NASCAR Cup Series
Quirky All Star Race Leaves Ryan Blaney Rich, Denny Hamlin Peeved
May 22, 2022
Don’t let the dubious caution or window net debate distract from the biggest takeaway from Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway -- that All Star Race XXXVIII wasn’t particularly compelling.
Look, there is a market for the extended FS1 pre-race show, Blake Shelton concert and the bright lights of everything that transpired between the All Star Open and the main event. By all accounts, most of those who attended in person had a great time because TMS is legitimately a first-class facility that delivers on major league hospitality expectations.
Personally, I love covering races at Texas Motor Speedway because the facility is top notch and Speedway Motorsports takes care of attending media in ways that few other facilities do. Sincerely. Marcus Smith and Rob Ramage tremendously care that everyone who comes through the gates receive a return on their investment.
Attending fans frequently share that sentiment, too.
But then the green flag waves and the on-track product just hasn’t delivered over the past half-decade. The 2017 re-profiling didn’t work as planned, made worse by the 550 rules package of the time and a deep staining of the racing surface with a traction compound that negatively affects both NASCAR and IndyCar races to this day.
The most exciting thing that happened before the shenanigans on Sunday was a tire failure on the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 that caused a massive collision between Ross Chastain and Kyle Busch, also involving Chase Elliott, eliminating three of the strongest contenders of the night.
Busch appeared to be the class of the field and likely would have started on the pole for the final 50 lap segment if not for a failure that was likely caused by the source of his speed anyway -- camber and air pressure gambles.
Ryan Blaney took the lead from there and not even fresher tires under Denny Hamlin behind him was going to make a difference. That the race was so uneventful was seemingly the reason race control was so quick to pull the trigger on the near race altering caution anyway.
That ethical quandary is one the sanctioning body has frequently wrestled with over the past decade and there is no shortage of evidence that sometimes the pressure to entertain supersedes having a race play out to a natural conclusion.
To their credit, officials have done a much better job of leveling that perception in points paying races in recent years, no doubt a response to how the 2016 Cup Series championship race at Homestead Miami Speedway played out.
But again, everything that happened in the final moments was seemingly a response to a race that just wasn’t that much fun in the first place.
The All-Star Race has faced questions about its longevity and relevancy for a decade now and the long-term response was moving it from Charlotte Motor Speedway to similarly shaped Texas Motor Speedway when Circuit of the Americas was added to the schedule.
In the words of parents everywhere, we have Texas Motor Speedway at home, kids.
So, what now?
Smith says there is no pressure to move the race from Dallas – Fort Worth and that overnight feedback was just another instance of a prevalent complaint culture in motorsports fandom.
"There’s just some people out there who like to complain more often than anything ..." Smith said on SiriusXM Radio on Monday afternoon. "If you talk to the fans who were there, they had a great time."
"When we had it in Charlotte, we had some detractors who would always say 'Why is it in Charlotte?'... We move it and people say, 'Let's put it back in Charlotte.' I've found nobody likes change and nobody likes anything to stay the same ... You can't make everybody happy."
The status quo of both Texas Motor Speedway and the All-Star Race aren’t sustainable.
Frankie Kimmel, Cup Series spotter for Daniel Suarez, and a racer who has spent an entire lifetime in various avenues of the sport has a fascinating idea. Major League Baseball has the Field of Dreams game on the Iowa farm grounds made famous by the eponymous film, and the Little League Classic on a makeshift field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
These venues both hold under 10,000 fans and is entirely a made for television event.
North Carolina short tracks are receiving a considerable amount of federal money from the American Rescue Plan. They have been tasked with improving infrastructure as the state short track scene is a viable boon to the state economy:
Hickory Motor Speedway - $568,254
Bowman Gray Stadium - $530,020
Orange County Speedway - $39,738
Caraway Speedway - $485,000
Wake County Speedway -$537,511
Southern National Motorsports Park -$557,770
Now, imagine the All-Star Race rotating across Hickory, Bowman Gray, Southern National, Orange County and Wake County. South Boston Speedway in Virginia is already set to host SRX this summer and is owned by the family that also owns Pocono Raceway.
The All-Star Race would lose the festival atmosphere it currently has, but it would also gain the reverence and historical preservation associated with the Field of Dreams and Little League Classic.
These tracks don’t require safer barriers and it’s a made for television show that doesn’t have room for a massive crowd. NASCAR gets to invest into a small part of the track revitalization process, ensuring its continued link to the grassroots, and the All-Star Race lives to see another decade.
The Clash in February at the Los Angeles Coliseum proved that a bullring short track race with heats and eliminations similar to the Chili Bowl Midget National produces a tremendous amount of drama.
It was the kind of fun the All Star Race used to be.
Ultimately, sending teams halfway across the country to Texas one week before the longest race of the year when they’ve already lost Easter as an off weekend is just excessive, especially for a race that no one seems to take particular pride in right now.
But if it has to remain at Texas for tax and financial reasons, or even if it is returned to Charlotte, NASCAR should consider using a format similar to the 2021 race with its inverts and constant potential for passing.
It’ll produce more action with a car and rules package more conducive for overtakes.
The hard truth is that the All-Star Race used to be the one night a year with multiple segments, double file restarts and unorthodox rules. The standings didn’t matter and there was no such thing as a good points day.
Isn’t that every weekend now?
Regular season Cup races have borrowed so much from the All-Star Race over the years that it’s kind of exhausted the point of having it in the first place.
At this point, the date and its valuable television contract slot might be more valuable as a 37th points race, with the Clash becoming the only all-star exhibition of the season. That could make room for the Nashville Fairgrounds, a street course weekend or any other experiment NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports are working towards.
But right now, the All Star Race is just in need of something different.