NASCAR tweaks All-Star race format
CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR's annual all-star race will be split into five segments this year, with a mandatory pit stop before the final 10-lap sprint for the $1 million prize.
The All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be 90 laps and begin with four 20-lap segments. The winner of each segment will move to the front of the field right before the cars head down pit road for their mandatory stop.
Drivers will then line up in the order they leave pit road to start the final segment.
"It's sprint, quick races. Twenty-lap races will mean a lot more now if you can start up front or at least pit first for the final segment, which will mean everything," said 2008 winner Kasey Kahne. "In 10 laps here, if you start anywhere out of the front two rows, you probably don't have a shot at winning. To have the best shot at winning the All-Star Race, you'll want to win one of those (segments)."
The new format is designed to place a premium on winning one of the first four segments, as well as showcase pit crews for the mandatory stop before the 10-lap shootout. Steve Addington, crew chief for Kurt Busch's 2010 win, said teams will have to decide quickly what to do during the pit stop.
"The guys in that top five or six are going to be the ones with the pressure on them to decide if they want tires or not," he said. "There'll be a guy in eighth, ninth, 10th that's going to gamble going for a million bucks, who will do a splash of fuel, a stop-and-go and get out and try to get clean air and get away from everyone else."
There was little drama in last year's race, with Carl Edwards winning three of the four segments with what was then a 100-lap race. He went onto pit road as the leader for the mandatory pit stop, was the first car off pit road, and handily pulled away on the restart to lead all 10 laps of the final segment.
NASCAR and title sponsor Sprint are consistently working with track officials to spice up the annual all-star event, and Sprint this year is introducing a contest to allow fans to do the driver introductions via video entries that will be shown on Charlotte's 80-foot television screen.
The event is open to race winners from last season through the May 12 race at Darlington, and previous All-Star race winners from the past 10 years.
The top-two finishers in the 40-lap preliminary race also advance into the main event, as does the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 2000 winner of the race, was not eligible last season and advanced via the fan vote. As of now, 19 drivers are eligible so the field will be at least 22 cars.
This is the eighth time since the race's 1985 debut that the format has been changed, and Sprint vice president of corporate marketing Steve Gaffney said the sponsor likes the ability to tinker with the event and continuously find ways to incorporate fans.
But Gaffney said he'd be open to adding a competition element to the All-Star race some day. The event is currently a no points, dash for cash that leads into the track's marquee Coca-Cola 600 on May 27.
"Relative to other properties, I like the degree there is some sort of competitiveness like MLB has achieved by awarding home-field advantage for the World Series," Gaffney said. "So, can we think about different ways moving forward where something comes out of the all-star race results in some sort of competitive advantage?
"That's not my choice, and I don't know if we'd ever be able to achieve something like that, but that would be an interesting thing to explore."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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