Saturday night’s All-Star Race should be the penultimate event.
As NASCAR teases a potential overhaul of the 2021 Cup Series schedule, one of the easiest and most logical things NASCAR can do in two years is to get rid of the All-Star Race. The race is past its expiration date.
When it was started in 1985, the All-Star Race was a novel idea. It paid $15,000 more to the winner than the Daytona 500 did that season and featured just 12 of the best drivers in the Cup Series in a 70-lap exhibition. Darrell Waltrip won the 40-minute caution-free event by just 0.31 seconds.
NASCAR would be thrilled with that margin of victory on Saturday night in a race that will go, at maximum, 15 laps from the final restart to the checkered flag. Last year’s winner, Kevin Harvick, won by 0.325 seconds after a two-lap sprint to the finish.
But the margin of victory isn’t the point here. It’s the lack of novelty. The race’s format has features that are no longer unique.
Double-file restarts, first introduced in the Clash and the All-Star Race in 2009, now happen at every race. The All-Star Race’s multiple stage format was new and different when it was introduced in 1987. Every NASCAR race now has at least three stages.
The field is oversaturated too. 20 drivers will compete in Saturday night’s race. There are only 31 full-time drivers competing for Cup points. In no sport or series are two-thirds of the participants worthy of an All-Star designation.
The $1 million bonus gets lamer with every year of inflation as well. No matter how NASCAR tries to sell the bonus, there are few things less appealing than multi-million dollar teams and millionaire drivers racing for a seven-figure check. And the race first featured a $1 million prize for the winner in 2003.
A million bucks in 2003 is the equivalent of nearly $1.4 million in 2019. Teams are now spending more than ever to build their cars and compete while NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway haven’t increased the carrot to go with inflation. Or even the Daytona 500.
In 2015, the final year where NASCAR made purse money publicly available, the winner of the Daytona 500 got over $1.5 million. The All-Star Race has been left in the dust.
And the financial incentives are even worse for the teams who won’t come close to winning the race. The 50-lap open qualifying race can be a money loser for teams who don’t have sponsorship to cover the gap between their race weekend costs and the prize money the weekend pays. The race has to be worth it for everyone involved.
The race was worth it, at least for NASCAR, in 2018. The car rules for the All-Star Race ended up serving as the basis for NASCAR’s 2019 rules. The race was also entertaining and featured multi-car crashes, events that have basically disappeared from intermediate tracks in 2019.
But the teams fronted the cash for those rules change costs for the All-Star Race a year ago and the minor changes NASCAR wants to experiment with in this year’s event are also an added expense. While it’s inarguable that an exhibition event is a better place to experiment than a points race, teams can’t keep paying to be guinea pigs.
It’s hard to keep selling a race — especially to casual fans — as a car rules experiment. There is, quite frankly, no strong reason to get fans to tune in on Saturday night other than the promise of cars going in circles.
Cars go in circles enough as it is. 38 of the 52 weekends a year have some sort of Cup Series race. That’s way too many. As NASCAR looks at ways to potentially condense the duration of its schedule, cutting the All-Star Race should be an easy decision.
The sooner that decision is made, the better. Thirty-six years is a good run.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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