The Budweiser Shootout has become somewhat of a running joke over the last few years thanks to its constantly changing eligibility rules.
Now, it's the Sprint All-Star race's turn to change up the format.
NASCAR and Sprint announced at Charlotte Motor Speedway — site of the All-Star race — Tuesday that the May 19 All-Star race would be 90 laps in five segments of 20, 20, 20, 20 and 10 laps each — a total of 10 laps shorter than last year's race. There is a mandatory pit stop before the final 10-lap segment and no break like there has been in previous All-Star races.
That wasn't the only change. Now, the winners of each of the first four segments will lead the field to pit road before the mandatory pit stop prior the final segment. Segment 1's winner will be first, two second and so on. (If a driver wins two segments, the second-place driver in the second segment won is awarded the "win" for pitting purposes.)
It's a nice carrot for drivers and teams to go for a segment win — and in theory sets up for a great battle of wits between crew chiefs and pit crews. But here's where the dreaded track position argument comes in.
Ever since it was repaved, Charlotte Motor Speedway isn't exactly the most abusive of surfaces. Couple that with a durable Goodyear tire, and the decision for four tires, two tires or gas only isn't nearly as gut-wrenching as it could be.
Though Tony Stewart's crew chief Steve Addington was talking up the changes on Tuesday. From the AP:
"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," Addington 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."
And while I'm not nearly qualified to be a NASCAR crew chief, I'm a tad wary of that statement. With little tire fall-off, a driver who wins Segment 1 could pit before the fourth segment, save his tires and ride around the back, knowing he will head to pit road fist regardless of where he's running. Then as the first car down pit road, a smooth gas-only stop keeps the lead off of pit road and doesn't allow any other teams to take a calculated gamble to try to grab the lead for the final 10 laps. Thus, the Segment 1 winner starts the final segment on tires with a heat cycle and 20 fairly easy laps on them. A potential winning combination. (There will be a different right-side tire used at Charlotte this ear. Whether or not it's significant enough to seriously alter pit strategy remains to be seen.)
Last year's All Star Race was a bit of a snoozer, so kudos to NASCAR for a rules change that could put the night's four best cars at the front of the field for the final 10 laps. However, if clean air and track position are more of a factor than fresh rubber is, the mandatory pit stop will be a formality rather than a turning point.