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Charlotte's All-Star and 600 weeks are coming up....is it time to rethink things? What would T. Wayne say?

   Tony Stewart and crew celebrate winning the 2009 All-Star race (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   It's been a long time since R. J. Reynolds' sports boss T. Wayne Robertson first dreamed up the annual NASCAR All-Star race, back in 1985, with its wacky formats and big winner's purse and that anything-goes last dash for the cash.
  And a race with $1 million to win should certainly be worth anteing up for a ticket.
   Dale Earnhardt isn't around any more to make up the rules as the night goes on, and aggravate his rivals...and that pass-in-the-grass is just so much ancient history...and does anyone remember the night Davey Allison won the thing by crossing the finish line on his roof, and then instead of celebrating in victory lane, he had to be helicoptered to a local hospital?
   Ah, there are some dramatic memories, to be sure.
   But now -- this month, this season, this year -- has this whole All-star thing simply morphed out of control?
   Is it time to start off again with a clean sheet of paper?
   Maybe it's time to rethink this whole thing.
   Is NASCAR's annual All-Star race past its prime? Is it time to change the deal, maybe just scrap it?

  R. J. Reynolds' late T. Wayne Robertson, the man who created the All-Star race (Photo: Spevco)

   Back in '85 times were flush. Not today.
   Economically maybe it would make more sense to run the All-Star race on Friday night of the 600 weekend.....make the whole 600 week package tighter and more affordable for the fans.
   Remember the fans?
   I'm not so sure I even understand any more what this All-Star week is supposed to be all about....or who the target audience is....or why we even do it any more.
    As long a season as NASCAR plays, February through Thanksgiving, maybe we should take this prime sports weekend and use it more productively.
   Just from the simple standpoint of selling tickets, putting on two big races on consecutive weekends at the same track, which seats 140,000 or so, has to be a major challenge, even for a crack staff like Bruton and Marcus Smith have.
   Indianapolis has cut back on its May schedule; maybe Charlotte should too. Sometimes less is more....
   But perhaps the All-star thing has just become embroiled in too much behind-the-scenes politicking. Once, the show was to move around to different venues.... but that disaster in Atlanta in 1986 brought it all back to Charlotte, where it's been ever since. And once, the purse was provided by RJR, which made the event so much easier on the promoters.

    Jeff Burton's crew, winning the 2009 NASCAR pit crew championship...indoors (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    First, let's see if we can even sort out this year's thing.
   Not quite sure how this month's All-star race, and that pit crew competition, got so screwed up, but reading the entry blanks and eligibility rules and various formats is headache-inducing.

    Just who is in the All-Star race next Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway?
   -- all Sprint Cup tour winners from 2009 and 2010: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski, David Reutimann, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.
   -- all Cup champions from the last 10 years: Bobby Labonte.
   -- all All-Star winners from the past 10 years: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
   -- the winner and the runner-up in next Saturday's Showdown prelim
   -- and the winner of a fan vote.

   So which NASCAR stars are not in the All-Star, at least right now, on the eve of the Dover 400:
   Principally Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, Robby Gordon, Elliott Sadler, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Sam Hornish, AJ Allmendinger, and Martin Truex Jr.


  Jeff Burton's crew, in last year's All-star race, doing a real NASCAR pit stop (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


So there are some PR battles going on right now for the fan voting, though Burton himself says he will not be doing any:
  "I'm embarrassed we are not in the race. I will just be honest about it – I'm embarrassed we are not in it.
    "We don't deserve to be in it because the rules say 'this is what you have to do to be in it.' and we haven't done that.
    "But I'm not going to go politicking to get in. I'm not on Facebook, I'm not on whatever they all are; I don't even know what the hell they are....
    "That doesn't mean it wouldn't mean a lot to me if the fans voted me in, but I'm not asking for the vote. They all want me to ask for the vote, but I'm not going to do it. I'm embarrassed we are not in it and that is really where I am."
    And what are the rules for the All-star race exactly?
    Double-file restarts, of course, Shootout-style.
    The format has changed over the years: first, straight 70 laps; then segmented – 75-50-10, 50-20, 30-30-10, 40-30-20, 20-20-20-20, 25-25-25-25, 50-20-20-10......I think....
   This year?
    Again 50-20-20-10.
    In the first segment all teams have to pit on lap 25 and change four tires. There's a yellow flag break between the segments. The lineup for the final 10-lap sprint will be based on the finish of the third leg....but everyone has to stop for four tires before the restart, and there will be a race off pit road to determine the restarting order. As usual, only green flag laps count.

  Maybe promoter Bruton Smith should move the annual pit crew championships over to his Z-max dragstrip, across from Charlotte Motor Speedway, and let 'em burn rubber (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   And then there's the annual pit crew competition....at Charlotte's downtown arena (  www.pitcrewchallenge.com )....
   Whoever dreamed up this thing, well, whatever they do next Wednesday night (May 19th, 7 p.m.) bears virtually no relationship to what pit crews do every weekend during the race.
   But then part of all this is to promote the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte....right around the corner from the arena. And Hall of Fame boss Winston Kelley has been beating the PR drums mightily already this month, to kick off the opening of the high-tech showplace.
   Still, shouldn't the deal be about 'the best pit crew' in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing this season?
    The best right-front tire guys, the best jackmen.....once upon a time those were household names in NASCAR circles. Now with specialized, high-dollar pit crews flying in just for each race, well, it's hard to know who any of them are anymore.
   This pit crew competition may need to be changed up too.
   To begin with, each team should have its real driver (not a wife or crewman) at the wheel, with motors revved and tires smoking....and a genuine pit box to have to stop in, before the four-tire/gas-up pit stop.
   Sure, carbon monoxide makes that impractical in an arena....
   So why not use Z-max dragstrip, right across from Charlotte Motor Speedway?
   That long-running annual pit crew competition at Rockingham's North Carolina Motor Speedway was a lot more representative than the show in downtown Charlotte.
   In the downtown Charlotte deal they can't even turn on the motors and drive the cars. Now what kind of pit crew challenge is that?
   And talk about over-engineering, the Charlotte pit crew challenge format certainly is. (All crews whose teams qualified for the All-Star race itself, plus Burton's team, because it won the pit crew title last season, are eligible.)
    Yes, there are a lot of bells and whistles and fireworks and showmanship in the show, and head-to-head duels -- though 'pushing' the car from one end of the arena to the finish line at the other end seems a bit, ah, odd.
    It's not even clear what the target audience is, in terms of live fans in the stands. It seems more of a made-for-TV event.   
    And, uh, why is the pit crew battle on a Wednesday night, when the All-Star race is not till Saturday night?
    Clearly the promoters are looking for a local walk-up crowd, by not tying it into the weekend's events at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
    Maybe someone thinks the economy has turned around so much that fans are willing to drive to Charlotte for a four-night event....and that the week just before the Coke 600.
   The All-star weekend was created as a quickie two-day in-and-out show for the fans. Maybe it should return to that format.


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   Pushing cars? Is this really the way to determine the best pit crew in NASCAR? Where's the burning rubber? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

If it takes too much effort

If it takes too much effort to try and justify the All-Star Race, then it's long past time to abort the idea altogether. The All-Star Race seemed like a good idea in 1985, but it has been a constant failure. For all the talk about the Earnhardt "pass" (that wasn't a pass because no positions changed) in the grass and Davey Allison badly injured at the stripe in 1992, what has been conspicuously missing from this endeavor?

Lead changes.

1994 saw for all practical purposes the first and only real race in the All Star Race as Sterling Marlin, Geoff Bodine, and Ken Schrader actually fought for the lead. Marlin and Schrader went at it nose to nose for multiple laps before Bodine and Hoosier Tire stormed to the win in the final laps. It is difficult to remember any other All Star Race where there was an actual race going on.

The format has never been able to justify itself, and it's time the money invested be switched to a points race, presumably at Kentucky.

If it weren't for the

If it weren't for the Earnhardt angles in those early All-star races, and the Rusty-DW showdown, and some other drama, the All-star event has indeed been pretty much a waste of time IMHO. A points race instead: Yes. Or maybe turn the all-star into a points race -- that wouldn't be any more a gimmick than the 'chase.'
The All-star race lately has been little more than a glorified photo op with fireworks.

I don't know after the have

I don't know after the have at it boys and some of the things we have seen this year this might be a fun one to watch.

i sure hope so. but i'm not

i sure hope so. but i'm not so worried about the race itself as about the business issues -- charlotte's got 140,000 seats to fill, and on back to back weekends. i would hate to have to fill 140,000 seats for just one race much less two in eight days. that's not good business, IMHO. Plus, why should one track -- any track -- have three Cup weekends, when other places (Las Vegas, for example) have only one. Plus, look at the field for the all-star race -- why can't it be a points race too? PLUS: in 1985 the Winston Cup tour featured 28 races; today the Sprint Cup has 36 races....In 1985 we could afford to 'waste' a weekend with a fun event, especially if it were a quickie two-day affair. Today we don't have that luxury.
Me, I'd move the All-star race around, say to Las Vegas in September, to kick off the chase, as a points race. It wouldn't be any more a wild card than any race at Talladega.....

I like to see it at some

I like to see it at some place like Rockingham some place that they don't race at anymore. And the advantage there is it's not a test race to see what works at a track for later in the year or least less of one and there for less experimenting and less advantage later in the season for the teams that are in it. Maybe since it's not a points race loosen the strict rules on car setup and let the teams try some out of the template stuff who knows we might find something that works better.

Since everyone runs on Sunday

Since everyone runs on Sunday these days, they should run the All-Star Race on Monday afternoon (Memorial Day). Take the top 5 in Cup points, and the top 5 Indycar drivers in points (they'd never risk injury before the big day).

Run a 50 lap race, postions drawn out of a hat. Run the pitcrew challenge at the track as a warm-up act. Five million to the winner, zip for everybody else.

Yeah, it's sort of like the old IROC races, but those were interesting when they began.

Except for the special paint

Except for the special paint scheme (to hopefully sell a few die-casts)how does the "All Star" race differ from any other 'Cup event? It's the very same drivers, teams, crews, everything is the same and all is known BEFORE the event. Why is it even designated "All Star"? It's a stick-and ball concept that does not directly translate to auto racing. Novelty drove it for a while, but could be time to re-think the whole thing.

BTW, Davey Allison did not win the "thing" on his roof. He and Kyle Petty tangled at the finish line with Davey spinning into the wall and past the checkered flag.......but on all 4 wheels.

First of all Mike. Another

First of all Mike. Another great story. As for the All-Star race, I feel it's becoming sort of a joke. Almost half the field of the 43 drivers are going to be competing. Jeff Burton once suggested that the All-Star Race should move around for other fans around the country to witness it. Tracks like Kentucky, Iowa, Las Vegas (again, an unofficial 2nd date), Rockingham, etc. It's not like every race track is selling out per Cup race, so track seating shouldn't be an issue.

Seem like each year there's an "excuse" to get the drivers in for popularity, sponsor, etc or like the shamefully-politicking of Kyle Petty/Coke to vote him in assuring Coke to contribute to the VJGC. Who's going to vote against that?

I'm kinda hoping Dale, Jr doesn't win a race this year and next and see what NASCAR gonna do when the All Star race rolls around in 2012. Will Jr. get the proverbial fan favorite nod or will he have to race in, since his 10 year Winston/All Star run will be up.

I think they should scrap the whole thing together, unless they can make the event fan oriented for winning prizes plus an opportunity to win a share of the million-plus dollars on the table. You would have to purchase a ticket for the race, a la, a raffle ticket and all tickets will have registration numbers to be called on to win prizes. Could be $$$, cars, trucks, sponsor-related items, on and on. What is Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, Toyota gonna lose if they gave away 25 vehicles per manufacturer during the event. Nothing. All is a tax write off anyway. Then regardless to whatever format they come up with, it will be all for the fans to win, win, win.

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