Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Speak Your Mind: Analyzing the All-Star race format

Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team won the All-Star race after dominating the final 10-lap shootout.
Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Tongues are wagging after Saturday night's All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After last year's uneventful outing, NASCAR implemented a new format to shake things up. Each winner of the first four 20-lap segments would be guaranteed a starting spot in the top 4 in the fifth and final segment, a 10-lap shootout for the $1 million prize. This would encourage the no-holds-barred racing that the exhibition race is known for.

Or so NASCAR thought. The concept generated lots of hype and excitement entering the race, but some unexpected pitfalls left a bad taste in the mouths of many. Though the racing was some of the best we've seen this season, the decision of three of the four segment winners to ride around in the rear of the field until the final segment - and a lackluster one at that - left many questioning the format.

At Skirts and Scuffs, we decided to take on the following questions: What did you think of the new format? Did you think it was exciting? What did you think of the segment winners' strategy to go to the back? What did you think of the 10-lap shootout? Should NASCAR scrap the format and start over for next year, or add a few tweaks to this format?

Here's what some of our writers have to say:

LJ Cloud: First of all, I give NASCAR credit for getting most of the way to a truly spectacular event. Saturday night's racing was probably the best of the season. No wrecks or excessive cautions needed, just plain good racing.

And I agree with Dale Earnhardt Jr., that whatever NASCAR does to tweak the format, they need to settle on it and build some tradition with it. So that means thinking very carefully about what changes to make and not just reacting to criticism.

Before the race, Kenny Wallace compared rewarding the winner with a place in the front of the final segment to transferring to the A main at a Saturday night race in any small track around the country. Why not use that approach?

First, keep qualifying, but split the field into three groups. Keep the "open" race, the Sprint Showdown, with the two transfer spots and the fan vote, one going into each of the three groups. Have those separate groups run 20 lap heats each. Then use those times to set the field for the final, the A main, with the top 3 or 4 from each segment making the transfer, depending on how many drivers qualify for the event. Take all the drivers who didn't earn a transfer spot, put them in a 30-lap heat with a mandatory four-tire pit stop and one final transfer spot on the line. Then make that final heat 30 laps with a mandatory 4 tire stop.

With that setup, every heat means something. The race for the final transfer spot would have the potential for being wild, but would also require strategy because of the pit stop. and then the final run involves strategy because the teams would choose when to make their mandatory pit stop. No team would be able to afford to sandbag, and no one would be penalized for having had to race four times to win once.

Heck, maybe they could even run it on dirt.

Lacy Keyser: The whole segment racing was just exciting. I loved it - wish the drivers would race more like that. I enjoyed every second of it. The last segment when Johnson just drove to victory showed why those drivers who won the segments won.

Johnson passing Kyle Busch for the lead in the first segment was one
of the race's many exciting moments. But then Johnson coasted for 60 laps
- until the final segment. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR
Unique Hiram: First, I would like to say that I enjoyed the new format of the NASCAR All-Star race for the most part. 

It was exciting that the four segments were won by different drivers - Jimmie Johnson (1st) - running the high line and charging his way to the front to grab the race lead from pole sitter Kyle Busch; Matt Kenseth (2nd) - driving hard and passing Denny Hamlin with just three laps to go to win his segment of the race; Brad Keselowski (3rd) - beating Kasey Kahne by just .006 seconds to win his segment; and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (4th) - racing hard and passing cars with AJ Allmendinger in hot pursuit to win his segment by 1.618 seconds over Marcos Ambrose.

However, the fifth and final segment should have been run a bit differently in order for the winners of second through fourth segments to have a fighting chance of winning the $1 million prize money.  Unfortunately, in allowing the winner of the first segment to know that he was starting up front during the final segment allowed him to just ride around the track and not compete competitively until the final ten laps. 

I believe that these two changes need to be considered for the final 10 laps: (1) have a fan lottery draw that will determine where the segment winners will be starting, not to be revealed until right before the final laps or (2) mandatory pit stops where tires (two or four) need to be changed which will alleviate the stop/go action that occurred on Saturday night.

If there were to be a twist put on the final segment of the race, then it wouldn't allow time for any of the segment winners to just ride around the back of the field because he is aware of where his restart position will be before those last 10 laps. There would have to be hard racing throughout all of the segments and strategic thinking that would have to occur for those final laps of the race. 

Overall, it was a great race - just needs a little more fine-tuning to keep the drivers racing hard all night.

Rebecca Kivak: The racing in this year's All-Star race was fantastic. I liked the new format overall. But what I didn't like was the segment winners' strategy to coast in the back, the fizzle of the 10-lap shootout and the disadvantage that the fourth segment winner has in comparison to the other winners.

The positive: We saw plenty of passing and great racing – including Jimmie Johnson overtaking pole winner Kyle Busch in the first segment, Matt Kenseth taking the lead from Denny Hamlin in the second segment and a tight battle between Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne for the win in segment 3. Segment 4 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and AJ Allmendinger picked off drivers throughout the night - those two alone made more passes Saturday night than were made during the entirety of last year’s All-Star race. There was plenty of on-track action despite a lack of wrecks.

The negative: The first three segment winners faded to the back of the field. I didn’t anticipate this strategy (and I’m betting NASCAR didn’t either) when the format was changed. But from a team’s standpoint, it’s the smart way to go. Once you win a segment, there is no incentive to race upfront when you can sandbag in the back, make all the adjustments you want and preserve your car when you know you’ll begin the final segment in the top 4. But the teams’ strategy conflicts with putting on a show for the fans. With segment winners Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski running in the back, the fans didn’t get to see the top 3 cars race throughout the event, which goes against the point of racing.

That brings us to the final segment - after a lot of hype, the 10-lap shootout was a bust. This is in part to Johnson’s dominant performance. Clearly the No. 48 had a fast car, probably the best of the field, even if we didn’t get to see it in segments 2, 3 and 4. But it’s also yet another reminder of how important track position and clean air are in today’s races. No one in the top 4 could mount a challenge to Johnson.

Being the segment 4 winner, Dale Jr. was actually at a disadvantage after racing as hard as he did in all segments, using up his equipment compared to Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski, who were able to save theirs. The final pit stop further worked against the No. 88. Like the rest in the top 4, Dale Jr. simply did a stop-and-go to get track position when new tires would have helped him, and as a result he fell back on the final restart.

How can we improve upon the current format? Make the last pit stop a mandatory four-tire stop – this would even the playing field for the top 4 segment winners, especially for the winner of the fourth segment. But there needs to be more incentive for the segment winners to, you know, actually race. What about taking the average of each winner’s finishes in the four segments to determine the starting lineup of the top 4 for the final segment? I also saw on Twitter that NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck’s father suggested giving the top starting spot to the driver who wins the most segments, which I like.

Basically, I like the overall format of the All-Star race, but it needs a little more tweaking to maintain the go-all-out mentality surrounding it.

Katy Lindamood: The most exciting thing we saw over the weekend wasn't Jimmie Johnson taking the checkered flag in the final segment of the Sprint All-Star race. It wasn't Dale Jr. winning the qualifier. It was watching the Showdown pole sitter AJ Allmendinger make his way through the field as if he was strapped to a rocket ship. The unfortunate flat tire Allmendinger got as the field took the green forced him to pit road, leaving him at the back of the pack with a fast car. Allmendinger went on to finish second and secure a transfer spot into the All-Star.

Seeing the No. 22 work its way through the field and battle for position only solidified the stance a colleague and I had debated all week. We need to bring back the inversion. Fans loved the inversion rule back in the days of The Winston and don't we wanna see a good race among those considered to be the best of the best?

Leave the length of the race and the number of segments just as they were Saturday night. Ninety laps is good and the final 10-lap segment is perfect for a no-holds-barred pedal to the metal fight to the finish. Scrap the mandatory pit stop between the forth and final segment just because it doesn't add anything to the game, especially when all drivers have to do is come to a stop. Get the teams really in on the action by requiring a 4-tire stop during the first half of the third segment. To up the ante a bit, don't allow a pit stop between the second and third segment so there's even more pressure for that mandatory stop.

Offer a monetary incentive for winning each segment, increasing the reward as the segments progress.

Put the inversion back into play for the final 10-lap segment.

Option 1:  Instead of just inverting the field based on how a driver finished in the forth segment, use an average of how cars finished in all of the proceeding segments. If Driver A has an average finish of first, then he starts at the back of the pack. Driver B who is second fastest starts next to last and so on with the car having the slowest average starting at the front in the final segment. (Remember we'll be having monetary bonuses for winning each segment in an effort to stop strong drivers from running at the back all night, preparing to be put up front to start the final segment.) If there's a tie for average finish in the segments, use the time for the mandatory green flag 4-tire stop as the tiebreaker.

Option 2: Allow fans to decide how many cars to invert in the final segment. Still use the average finish in the four proceeding segments as placement but let fans have a say. Using their Sprint mobile device, sprint.com, and kiosks set up outside the track for non-Sprint users, give people the option to decide to invert the whole field, 5, 10, or 15 cars for that final segment with voting open until the green flag in the showdown. Yes, it might be a logistical nightmare but it we can set up kiosks for the Most Popular Driver award and allow fans to vote for their favorite for a place in the race, surely we can make this work. Don't reveal until after the forth segment the plans for the inversion so that drivers have no clue how to strategize for it.

Every plan has holes and there's no doubt that drivers and crew chiefs would find them under this plan, but at least in this format there would be incentive to race hard each segment and we could end up seeing a strong car having to fight his way from the back in the final 10 laps. The fans want excitement and that's exactly what they'd get from this format.

17 comments :

So If everybody on this site enjoyed the allstar race, then
IT MUST OF BEEN GREAT?
You are one bunch of sick pups.
Maybe the reason there's never any comments, ya think?

Anonymous - There were some great moment's during Saturday night's racing in both the Showdown and the All-Star Race. For me the most exciting thing was watching Allmendinger come from the back in the Showdown to finish second followed by Keselowski and Kahne's close finish in the third segment of the All-Star Race.

That being said I felt like everything else was a let down. I don't like the idea of drivers hanging out in the back not really racing for the win. In an exhibition like this it should be balls to the wall so to speak for every single lap and we just didn't see that. The driver mentality isn't to sit back and wait but because of the structure of the format strategy comes into play, just like it does every single weekend.

Perhaps if you had read the entirety of the post you would have been able to see that not everyone was happy with the racing or lack of it.

Anonymous, thanks for stopping by, but clearly you didn't read the whole post. While many of us thought the racing was exciting in the first four segments, we were disappointed in the lackluster final segment and the strategy of the segment winners to coast in the back of the field. Because of these negatives, each of us made suggestions as to how the race and format could be improved.

We put our opinions out there with the hope of continuing the conversation. Usually if we don't get comments on a piece, I take it to mean that the majority of readers agree with us!

We certainly welcome similar and opposing viewpoints, as long as they are stated respectfully. "Sick pups" doesn't fall into that category - you could have given a much better explanation as to what you disagreed with in the piece.

During a race weekend after qualifing hell invert the field, then you'll see some stuff, wanna be the big dog...lets see ya race for it...

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