In the last Warped Wednesday feature, I asked the (not-so serious) question of what the point of the All-Star Race was. After all, it's not like NASCAR drivers race against each other 38 times a year or anything.
After watching the reaction after Jimmie Johnson's runaway victory in the final segment of Saturday night's race, allow me to be serious for a moment: Why was the race such a letdown for so many?
I'll be blunt. If you're one of those people, you've allowed yourself to be manipulated by the hype and promotion surrounding the All-Star Race. Last night's race wasn't certainly one of the ones that will be shown on the glossy teaser package to be played 10,000 times before next year's race. But let's not undersell it either.
This is NASCAR. In 2013. On an intermediate track. If you watched – and were disappointed – on Saturday night, you've likely seen one or three or fifty intermediate track races over the last few years. If this was a points race, would anything that happened Saturday night have merited such a disappointing reaction?
Hell, after restarts, the racing was pretty damn good, especially by our intermediate track standards. The racing that Johnson and Kahne carried on for two laps before Johnson checked out was compelling, Clint Bowyer's three-wide move for the lead was daring and Ryan Newman's charge on the high side of 1 and 2 seemed inexplicable.
Yes, ultimately, clean air was the order of the evening. But that's no different than what we'll see Sunday night in the 600. Just because it was "no-holds barred" and not for points, did you expect clean air not to be a factor?
There have been 29 All-Star Races. And there have been, what, five or six truly memorable moments? After the Pass in the Grass, the first race under the lights (and Davey Allison and Kyle Petty's crash), Jeff Gordon's T-Rex car, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip crashing and Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning, are there any other races that really stand out?
Yet we're conditioned to think that every All-Star Race is exceptional, given the excitement in the booth and those glitzy promotional videos. I get that it's the job of the sport and Fox, the network that broadcasts it, to get viewers to tune in for a non-points race on a spring Saturday night. But at the same time, those promotions fuel the cries to change the race's format yet again or make significant location and structure changes every time each race doesn't have a signature moment.
Johnson has something to do with that too, though, especially given the tinfoil-hat wearing that blew up Twitter shortly after the race thanks to an inaccurate in-race graphic. Not only has he won the most All-Star Races of any driver, but he and Chad Knaus have won back-to-back races under completely different formats. If the All-Star Race is about showcasing NASCAR's best, isn't it fitting that perhaps the best crew chief and driver combination in NASCAR is proving their excellence?
The All-Star Race isn't untouchable; the discussion whether or not it should be moved around is a worthy one. The easiest way to try to create a signature moment would be to add a track wrinkle that's only seen at the race. But until that actually happens and the race is still staged at a 1.5 mile track and intermediate track racing continues to be ruled by clean air, treat it just like you would a points race. Don't expect to be exhilarated every year.