for a fight

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart was in a “virtual black hole of cell signal” in Waverly, Ohio, last Saturday when Clint Bowyer ran to Ryan Newman‘s car after the All-Star Race and threw punches in his driver-side window.

Stewart, who was competing in and won a sprint car race at Atomic Speedway, was ignorant of this fact until he was miles away from the track and had a better cell signal.

“I got five miles down the road and all of a sudden I’m getting all these texts,” Stewart said Wednesday after being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “I’m going, ‘How do all these people know we won that fast?’ It wasn’t about us, it was about Clint’s deal. Finally got another five miles down the road, had a real signal. Somebody goes ‘Look at Twitter.”

That’s when the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing saw the video of Bowyer, still wearing his helmet, furiously throwing both fists at Newman, who still sat in his car.

Bowyer was angry with Newman after contact between them on the cool-down lap after the race had sent Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford nose-first into the wall.

“That kid has got to take his helmet off if he’s going to fight,” Stewart said. “Kids leave their helmets on to fight. Men take their helmets off and they fight. If you’re going to fight, fight.”

While still on the highway Saturday night, Stewart let Bowyer know his thoughts on his fighting form.

“Listen, take your helmet off if you’re going to get into a fight,” Stewart texted Bowyer.

Bowyer responded by saying “I didn’t have time.”

Stewart, who has a long history of driver altercations and arguments, then offered his driver more encouraging wisdom.

“Don’t lose that passion to fight for what you believe in,” Stewart said.

Long: All-Star Race shows value of shorter distances for Cup events

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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.

Shorter distances.

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 Bubba Wallace’s dramatic win in the second stage of the Monster Energy Open that saw Daniel Suarez slide off track and then Wallace finishing fifth in the All-Star Race.

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.

Why not add a few more of those in the future?

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The All-Star Race will be in Charlotte next year but what is the event’s future?

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.

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Synthetic turf at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

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.”

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With Kevin Harvick chasing him in the final laps, Kyle Larson did not make a mistake and give away the All-Star 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.”

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Clint Bowyer soars to All-Star pole

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. – Clint Bowyer earned his first pole for the All-Star Race, posting the fastest time during the session, which featured three laps and a pit stop.

Kyle Busch joins Bowyer on the front row for Saturday night’s race that will pay $1 million to the winner. Kevin Harvick, who won this race last year, starts third and is followed by Austin Dillon and Martin Truex Jr.

Click here for qualifying results

Busch was originally penalized for a tire violation during his pit stop but NASCAR reversed the call and allow his time to stand.

Bowyer’s best previous start in the All-Star Race was second in 2011. He has one top-10 finish in nine previous starts. His best finish in the event was seventh in 2014. Bowyer’s last pole in a points race was September 2007 at New Hampshire, a span of 417 races.

“We put ourselves in position to take their million bucks and that’s all you an ask for,” Bowyer said. 

Ryan Newman, who qualified sixth, had the fastest speed entering pit road at 167 mph, according to Racing Insights. Busch had the fastest pit stop at 14.6 seconds.

Joey Logano and Aric Almirola each slid through their pit box on their stops. Logano will start 10th and Almirola will start 13th.

The teams of Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski each were penalized five second for having one lug nut not secured after their stop. Keselowski will start 14th. Busch will start 15th.

The final four spots will be set by the Monster Energy Open. The three stage winners advance to the All-Star Race along with the fan vote winner.

Entry lists for All-Star Race weekend in Charlotte

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All-Star Race week is here.

NASCAR returns home to compete at Charlotte Motor Speedway and hold Saturday’s 35th annual Monster Energy All-Star Race and the Monster Energy Open.

Those races are preceded on Friday with a Gander Outdoors Truck Series race.

More: Rules and format for All-Star Race

Here are the entry lists for each race and the rules for the All-Star Race and Open.

Monster Energy All-Star Race (8 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports 1)

There will be 19 drivers in the All-Star Race, which will be divided into four segments of 30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps and 15 laps.

Driver eligibility: Winners from last season and this season, previous all-star winners who are competing full-time in the series, Cup champions who are running full-time in the series, the three stage winners from the Monster Energy Open and the winner of the fan vote.

Fifteen drivers are already locked into the main event: Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. Three more will be added from the Monster Energy Open, plus a fourth will join the All-Star Race field from the fan vote.

Kevin Harvick is the defending winner of the All-Star Race.

Click here for the entry list.

Monster Energy Open (6 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports 1)

There are 24 cars entered into Saturday’s preliminary race.

The 50-lap race is split up into three stages of 20 laps, 20 laps and 10 laps.

AJ Allmendinger won the final stage of the Open last year.

Click here for the entry list.

Truck Series – North Carolina Education Lottery 200 (8:30 p.m. ET Friday on Fox Sports 1)

There are 36 trucks entered into the race.

Kyle Busch will compete in his last Truck Series race of the season.

Johnny Sauter won this race last year over Busch and Brandon Jones.

Click here for the updated entry list.