Monday, May 22, 2017

COMMENTARY: All-Star Race Missed The Mark

NASCAR made a number of changes in Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race, hoping to ratchet-up competition and build suspense. The sanctioning body utilized the multi-segment format that has energized Cup racing this season, adding a single set of softer “Option Tires” to each crew chief’s arsenal in an effort to increase passing.

None of it worked.

The annual Monster Energy Open provided cause for optimism, with plenty of passing and side-by-side competition. Once the sun set and the track cooled, however, Charlotte Motor Speedway became a one-lane race track, with the dreaded “aero push” providing the race leader with a substantial – and apparently insurmountable – advantage.

Time after time, second-place drivers ran down the leader from 12-15 car lengths back, only to encounter dirty air and stall out within sight of the lead.  

"You can't pass anywhere," said Wood Brothers Racing driver Ryan Blaney, who earned his All-Star spot with a spellbinding drive in the earlier Monster Energy Open. "It's not great track conditions, to be honest with you."

Kyle Larson led wire-to-wire in the opening two segments and clearly had the fastest car. But he was unable to overcome a balky final pit stop that left him fourth at the start of the final, 10-lap sprint, fighting mightily to wrest the runner-up position away from Jimmie Johnson on the final lap, a country mile behind winner Kyle Busch.   

Good night for Kyle, bad night for fans.
"I think we had the car to be the winner," said Larson afterward. "(But) you've got to be perfect to win a Cup race. I knew being the leader off pit road was going to be the big thing. When I could tell that the rear changer wasn't around nearly as fast as the front, I knew we were in trouble."

While failing to spark the kind of side-by-side racing many had hoped for, Goodyear’s new “Option Tire” at least offered hope for the future. None of the 10 surviving teams utilized the tires in the final, 10-lap stage, deciding that the 3-5/10ths of a second per lap speed advantage they offered was not enough to overcome a back-of-the-pack starting spot.

"There's no doubt that mile-and-a-half racing puts on a certain type of show," admitted Johnson after the race. "I think Charlotte Motor Speedway works as hard as they possibly can put on a great show. They're open minded to any and every idea… (but) we all run the same speed. The rule book is so thick and the cars are so equal, we run the same speed. You can't pass running the same speed. The damn rule book is too thick. There's too much going on.”

 “Mile-and-a-half racing is mile-and-a-half racing,” he said. “When all the cars are qualifying as tight as they do (and) we can't pass as easily, we have to logically look at it and say, 'Hey, we're all going the same speed, no wonder we can't pass.’”

"I have an opinion, but I don't have the answer."

Not a good enough option.
In the weeks leading up to the race, Goodyear predicted a 3-5/10ths of a second speed advantage for its new “Option Tire.” Saturday night, however, they were good for only about half that.
"There was a fair amount speed difference in practice,” confirmed Adam Stevens, crew chief for race winner Kyle Busch. "(But) as it cooled off, the discrepancy got smaller and smaller.”
"I don't think Goodyear hit the tire very well," said Brad Keselowski. "They missed pretty big. The tire was supposed to be much faster."
An even-softer “Option Tire” for next year’s race could help turn the tide, trimming lap times to the point where the leader’s aero advantage can finally be overcome. Expect Goodyear and NASCAR to conduct extensive testing before next year’s race, to ensure a better result.

While they’re at it, perhaps they should consider moving the All-Star event back to the heat of the day, eschewing a prime-time TV audience in favor of compelling racing on a hot, greasy race track.

Or perhaps it’s finally time to heed the cries of those who lobby for a traveling All-Star Race, taking the event “on the road” to venues that can provide a better, more exciting race than the competitively challenged CMS oval.

Sadly, none of those changes can be made in time for this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600; a race that was dominated a year ago by Martin Truex, Jr., who used a perfect race car and the aerodynamic edge all leaders enjoy to lead 392 of the race’s 400 laps.

With a month of wildly competitive point-counting events in the rearview window, the last thing NASCAR needs at this point is another “No Doze 600.”

Based on what we say Saturday night, however, that may be what we’re in for.


  1. It's not impossible to have a good race at CMS, but it's just about impossible to have one at night with these cars. I'm over night racing in NASCAR. It's boring.

  2. Anonymous5:18 PM

    AHA! JJ says out loud that 1 1/2 mile tracks produce '///a certain type of race...'. You mean, those cookie cutters, in spite of the fact that everyone likes to say they are all different, still produce the inevitable parades with little fans have been saying for years? Maybe we aren't as stupid as some like to think us.

  3. Penny6:35 PM

    Spot-on Godfather! ! As much as I love this venue and being in the Charlotte area, we gave up our tickets this year....Lets see some changes....I can sleep better on my sofa with the A/C on during this race.

  4. It's been a continuing problem for nearly twenty years and the lack of outside the box thinking is shown in the hoary gripe by Johnson about "the rulebook is too thick" or "we can't pass because we're all going the same speed." NASCAR and fans believed their own propaganda about cutting downforce and tire options and got hoist with their own petard - again.

  5. Ralph Crisp10:33 PM

    You work on MRM radio...which is part of International Speedway Corporation..what a surprise your critical of Charlotte ..they're not part of the France family club..

    1. Ralph, it's MRN Radio, not MRM. And second, if you read these comments -- or listen to SXM NASCAR Radio -- you quickly discover that I am far from the only one being critical of last weekend's race. In fact, most people were. Even the people who own the track were disappointed, as evidenced by their decision to lay down a traction booster in the upper lanes for this weekend's Coke 600.

  6. Anonymous10:51 PM

    Change the venue. Do a short track do a road course. Get off the big ovals and race for the win. I turned it off as the sun set. Anyone who didn't see the eventual outcome due to aero push is still believing that these cars are available on Monday from your local dealer.

  7. It seems the answer is obvious. Maybe it's time to give up on the dog and pony show and add a full blown points race at another venue in that slot. Plenty of road courses and short tracks that want to fill that void. They could offer another points paying race and another city or area of the country, NASCAR racing without costing the teams much and without giving up another weekend off.

  8. Anonymous7:56 AM

    "In NASCAR news, 1.5-mile, D-shaped, tri-ovals produce horrible racing. In other news, the Pope is Catholic, the sky is blue, and the ocean is apparently wet."

    We've all known this since the 90s. Twisted Sister, COT, and the Gen 6 all suck on these tracks. The problem/solution is not the thick rulebook or the cars, Jimmie.

  9. Anonymous10:57 PM

    I thought the race was ok, but driver intros sucked

  10. Nascar is now Lastcar when it comes to good Racing. My thought and just mine is first Do Away With Time Trials. Expensive and Boring. You have a points system in place. Use it as a lineup tool for the races. Top 25 in points start behind the other 15. Points leader last then 2nd. and so on. Other 15 run a heat to get line up. Draw for start position. The cost and time put into Time Trials is wasted. Practice impound race. I know you southern guys can,t live without a Time Trial. Well change it up and Just Race.

  11. Mike 1/2 track racing is terrible and incredibly boring. There's no way NASCAR is going to draw fans in with these tracks but yet they take races away from short tracks to add more mile 1/2 races to the schedule. NASCAR is just spinning there wheels going no where

    1. The reason NASCAR kept adding bigger tracks is because the superspeedways - 1.5-milers and bigger - are fundamentally a better competition model than short tracks. In the history of the Grand National Series in all its varied sponsor identities (Winston, Sprint, now Monster Energy Drink) of the 70-plus most competitive races ever run, only one (1991 Southeastern 500 at Bristol) is a short track - the others are Talladega, Daytona, Pocono, Michigan, and Charlotte, with Atlanta and Darlington cracking that list once apiece. The gripe about "1/2 track racing is terrible and incredibly boring" oversells the competitiveness of short tracks and displays the analytical flaw common to fans, who are so frustrated at lack of passing on the bigger ovals (a racecar technology arms race problem that absolutely also shows up on the short tracks) that they simply want to lash out and punish instead of rationally figure out why it is so hard to pass.