NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race: bad format or poor execution?
After a successful and exciting Sprint Showdown around midday on Saturday, I admit, I had high hopes for the Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. What happened Saturday night, though, looked more like a poorly-executed event that resulted in confusion for not only fans, but also several drivers in the race.
I’m not so sure the race format is to blame. Maybe it was the full moon. Really, though, I think it was a matter of NASCAR not planning for possible scenarios that played out through the course of 113-lap race. After all, the format wasn’t laid out until earlier this month. And from what I’ve been told, teams didn’t get an official bulletin specifically explaining the rules of the race until more recently.
On paper, I thought the new format looked interesting — in a good way. That being said, what I witnessed Saturday night was, by no means good. Remember that Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway commercial several years ago in which an old man was cast as the track’s wall painter, and after a race, he looked at all the black marks on the wall and said to himself, “What a mess?” Maybe it’s just me, but I can see that same guy at CMS on Saturday night, saying to himself, “What a mess.”
I’m not so sure the “mess” was the result of a bad format. To me, it looked more like a result of bad execution.
Maybe a crew chief tweeting a request for a rundown of the format less that a week before the race and then questions surrounding how the race field was set after the rain cancellation should have been signs that this thing, maybe, wasn’t as well thought out as it should have been.
In-race confusion among competitors seemed to first set in with nearly half the race field going a lap down in segment one.
Most cars in the race field went ahead and took four when they pitted around the halfway point of the first segment, while about five other drivers opted to make that first mandatory green-flag stop late in the first segment, taking only the two required tires and taking the other two during the mandated stop between the first and two seconds.
Matt Kenseth was one of the drivers on the strategy of two-tires during each of the first two mandatory stops. Problem? Kenseth waited too long to pit and was caught under caution without having made his first mandatory stop under green when the first segment ended under caution.
What to do? Not sure if this scenario was thought out beforehand or if NASCAR was just figuring it out on the fly, but Kenseth was put a lap down to negate the advantage of not making that first mandated green-flag pit stop.
Kenseth staying out put nearly half the field a lap down. I get that. But shouldn’t his one-lap penalty have put at least most of those lapped cars back on the lead lap?
Then, there was the Martin Truex Jr. issue between the second and third segments. Now, that’s when NASCAR really didn’t seem to have any idea which end was up. The new format called for NASCAR to draw a number — nine, 10 or 11 — to determine how many cars would have to pit for four tires, leaving the rest out on old tires, up front, to restart the final 13-lap segment.
Eleven was drawn with only 13 cars on the lead lap, that is before Truex was given his lap back. But where should Truex line up? It seemed logical to me that he line up in the back, as that is where cars awarded laps back are normally lined up for restarts. But then again, the All-Star Race isn’t a regular race.
Truex did wind up getting put in the back, but not after he rode around up front with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, the other two lead lap cars on old tires. Truex thought he should be up there per the rules of the new format. After all, he was back on the lead lap and on old tires. And according to the rules of the new format, the cars on the lead lap on old tires were to line up in front of those who changed tires. I put that one under the category of an unclear rule.
Did the Sprint Showdown earlier in the day outshine the All-Star Race this year? Sadly, this year, I think so. I’m not so sure I’m ready to completely trash this format, though. I think it could be good. I really do. That being said, though, I think NASCAR needs to take a hard look at it and work out the kinks by spending time brainstorming possible scenarios and coming up with solutions for them.