NASCAR's regular season takes a breather this coming weekend, but the tour's participants don't, as they get ready for Charlotte's All Star Race weekend. The much-hyped weekend sees the All Star Showdown for cars that have not made the field for the All Star Race (2012 winners plus winners so far in 2013, which makes David Ragan eligible), and the top two of them makes the All Star field. The All Star Race has four 20-lap segments and a 10-lap shootout, with a $1 million bonus for winning all five segments.
A question that never gets asked anymore but which still is relevant to the sport - does the All Star Race really serve any worthwhile purpose for the sport? The 29 runnings of this race have gotten a lot of hype, yet the moments that tend to be cited in discussions of the race are always the crashes. As far as good racing, the All Star Race has come up short virtually every time. Only 1994 and 2000 produced battles that were actually good racing.
Given the reported attempt for Iowa Speedway to get a Cup date, one has to ask whether it's time to end "gimmick" races such as the All Star Race and the Clash at Daytona and instead spend the money used for adding another Cup race.
The Southern 500 was an uncompetitive affair and yet another poor showing for the Generation Six racecar, and the postrace commentary showed the Gen-6 is going nowhere toward solving the sport's issue of aeropush - a contrast to the Kansas Truck 200 a month ago where dirty air helped create passing. It is also telling that we lately haven't seen much NASCAR hype of scoring loop data with regard to the Generation Six.
That the Southern 500 was run under the lights contrasts with the Winston 500 last week, which doesn't have lights, and with Indianapolis Motor Speedway to add lights for 2014 or 2015 with a $100 million state-backed upgrade. The rumor is thus already starting that Talladega will add lights down the road and we'll of course get griping that NASCAR should switch more races to night - never mind the complete lack of any improvement in the sport's ratings or popularity with night racing and the damage done to local tracks that are basically bullied out because NASCAR runs at night.
An underrated issue remains the over-centralization of engine supply in NASCAR, with basically only four teams - Hendrick, RCR, Roush, and JGR building their own engines and other teams having to get their engines from them; even more curious is the seeming lack of outside engine shops such as the old Pro Motor Engineering or Mike Ege Racing Engines or Joey Arrington engine shops that once proliferated in the sport at the Cup level. The economics involved make sense to a point, yet also don't make sense in the larger picture of how much autonomy a team can have - one need recall Rick Hendrick's cryptic warning to Tony Stewart after he won the 2011 championship with Hendrick engines.
Racing writer Mike Mulhern has noted the absurdity of the issue with regard to NASCAR's recent clamp-down on Joe Gibbs and how outdated NASCAR's approach now seems to be.
It is telling that while five teams teams have won so far in 2013 with credible efforts from Richard Petty Motorsports thrown in for good measure, Hendrick and Joe Gibbs have won all but three of the first eleven races. The biggest surprise of the season is not the Talladega win by Front Row Motorsports, not that that gigantic upset doesn't warrant continued attention.
The biggest surprise remains the collapse of Stewart Haas Racing, though even here the sense of shock is grossly tempered by the fact this scenario has been repeated. SHR's newest driver has a history not only of poor racing but of dragging down the organizations for which she races. To say Danica Patrick is a cancer in the garage of every team she races for is to be blunt about it. Her gender is her entitlement to race and her presence has a track record of collapsing everything around her.
RCR has just one win (with a presumed lame-duck driver in Kevin Harvick), and that fact plus the issue of engines of course tie in to the rumor of a brand switch for RCR sooner or later; if a rumored Dodge to RCR (with the resurgent Petty team as part of the package) switch happens it's definitely to the benefit of the sport, with potential improvement in its competitive depth an obvious example of benefit.
So it is right now entering Charlotte's two weeks of racing.