NASCAR’s annual All-Star Race, an event that first took place in 1985, has been in a constant state of change in recent years as the governing body has tried relentlessly to enhance the on-track competition, as well as entertain its fans.
And this year is no different.
NASCAR announced Wednesday that it will use an aerodynamic package for its May 19 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway that will include an engine restrictor plate and front aero ducts. By restricting air flow through the engine and creating more drag with the rear spoiler, NASCAR hopes to create a drafting dynamic similar to Daytona, where drivers can be three-wide or four-wide and run a similar speed.
So what does all this mean for the All-Star Race? Our experts weigh in.
What do you think of the 2018 All-Star Race aero package, and will it work?
Mike Clay, ESPN: Admittedly, the thought of drivers racing closer together is intriguing and exciting, but as is the case at Daytona and Talladega, that excitement can change to disaster and disappointment in an instant. I want NASCAR to make moves to put more on the shoulders of driver talent, not make the results more random in the form of limiting speeds and increasing odds of “the big one.” As for Charlotte, specifically, the quarters are much tighter and the perceived race speed is faster than at a superspeedway. Larger packs and three-wide racing is unlikely to work out very well, especially with a lone $1 million top prize on the line. Dale Earnhardt Jr. once said, “I don’t even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year, but I ain’t got much choice.” Let’s hope drivers don’t end up feeling that way about Charlotte.
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: From a fans’ perspective, it’s a home run because these new changes have already created an intrigue and curiosity around an event that’s been absent of excitement for years. I believe it will satisfy fans because I expect the racing to be different than anything we have ever seen at Charlotte Motor Speedway. With the reduced horsepower, and significantly increased drag (parachute effect), we have the potential for full-throttle racing, increased drafting and three-wide racing. I truly believe the fans will win with this package, and I expect to hear some moaning and groaning from drivers throughout the All-Star weekend. Let’s give it a chance — I’m all-in!
Ryan McGee, ESPN senior writer If you know me, then you know how I’ve felt about the constant changes to the All-Star Race format; it has driven me insane. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even look. Stages and stage lengths and pit stops and fan votes and partial inversions and average-finish calculations … I literally had no idea what the format was until I got there. But these aero and plate changes; I have no issue with these. I did when I received the initial announcement, but the more I thought about it, the more I reasoned, Well, why not? Throw the teams a curveball and see if they can hit it. At this point, I’m all for trying something, anything, to revive the event.
Alisha Miller, ESPN.com: How many of you have already purchased your All-Star Race tickets, ordered your driver’s shirt and charged up your selfie stick? Yeah … that’s exactly what I thought. Let’s face it, NASCAR’s All-Star Race has lost some of its shine, and it has little to do with the fact 15-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. won’t be in the event this year. The addition of restrictor plates to the cars is a gutsy move by the governing body to create competition, but I’m just hoping The Big One doesn’t wipe out half the field. Will this aero package work at Charlotte? We’ll see, but it’s a worthwhile risk NASCAR needed to take. And if Jeff Burton and Dale Jr. are excited to see how it all plays out, well then, so am I.
Scott Page, Jayski editor: This feels like a bit of a Hail Mary from NASCAR, and I’m OK with that. The All-Star Race has been a bore for several years, and one more gimmick won’t hurt. I’m intrigued by the addition of the restrictor plate. Slowing the cars down adds a new dimension that could be exciting. It’s probably not a package that will solve any week-to-week issues NASCAR has with on-track competition, but it’s a start. With that said, if the All-Star Race is going to continue in the future, it still needs to go to different tracks. Otherwise, it seems like it’s just holding a spot on the schedule so NASCAR doesn’t have an off week.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: I don’t know if the changes will work, but the All-Star Race is the perfect spot to try these things, especially for an event that has lacked drama. So it gives fans a reason to watch, as it’s a challenge already to have an all-star event in a sport in which all the stars race against each other every week. It also could even the playing field and not have the feel of just another event on a 1.5-mile track. Hopefully, the tires will match well with the package and it will provide close racing with passing but not a 10-car pileup that eliminates half the all-star field.
Scott Symmes, ESPN.com: I’m all for experimenting, but restrictor plates? On a 1.5-mile track? Forgive me if I’m skeptical. To be fair, NASCAR has done its due diligence, and the aero package in play was a moderate success at Indy last season with the Xfinity cars, so I’m trying to keep an open mind. Still, the thought of more restrictor plates makes many fans cringe. It’s understandable that NASCAR wants to generate excitement for an event that has been lackluster, but this is a significant roll of the dice. If a manufactured wreck-fest becomes the result, the All-Star Race in Charlotte could be doomed for good.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Information: I applaud NASCAR’s willingness to make an effort to try something new. Last season, we hit a 25-year low in the number of leaders (8.0) and lead changes (16.5) per Cup race. This season, we’re just a couple of tenths ahead of last year’s rates. Last year at the All-Star Race, there were three lead changes, and none of them under the green flag. From that perspective, there’s seemingly a competitiveness problem. So, what better atmosphere to have a gigantic test session than at the All-Star Race? It’s a risky move, but you can’t accuse NASCAR of not trying to make the racing better. It could turn into a hot mess of wrecks and a parade of caution laps. On the other hand, it could change the way we approach intermediate tracks. This might not be for every week, either. We could be looking at a change that, even successful, is relegated for only the All-Star Race. But with 11 races a season on 1.5-mile tracks, including the week before and week after the All-Star Race, why not give the annual event some more flavor?