Monday, May 23, 2016

COMMENTARY: Work To Do Before 2017 All Star Race

NASCAR earned an “A” for effort and a “D-minus” for implementation Saturday night, as the sanctioning body’s new Sprint All Star Race format hurtled off the rails, plummeting the event into an maelstrom of confusion and controversy that sadly overshadowed the on-track product. 

Joey Logano claimed the $1 million winner’s prize, outdueling sophomore phenom Kyle Larson in a late-race battle that saw Larson carom off the Turn One wall with less than two laps remaining. Unfortunately, the edge-of-your-seat finish did not make up for a series of procedural foul-ups that watered-down a planned, 13-lap finale and left drivers, teams, officials and fans alike confused over who led the race, who trailed and even who was on the lead lap. 

The new format – brainchild of former series champion Brad Keselowski – required drivers to make a green-flag pit stop in the opening, 50-lap segment. And by the midway point of the run, all but one competitor had done so. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth remained on the track, however, trapping the balance of the field a lap down. Kenseth’s strategy unraveled when Jamie McMurray spun in Turn Two with less than four laps remaining, creating a caution period that prevented Kenseth from coming to pit road before the end of the segment. He was eventually penalized one lap by NASCAR, but race officials failed to allow the lap-down drivers to exercise the wave-around option to regain their lost lap.  

"I didn't know what way was up,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr., speaking for virtually everyone. “Lap-down cars were pitting with lead-lap cars. Wave-around cars were up front and in the middle.” 

“I don't know how in the hell we were scored a lap down after they stopped the 20 car,” said Tony Stewart. “It's the most screwed up All-Star Race I've ever been a part of. I'm glad it's my last one. I'm madder than hell because I don't understand how the hell they've officiated this, from start to finish." 

NASCAR eventually got the running order correct, and all the lapped drivers utilized subsequent wave-around opportunities to regain their lead-lap status. But a planned, 13-lap final segment – with the front half of the field on old tires and the back half on new rubber – fizzled when a multi-car Segment Two crash eliminated a number of potential contenders. In the end, only Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch began the final segment on old rubber; far outnumbered and quickly gobbled-up by those allowed to install four fresh Goodyear Eagles. 

"Hindsight is really easy,” said NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller afterward. “We didn't really have a mechanism (to correct the problem) in our race procedures.” 

Unfortunately, there were signs of trouble Saturday night, even before the green flag flew. Despite two weeks of explanation, the vast majority of NASCAR fans remained thoroughly confused by the new All Star format. 

“Too many rules,” they said. “Too many requirements, too many uses of the word `mandatory.’” 

In addition, the blind draw that preceded the final, 13-lap dash actually encouraged teams to give less than their best effort. At least one Top-5 driver plummeted mysteriously backward in the final few laps of Saturday’s second segment; clearly attempting to fall out of the Top-11 and earn an up-front starting spot for the finale.

That’s not what fans pay to see. 

NASCAR’s Miller admitted that the sanctioning body was unprepared for Kenseth’s strategic twist Saturday, saying, “We ran into a situation where our race procedure didn't give us the opportunity for a wave-around and it created a lot of confusion. It's very unfortunate that this situation cropped up and a lot of people walked away from here disappointed. We're disappointed, as well." 

Speaking off the record, one All Star competitor said he believes NASCAR settled on its 2016 All Star format far too late to prepare for the event. 

“They told us about it at Talladega,” he said. “A lot of us had concerns, but the race was already two weeks away. What were we supposed to do?” 

Clearly, that late rollout left insufficient time for NASCAR to troubleshoot the process and anticipate the myriad ways that teams like Kenseth’s might attempt to manipulate the format to their own benefit. There’s no fixing it now, but NASCAR has plenty of time – 51 weeks – to get it right for next season, simplifying the process to emphasize racing, rather than rules.   

Eliminating the word “mandatory” from the All-Star format should be Step One. Mandating pit stops reduces the number of available options and locks teams into a single strategic scenario. Remove the competitive handcuffs and let teams get creative again. 

Step Two is to eliminate any rule, regulation or procedure that rewards going slowly. No more inverts, no more incentives for finishing in the back of the pack. 

“Hammer down” should be the only phrase that pays.   

There was plenty to like about Saturday night’s All Star Race. It – and the Sprint Showdown that preceded it – featured multiple passes for the lead and more side-by-side racing than we’ve seen in the last five All Star Races, combined.  

“I don't know how you can get much more compelling racing than what we saw today,” said Keselowski afterward.  

“The intent was really positive,” agreed Earnhardt. “The ideas were great. But the simpler we make it, the easier it is to follow. You just have to worry about rooting for your guy” 

Junior had it right Saturday night, and NASCAR will do well to listen. When all else fails; simplify, simplify, simplify.  

Any All Star format that cannot be explained to the masses in 20 seconds or less is a lousy format.  

Sprint All Star Race 2017 needs to be more about racing and less about rules.




  1. Corey MacQueen10:08 AM

    Mr. France... please put Ken Squier in charge of formatting the '17 AllStar race.

  2. An A for effort..? Really...?
    I'd hate to see what it would take for NASCAR to get any less...

    1. It would take them not trying to make things better, which currently, I see no evidence of.

  3. 50 laps is too long for a segment in my opinion, run it Milk Bowl style and they will be up on the wheel

    1. Anonymous2:11 PM

      I would've kept the four 25-lap segments from last season, and had the field pit at some point in the third segment.

  4. Anonymous2:57 PM

    The All-Star race should only be drivers that won a race the prior year or in the current year up until the week prior. No more BS Fan Vote selections which appear to be bogus as hell, as we've seen for 3 out of the last 4 years.

  5. After officiating my daughter's wedding, I was exhausted and after watching the first segment, I thought it was just me that was I went to bed. It's a shame I missed some great racing.

  6. Anonymous4:26 PM

    Move the AllStar race to Martinsville. 10 laps. 1 million to win. Previous years winners only.

  7. It's over... and done. Like Sunday morning's dump, it's down the tubes and out of sight and hopefully out of mind, soon.

    The only real valid comment I will make is that NASCAR does things, makes rule changes... and RARELY anticipates unintended consequences.
    They need to be aware that things aren't as cut dry, or black and white as they imagine when they change anything.
    While I give them credit for trying... you'd think by now they'd know their bad habit of poor planning.

  8. RoibertG7:49 PM

    Disagree. Maybe a 60 lap segment. Force the teams into a little strategy as to when to stop. And I like the idea of points for finishing position, inversion and then points for finishing position. Set the final positions by combined points for a shorter final segment. Winner wins it all.

  9. Run 20 cars in 3 30 lap segments Milk Bowl style winner gets $500k.
    Finishing order becomes the order to enter pit road for a final up to 20 lap (however many cars are left) Australian Pursuit. The winner gets another $500k. If you win both a possible bonus.

  10. Anonymous3:10 AM

    First of all it was an exhibition race. Get over it. Second to blame Kes for all this (other than because fans can) is absurd, did Kes get some sort of blanket approval to run this exhibition race the way he saw fit? And second these whiners driving the cars, knew what the rules were before they went into it. Maybe some just didn't study as well as they should have. You know an exhibition race and all, why take it seriously? Maybe some tried to game the system and it didn't work. Maybe if some did what they were supposed to do it would not have chucked up their fellow competitors. Bunch of whiny (I won't type it).

  11. Anonymous3:11 AM

    ...And Logano did simplify the process. He said my job was to pass cars, and I passed cars.

  12. I am just stunned by what I am reading. Nascar only had 2 or 3 weeks to implement the rules for the race. Are we all being serious, forgive me for being naive but is not the job of the Nascar officials is to officiate races for a living. I mean Nascar is big enough that they have people that there only job is to handle race procedure and they do it everyday. And gee I am sorry but has Nascar not been in the job of running races for 60 plus years I think after all this "experience" there would not be to much that would surprise them. I mean we didn't ask them to officiate a football game is was a race that is there business.
    Also I am sick of every one saying enough with the gimmicks. You mean like the gimmick of resetting the points 3 times to get an artificial champion or creating game 7 moments instead of letting them naturally occurring. Who was that again that said that quote?
    One last point the opening race at Daytona ; the Sprint Unlimited, or whatever it is called has a mandatory pit stop and not a word from anyone. I just love a the double standards.

  13. Dwayne in Memphis10:35 AM

    This is just further evidence that NASCAR's main problem in need of fixing is NOT on the track, but in the offices above it. It's like a Lancelot Link episode up in the control booth. Good grief, get out of the way and let them race!! Where are the good old days when "Tinkering" was limited to 1/4" more on the rear spoiler the Ford camp?

  14. Anonymous10:37 AM

    NASCAR should find a format and just go with it. Every year we get some new twist on the race and it continues to get worse and worse. When the people paid to commentate on the event, and the driver's can't figure out what is going on you have a major failure.

    Saturday reminded me of a pro wrestling show.

  15. Anonymous12:54 PM

    Ah, heck, I was counting on them running an Australian Pursuit next year or maybe a powder puff derby or a mechanics race. And here you are wanting them to actually do the right thing. Shame on you, Dave.
    (For those who weren't around local short track racing in the '50's and '60's, any car that's passed in an Australian Pursuit is eliminated.)


  16. It's so easy. 3 segments. 3 inverts. Line them up on avg finish on the last segment.

  17. 4 segments. First 3 invert. Avg finish lines them up for the third. How simple.

  18. I totally agree. i was confused and very disappointed. Of course 10 cars with new tires are going to run over everyone else.

  19. Don't end ANY segment under yellow. This was the root of the Kenseth problem.

  20. Anonymous7:21 PM

    the best racing I saw this year was at Talladega with pending rain potentially ending the race at any given lap.Could NASCAR do a simple secret number lottery during the last segment to determine the ending lap that keeps everyone guessing until they see the white flag?

  21. I don't know why the All-Star race needs any added gimmicks at all. The whole point is to have (20) of the best drivers going all-out for a million bucks with no points implications on the line. Is Nascar afraid that a million bucks isn't as much incentive as it used to be for a driver/team to give it all they've got? Do they feel the current on-track action is that lackluster where they need to complicate things with mandatory cautions and inverting the field in order to make the races more entertaining to watch? There is nothing more entertaining than all the race teams 'going for broke' and not giving an inch to begin with. Let the race teams 'have at it' with their own pit strategies for 100 laps and actually let them race. That alone should be all the gimmicks they need. I know I'd watch...

  22. Not just simplify, but know what the goal ought to be - maximize and incentivize going for the lead, going for the win. The 2016 running had some good racing, NASCAR needs a lot more of the kind of racing seen in the early Harvick-Busch battle for first. They need to more powerfully incentivize going for the lead - make the lead the one spot all the racers have to shoot for. They need to reduce, not increase, pitstop incidence and strategy, because it simply gets too much in the way of the fight for the win.