Monday, May 20, 2013

COMMENTARY: All Star Race Suffers From Micromanagement

NASCAR continues to tinker with the format of its annual Sprint All Star Race, seeking a sure-fire dose of competitive excitement to spice-up the midseason event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Despite the latest in a series of format tweaks – one that re-aligned drivers for a decisive final pit stop based on their average finish in a series of four, 20-lap segments – the final, 10-lap showdown featured little of the side-by-side racing that brings fans to their feet. Compounding the situation was a FOX television graphic that erroneously ranked Johnson 11th prior to the race’s final, four-tire pit stop, rather than fourth. That miscue triggered a tsunami of anti-Jimmie internet rhetoric, and when Johnson’s newly revamped pit crew sent him back to the track in second place, the misinformed din grew exponentially louder.
The five-time Sprint Cup Series champion did his job from there, driving away from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne on the final restart to claim his second consecutive All Star victory and his record fourth of all time, breaking a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon.
"People just want to hate," said Johnson of the faux controversy.  “I'm just lucky (and) NASCAR rigs the races. Whatever (the fans) want to believe. I'm going home with a cool trophy and a big check and we all really know what happened. So, whatever."
He admitted, however, that NASCAR’s All Star format needs more work.

"I really don't know what to do at this point," said Johnson. "(In the first) four segments, there were a lot of guys on different strategies that made for exciting racing. (But when) you're on a 1.5-mile track with a 10-lap shootout (at the end), your options are limited to create multiple passes for the win."

Since CMS was repaved in 2006, competition has suffered. High speeds, increased grip and minimal tire wear have led to a dearth of side-by-side racing, and in the All Star Race, mandatory caution flags every 20 laps make it virtually impossible for creative crew chiefs to concoct strategy twists.

"You know when the cautions are coming, so you can sit back and strategize,” said Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus afterward. “In a normal race, you have no idea what's going to happen.”

He suggested that if NASCAR really wants to infuse some excitement into the All Star Race, it may be time for a softer tire.

"When tires fall off, you're going to start to see some passing,” said Knaus. “I think it could be very exciting to see who plays the tire strategy. I don't foresee it, because Goodyear is in a tough spot. They have to build a tire that's going to last. I'm just saying it would make it exciting, because the only way you're going to get passing is to have tire wear."

Knaus’ point is valid and deserves serious consideration. Ultimately, however, the All Star Race will continue to suffer until NASCAR stops trying to micromanage its way to unpredictability.

Short, 20-lap segments may sound exciting on paper, but what works at your local Saturday night short track does not necessarily work at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Shorter races provide little or no time for back markers to fight their way forward. They eliminate virtually all pit road strategy, and stop the action before tire wear and fuel consumption have been allowed to impact handling.

Everyone took the green flag with their best, short-run setup Saturday night, and the checkered flag flew before anything had time to change.

With so many segments – and so many stoppages, realignments and adjustments in between – we spent more time preparing to race Saturday night than we did actually racing. “Hurry up and race,” seemed to be NASCAR’s All Star message, “because we’ll be stopping you again in a minute.”

It’s time for NASCAR to dispense with the gimmicks and get back to what it does best; racing. Run a pair of 20-lap sprints on gumball-soft tires, then use the “Best Average Finish” criteria to line up a final, 100-lap Dash For Cash.

Let creative crew chiefs like Knaus decide when (and if) to pit, rather than dictating the timing and degree of every adjustment.

Let talented drivers like Johnson, Kahne and the Busch Brothers do what they do best; wrestling race cars that fall off dramatically over the course of a fuel run.

And most important of all, don’t let FOX do the math.

32 comments:

  1. I agree 100% Dave. Racing has proven time and time again that if you let it play out 9 times out of 10 something crazy and exciting is going to happen sooner or later. No matter how hard you try you can't manufacture that "game seven" moment. Let them race, the drama will follow.
    How about the 1st 20 lap heat is half the cars and lines up the inside row, eliminating anyone out of 10th place, the 2nd 20 lap head lines up the outside row, again eliminating cars. Then send them down pit road and however they come out is how they line up for the race. That way fox won't have to scratch its brain trying to figure out those pesky averages again.

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  2. I've heard this softer tire argument forever and I can't recall any race where having a softer tire created more passing. What they need to do is slow the cars and increase the drafting effect - the Truck 200 had some good racing the night before - and make leading the most laps important enough that drivers have no choice but to go for the lead, period.

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  3. This All Star race was a pure joke. It was boring to say the least. More like micromicromanagement, was evident.

    And not to mention the NASCAR rigging of the "fan" vote. Way to reward the under achiever.

    And agree 100%, FOX and math in the same sentence just doesn't work.

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    1. Gary, what would NASCAR's motive be to "rig" the Fan Vote? To add a 20th place finisher? How would they keep such a thing secret, and what would the backlash be if such a scam was ever exposed? I know we love our "Black Helicopter" conspiracies around here, but it doesn't add up to me.

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    2. Anonymous11:40 AM

      It wasn't surprising who got the fan vote,unnerving but not surprising considering what her fan base is made up of. But to rig it would be just crazy. Part of the problem was the talking heads in the segments leading up to the race over and over saying"don't be surprised if she wins the fan vote" , this just leads more credence to a conspiracy theory. Personally,it wouldn't surprise me if there was something not quite right about the numbers she got,but it is all about marketing not racing. As for the race, I agree with the 20 lap sprints and the 100 lap feature. Yea,some of it was boring but for the most part it was a good race and FOX doesn't need to do math.

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    3. Let's not forget that Danica was the top vote-getter of those drivers NOT ALREADY in the race. Which means there may have been over 20 drivers who received more votes than she did.

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    4. Anonymous6:44 PM

      I thought it was rigged when Jr won it....i'm so confused now...

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  4. Anonymous11:01 AM

    I'm pretty sure that all of this applies to "normal" NASCAR races too.

    -The gray areas of technology are now so tiny that there is no innovation.

    -For understandable safety reasons, Goodyear can't build soft tires for a primarily oval racing series.

    -Television coverage is atrocious. If there is action, they don't show it. Hyper close-ups only accompanied by knucklehead, har-har commentary.

    If NASCAR fans ever figure out that they get NBCSports on some ungodly high number on their cable box...and they watch IndyCar races...they'll be shocked that there is an entertaining racing alternative.

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    1. Joe Ellis2:27 PM

      If tv sucks then take your butt to the race. Simple

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    2. Anonymous4:11 PM

      I'm not worried about where my butt is located on race day.

      I'm worried about the awful television coverage scaring away the next generation(s) of potential fans.

      From the looks of the grandstands and ratings, it probably is.


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  5. Anonymous11:03 AM

    Good points Dave. I would say one more I know Burton Smith will never admit it but seven he repaved and changed the track. Major Mistake!

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  6. Great American Racefan11:06 AM

    The average position thing was great. Made you run to the front. While I do have a suggested tweak, I liked the 20 lap segments. It gave the team the chance to tune their car, halfway thru a fuel run, to prepare it for the final segment. I also think it gave the teams the option to stay out if they thought it would improve their position in the next segment or take the chance and come in. If you go to a softer tire they will HAVE to pit. That eliminates all strategy. The ten lap shootout is awful. No time to make up for mistakes. I think the last segment needs to be about 40 to 45 laps. Just short of a fuel run so it won't become a fuel mileage race. But still enough laps for tires to matter and cars to close the gap. Ideally I would like to see: Keep the average finish. Change segments to incrementally increase 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40. That allows for setup changes to be made while forcing crews to increase the ability for the car to run long distance. Still gives you the option to maybe stay out after the 1st segment to increase position (hard to say). 40 laps gives you a good run without chancing fuel, even on a green white checker finish. It also creates a good solid number of 150 laps of racing.

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  7. I would have to agree with you Dave. Let the All Star's shine. I was disappointed in this years race. Just as it seemed to get going.....caution.....I really like the idea of the big lap run at the end. Do a couple of 20 lappers to get your car set up and then go for it.

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  8. After attending the last two All-Star races, I barely watched this one on TV. What this event will never have is context. The big drama of a ten-lap late-race restart is created by the previous 300 (or whatever laps). I agree that you can't create drama in the 'lab' - it has to grow organically. Recognizing the sport's big stars is a nice thing, and I respect the teams' desire to win anything at any time. But regardless of the format and the money, when you get down to it, the All-Star race will always be an exhibition. Now bring on the REAL Charlotte race!

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  9. To start with the qualifying was a BLAST!!!! I would like to see this kind of qualifying weekly. (I know that's not going to happen) The race itself was good! I liked seeing the Bush bros. up front most of the race.
    I think the spoiler (Jimmy & Chad) just did their job... that's racing and they are the best at it right now.

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    1. Anonymous7:56 PM

      I totally agree with you on this one. Jimmy and Chad are just good.... they are at the top of the sport, so the "All Star" thing worked perfectly. I still dont like him but the best seems to rise to the top and the foremat was designed for the best to rise.

      I was there and the most exciting part for me was the showdown. I am a JPM fan and I was really into seeing him try to race into the main event. After he didnt make it, I just sat back and waited for Jimmy to win.

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  10. Anonymous11:25 AM

    Dave, Isn't it obvious that NASCAR rigged the vote to get their most popular driver into the race......LOL.

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  11. Anonymous11:34 AM

    I thought they were going to invert the field after a segment or 2.. with that format, you pretty much just had to hold serve... unless ur name is Jimmie.

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  12. The tweak that did work was the All-Star qualifying. That was pretty exciting.

    For all-star events I always liked the NHL skills or the NFL QB challenge kind of events rather than the same thing you see the competitors do every week. How that would translate to NASCAR I don't know, maybe put them in an IROC type car to take the car out of it and put it more on the driver and pit crew.

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  13. I agree Dave, there needs to be longer periods of racing. The showdown was pretty good. I'd like to see Nascar have a final segment of at least 50 laps with a mandatory green flag pit stop. Pit stop could be a stop and go or 4 tires and fuel, let the crew chief decide but it must be done under green. I don't need an inversion or a reordering of the field but I do like the pit crews being involved in setting the final restart order. I think Nascar could do a lot by having fewer, longer segments.

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  14. Jake Noriano11:53 AM

    Excellent commentary Dave! I agree with you 100%

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  15. Gary Thompson11:58 AM

    I have been sitting in the same seat at CMS for the last 10 All Star Races, and this year was probably my last. Sure, its nice to visit the shops and all, but to be honest, my ticket for that Friday brought me far more enjoyment than my Saturday ticket. Using a softer tire could help, otherwise I have no suggestion on how to fix it. When you think about it, we've probably had 5-6 truly memorable All Star races to begin with. I don't feel like anything was rigged as far as the fan vote goes, but maybe it should be a rule that you need to have won at least one Cup race to be eligible, at least then you can keep the All Star aspect of the race intact.

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  16. The race has lost all of its excitement the last couple of years, its BORING. Nascar needs to look at how they used to do it. Make it an "open competition run what ya brung show. Lets see some innovations, big engines, trick tranny's ect. Invert the field after each segment. Get rid of the Fan Vote. Its a joke that Danica was in that race. Let the drivers selsct a worthy driver for that last spot.

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  17. Dwayne in Memphis12:07 PM

    You want unpredictability...get it off that 1.5 mile tri-oval. I know it's "home", and I have no problems with the guys needing - deserving even - some home time. But Charlotte is what it is. Put the all-star race at Richmond, and you'd have better performance. But at the very least shut up about how aggressive everyone intends to be...it's a 1.5 mile tri-oval. How aggressive can you be if the leader has clean air and you're 6 seconds back?

    Call it what it is: the thing that most fans call for every week. A race without the proverbial "start and parkers" that everyone seeems to hate so much.

    Keep the million bucks - donate it to Victory Junction and make it an off weekend. It's not as bad as the NFL all-star game - but they're trying to get it there. Although they didn't have rules this year to encourage sand-bagging.

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  18. Anonymous12:26 PM

    The winston ain't what it used to be

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  19. Anonymous12:28 PM

    Dave--I agree the 20 lap segments were too short to generate any excitement/strategy that could carry over to the next segment, the pit stop after 80 laps seemed to eliminate the benefit of the average best finish, and the Fox math/graphic miscue on average finish was amateur. How about 3, 50 lap segments, styled after the Thunder Road "Milk Bowl" ?

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  20. Ritchie2412:52 PM

    I couldn't believe how bad FOX was with the averages, they were so wrong! Kurt had 1,1,2,4 and Kyle had 1,1,2,4 but FOX had them Kyle with a better average, even after Mike Joy had pointed out that the Busch brothers were tied and Kurt would be 1st since he had better finish in segment 4! They had everybody so confused! Hey FOX pickup a copy of Math For Dummies!

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  21. I would much rather see three 20 lap segments and a 40 lap shoot out . Keep the average finish through the three 20 lap segments to set the field for the final 40 lap segment .

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  22. In an effort to appeal to the masses and increase TV ratings (revenue),NASCAR and Fox have alienated their base, the week-in-week-out race fan. Too much hoopla and too much downtime between segments (I know the rain delay didn't help) rendered this spectacle unwatchable. This is not American Idol. How 'bout a 20 lap heat to add about four or five cars to a 75 to 80 lap feature?

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  23. Just take the All-Star event to the ROCK!!! Abrasive track surface to create that tire wear.. Perfect track size, and you can't 'cheat' on finding a setup for an actual race at a scheduled track. Simple!!!

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  24. Anonymous8:58 PM

    Dave you've got a great idea going but I don't believe the racing will ever exceed the hype. To that point will next years allstar commercials show anything but the new qualifing format? Jimmy Johnson sliding through his pit stall.

    Ray in NC

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  25. David Moore5:02 AM

    NASCAR & GOODYEAR NEED TO BRING SOFTER TIRES!!! After Indy 2008 NASCAR had to freak out and ever since they've been racing on rock hard tires. They should have just brought a harder tire to Indy, instead of every track. I miss the days where taking 4 tires actually mattered. It used to be so exciting when the first 10 cars on track would take 2 tires and all the cars that took 4 would slice and dice their way to the front in 15 laps....THAT WAS GOOD RACING!!!

    Look at Fontana this year, they ran soft tires it was an awesome race with passing all day long. If soft tires can make a Fontana race great, imagine what they could do for other tracks! Lol

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