If you watched Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know there was a problem.
It was obvious in the first stage, when Kyle Larson led 20 of 20 laps.
It was obvious in the second stage, when Larson again led 20 of 20 laps.
It was obvious in the third stage, when Jimmie Johnson led 19 of 20 laps.
And it was obvious in the fourth and final stage, when Kyle Busch led all 10 laps.
The addition of the second compound of Goodyear Racing Eagles proved to be a non-factor, as none of the teams used them in the final stage, so that strategy play went pretty much out the window.
So despite an exciting Monster Energy pre-race show, a great crowd and all the tire hype, Saturday night’s race featured virtually no passing zone at the very front, which is not what people come to see.
The kneejerk reaction in some circles has been that the race should be moved to a small track.
In and of itself that’s not the answer. I’ve witnessed great races at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond and I’ve seen plenty of stinkers, too:
At Richmond last September, Denny Hamlin and Martine Truex Jr. combined to led 382 of 407 laps.
In the final 314 laps at Bristol in August 2016, Carl Edwards led 236 of them, including the last 104, when there no lead changes.
In April 2016, Kyle Busch led 352 of 500 laps at Martinsville, most notably the final 174 laps, which went by without a single lead change.
Although I love short-track racing, simply racing on a short track most emphatically does not guarantee a great race. It just doesn’t.
That said, something needs to change.
So here are two radical ideas at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Option No. 1: Put all the all-star drivers in the same cars, just like they used to do in IROC. All the cars come from one supplier with sealed crate motors, and all the cars are kept under strict impound all weekend. You can make air pressure changes, tape the noses up and add paints scheme wraps. Other than that, the teams can’t touch the car.
The cars don’t even have to be Cup cars. They could be K&N Pro Series cars or even super late models all constructed by the same builder to the exact same specs. Teams would lease or buy the cars from the builders but would not be allowed to test or develop them prior to the race. As soon as the race is over, the cars go back to the builder.
In theory, this would put a lot more of the outcome back in the hands of the driver, especially since the K&N cars are a little slower and have less horsepower than the Cup cars do.
Option No. 1 makes the equipment as close to identical as possible for every driver and team.
Option No. 2 would be just the opposite: For this race and this race only, throw the NASCAR rule book out the window and let crew chiefs work their magic. Keep the same safety rules in place, of course, and make teams use the stock chassis, but let them tweak on the bodies, the engines and the suspensions however they want.
Want to run a 500-cubic-inch engine? Go for it.
Think you’d like to soak your tires? No problem.
Want to cut 300 pounds from the weight of your car? Boys, have at it.
Admittedly, option No. 2 would likely reward the best chief more than the best driver, but so what? Fans and racers alike have been clamoring that the existing rule book is way too tight, resulting in every car running close to the same speed, which makes passing difficult.
If you let crew chiefs open up their toolboxes, you might not get a race with a closer finish — in fact you probably wouldn’t — but think of the buzz it would generate and the interest and excitement.
Think about all the rumors that would be flying around the garage in the month before the race about who has come up with what bold, new innovation. Everybody would want to watch just to see what the teams came up with.
Two final thoughts: First off, the All-Star Race is supposed to be different than all the 36 points races. So if it’s supposed to be different, make it really, really different. That just makes sense.
Don’t just add a second tire compound; fundamentally change the race and how it’s perceived.
More importantly, the All-Star Race is supposed to be about fun, about watching the best of the best duke it out. Let’s take out the follow-the-leader aspect we’ve seen so often in recent years and replace it with some good, old-fashioned fun.
Greatness is never achieved by playing follow the leader.
Greatness is achieved by having the vision, the instinct and, yes, the balls to take risks that others are afraid to take. And I think it’s high time that the All-Star Race becomes great again.
gallery: Social media reaction to Kyle Busch’s Monster Energy All-Star win