COMMENTARY | Were you excited by what you saw on track Saturday night in NASCAR's All-Star Race?
If you answered yes, you must be named Jimmie Johnson or Chad Knaus, because otherwise you don't fit the category here.
I was really looking forward to Saturday night's race, and hoped the format they went with would produce an exciting race with lots of hard racing and a great finish.
Boy was I wrong.
The first four segments had a few exciting moments, but even then it was mostly ho-hum and just like any other race weekend, not the vibe I want to see in the All-Star race with its shorter distance and so much money on the line.
I don't want to see a bunch of accidents or anything like that; I just want to see some exciting battles through the field as drivers fight to get to the front. And I didn't see as much of that as I remember in past All-Star races.
Then, the ultimate in "oh no not that again" NASCAR television happened: Jimmie Johnson won yet again. No one doubts the Hall of Fame-level talent and ability of Jimmie, and he earned this record fourth All-Star Race victory fair and square with the help of a lightning-quick pit stop by his crew, but most of the NASCAR fan base has long been bored by seeing the 48 team continue to win races.
Remember that whole five titles in a row thing Jimmie did a few years back? It's an amazing feat, but the only fans of a dynasty are the people who are on the team or its most diehard fans. The more a team dominates, the more most people get annoyed by them.
So when Jimmie saw the checkered flag first on Saturday night, many of the people watching probably shook their heads and wondered why they even bothered to watch, then quickly changed the channel. The reaction on Twitter by most fans was somewhere between annoyance and disgust, a collective "I stayed up for this?" thought bubble.
Most fans have no desire to watch yet another Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus celebration; they've seen enough of those for a lifetime and are ready for some fresh blood to start winning these big races. Jimmie deserves the credit for winning and being a great driver, of course, but the fact that most of the NASCAR-watching public doesn't want to see it happen can't be ignored.
Here are some general thoughts I had on Saturday night's race:
-- The format was OK until the end, encouraging drivers to run hard all race due to the average finish rule setting up final segment restart order, but 10 laps is too short for the final segment. You have to give guys time to catch up, not let a guy run away and have little chance of being caught, which is what usually happens in these 10-lap segments. I think 20 laps would have made it interesting, if Joey Logano could have caught up to Jimmie. As it stands, the guy up front gets clean air, everyone behind him is side-by-side and losing ground, so he can check out from the others in a hurry and sail to victory.
-- The $1 million Bruton Smith Bonus was a non-issue. First of all, it's highly unlikely anyone could ever win all five segments. There's too many good drivers and teams in this race. Also, if someone did do it, it would actually be prettty boring to see a guy lead basically flag to flag, even if you could respect the accomplishment.
-- I'm all about the fans taking part in the sport, and that's great of NASCAR to allow that, but what was the point of Danica Patrick being in the All-Star Race? She was an also-ran in the Sprint Showdown, though at least she didn't go a lap down (and to be fair, her teammate/boss Tony Stewart wasn't running so well either in the All-Star race).
After Danica got voted into the big show, she was basically in last place the whole time. If a Martin
Truex or someone else who had been running up front in the Showdown had transferred, they might have had a chance to be a factor in the big show, but with Danica, you know it's a pointless exercise to have her there against the best in the business. And the worst part -- she will win the fan vote every year from now until she's done with NASCAR, so get used to this silliness on an annual basis. And in an odd twist, for someone so popular, she sure got a lot of boos when she was announced as the winner of the fan vote (I'm guessing the folks in attendance weren't among those who voted for her).
-- The driver intros for this All-Star Race are overly long, brutally boring and in need of a makeover too. Some terrible music plays in the background as they very slowly introduce the competitors. It's cool that the fans can get close to the drivers, but anyone at home probably could squeeze a nap in during this part of the broadcast. And don't even get me started on who they chose for the National Anthem; my ears still hurt.
-- The decision to require every team to do a four-tire pit stop before the last segment is a very bad idea. It takes away some of the elements of surprise that teams could use to try to gain track position. Maybe a team could have gambled with 2 tires or no tires and come out as a surprise winner? It's not a guarantee that would happen, but they should at least leave open the possibility.
Makeover neededThe All-Star Race, once a legendary event that every fan looked forward to with extreme anticipation, is becoming less and less of an event that fans feel they have to watch. Recent tinkering with the setups and rules are part of this problem, and some serious changes need to be made before next year.
Maybe we can go back to some sort of field inversion at various points of the race like they used to do, which would force the top drivers to make their way back through the field in order to win? Perhaps the segment lengths need to be adjusted in some way? Maybe they should allow more flexibility on the final pit stop?
Whatever they do, they have to do something to improve the product.
Because as it stands, many people won't make it a priority to watch this race next year unless the action on track is a little more watchable and produces an exciting conclusion.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu
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- Jimmie Johnson
- Chad Knaus