All-Star Racing or Short Track Nationals ~ The Choice is Yours
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and a nod of this old grey head to our assigned NASCAR reader on this lovely spring day. Well folks, it’s that time again… the All-Star race looms just over the horizon on Saturday night. That’s your warning to run and hide or just make other plans. This thing, originally known as “The Winston”, was born of a brain trust that included Humpy Wheeler and T. Wayne Robertson.
The concept in 1985 was simple enough. It was a straight 70-lap sprint, supposedly no rules, no points, anything goes “Saturday night racing.”
Qualifiers were limited to those drivers that had won a race in 1984, though presumably winning an early race in 1985 would also qualify a driver. The field was comprised of only 12 drivers… Harry Gant, Bill Elliott, Richard Petty, Tim Richmond, Bobby Allison, Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd and Geoff Bodine. Very little fireworks in that one, unless one counts Geoff Bodine’s blown engine on lap 14. Three drivers, Harry Gant, Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip led laps, with Waltrip crossing the finish line under the checkers first… and promptly exploding his Junior Johnson engine all over the track. Johnson, in that droll drawl said he built an engine to go 105 miles… and that’s what it did.
It was the plan of Wheeler and Robertson that the race should rotate tracks each year, so 1986 saw the race at Atlanta International Raceway… same track, but still sporting its original name and still the “perfect oval.” However, someone wasn’t thinking or neglected to consult a calendar when scheduling. The race ran on Mother’s Day, a day always held sacred in NASCAR. The resulting crowd could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Atlanta has never been a great support area for any sport, and they made no exception for NASCAR on Mother’s Day. Hometown boy, Bill Elliott just plain stunk up the show, leading 82 of the 83 lap distance. Second place finisher Dale Earnhardt led the one lap Elliott didn’t. Only ten drivers qualified for the race; besides Elliott and Earnhardt they were Harry Gant, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnett, Geoffrey Bodine, Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte and Greg Sacks.
The strange thing about that year is that the “Open” had not yet been born. Atlanta, in what probably was another lack-of-wisdom moment, scheduled something called the “Atlanta Invitational”, which ran AFTER The Winston. Same crowd, but a slightly longer 100-lap race. Benny Parsons took the checkers 2 seconds ahead of Tim Richmond… and that was the last we’d see of that particular “Invitational” race. Besides Parsons and Richmond, participants included Bobby Hillin Jr., Lake Speed, Joe Ruttman, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, Dave Marcis, Buddy Arrington, Jimmy Means, Kyle Petty, J.D. McDuffie and Trevor Boys. I haven’t a clue what criteria was used in issuing invitations to the race. Once that fiasco was over and done, the race returned to Charlotte where it remains today.
Fear not. We won’t be reliving each annual reenactment of the race known as The Winston, The Winston Select, Nextel All-Star Challenge, Sprint All-Star Challenge, Sprint All-Star Race and Monster Energy All-Star Race. If that looks like a lot of name changes, you ought to see the list of Format changes! That has changed almost annually, as the race struggles mightily to live up to the over-hype that always precedes it.
This year is no different, as yet another twisted and twined format was rolled out last month. This year’s format will include four stages - 30 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps and 10 laps. Only green flag laps will be counted in the Final Stage. Normal stage break procedures will be in effect, with one “exciting” addition: NASCAR Overtime will be in play for all stages. There will be no mandatory pit strategy. The Monster Energy Open will run three stages - 20, 20 and 10 laps respectively. Each stage winner will advance to the evening's main event, as will the winner of the “fan vote.” There are 17 drivers already qualified for the All-Star race and the entries from the Open and fan vote will make 21. Shut my mouth and call me dumb, but in a sport that currently runs a 37 or 38-car field, that seems like a really far out number of “All-Stars!”
The seventeen listed as competing are Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. Each meets one or more of the following criteria:
Monster Energy Series race winners in 2017 and 2018; former All-Star race winners who are competing fulltime; Monster Energy Series Champions who are competing fulltime. As previously noted the winner of each of the three stages of the Monster Energy Open and the winner of the 2018 Fan Vote round out the field. Somewhere along the way, someone decided there should be a minimum number set and it hovers right around 20. Looking at a few of the names on the All-Star list, your scribe questions the wisdom of that, but… it is what it is.
Oh yes… the cars… in case you missed the memo, the cars will run a “package” tried out by the Xfinity gang at Indianapolis last year. According to all the superlative adjectives that have been attached to what NASCAR describes as “successful”, one might think that race was memorable in some way. Think again! Best I can say is that William Byron won it, which was almost the expected outcome throughout 2017. The aforementioned package translates to each car being fitted with aero ducts, a six-inch-high spoiler with two 12-inch ears, a restrictor plate and the 2014 style splitter. (That’s a larger splitter, I guess to complement the larger spoiler) The only thing this scribe likes in all that is the larger spoiler, as the cars now run with a definite lack of downforce and really put on a parade.
There’s my brief but accurate description of what will be on your TV this Saturday evening. However, if Bristol is within your driving range, the Short Track Nationals are running there this weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If driving to Bristol is out of the question, all three days of racing will be televised at Speed51.com, for a fee.
One more programming note… Wednesday, May 23 is the day that the NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2019 will be announced. Assuming that you won’t be driving to Charlotte for the festivities, just tune your TV to NBCSN at 5:30 next Wednesday. This has been a public service announcement. Now we move directly to our Classic Country Closeout.
Alas, unless a deeper search turns up something more, this is the last one of the Ozark Jubilee shows found on YouTube. Please enjoy watching and listening to the incomparable Red Foley and others. There is a short break on this one. There is audio but no video. Please just scroll past it and the entertainment picks up again. I apologize for that.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling.
It looks so good on you!