Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Bad Of NASCAR Returns At Charlotte

After an eye-opening race at Dover NASCAR entered the All Star Race at Charlotte on an optimistic note, but when it was over the sport was left with confusion and head-shaking, for the All Star Race had some good moments but overall was confusing, poorly officiated, and ultimately less competitive than it needed to be.   And this constituted a return of the negativity that has plagued NASCAR for nearly two decades now, the sense it doesn't know what it is doing, with now direct driver input making it worse.

The All Star format was created by Brad Keselowski - two 50 lap segments and a thirteen-lap finish with mandatory stops under green.  It was ostensibly designed to stop sandbagging and also to prevent the field from spreading out, yet it left everyone confused - Tony Stewart was the most caustic critic after he crashed out, and it required a postrace presser from NASCAR's senior competition VP Scott Miller explaining, "We ran into an unexpected situation."

That NASCAR runs into unexpected situations has become something of a joke over the years and typifies the problem that this race in particular and the racing in general have basically been designed without any sensible goal.  Conspicuously missing as always is that no one seems to have put any thought into incentivizing going for the lead.   The early battle between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick was the best racing all night, yet it wasn't really sustained even with the most ragged restart NASCAR has seen in years for the final segment - it was really a typical All Star Race, an exercise less in fighting for $1 million than a glorified test session for the 600.

The Kyle Larson-Chase Elliott preliminary race finish pretty much topped the rest of the day for competitive racing.

It was also the first go for NASCAR changes to reduce downforce, notably attacking chassis skew.  Writer Kristen Schneider called it "an A+" because "it was difficult to pass, creating tension" and she enthused for the Kyle Larson-Joey Logano showdown at the end  Making it difficult to pass has never been a formula for good racing and there was never any of the sustained combat up front witnessed at Dover - Larson shot to a two-second lead thanks to the fiasco of a restart but Logano ran him down and the two began racing each other but then Larson whacked the wall, ending the race as the fight for the win just got started.

Joey Logano sprang from the most ragged restart in years to run down Kyle Larson for the All Star Win

The 600 will be a better test there, but right now I wouldn't call these changes an A+ or close to that -  the race wasn't bereft of passing but NASCAR needs far more combat up front for an A+.


The momentum for the 600 presently favors the Penske Fords, much to the surprise perhaps of the JGR Toyotas that have been THE force in the series the last two seasons.    Hendrick Motorsports had an okay night with another rough outing for Chase Elliott, but is clearly behind JGR and perhaps behind Penske right now.    The team that had the quietest good night was the long-struggling Roush bunch,  getting both Trevor Bayne and Greg Biffle into the top ten. 

An uninspired night belonged to Stewart-Haas Racing, with just one car in the top ten.   Kevin Harvick once again frontran and did nothing else after leading 21 of the first 25 laps and then getting in the mess on the frontstretch; Tony Stewart crashed again, and Danica Patrick was subpar in the preliminary race, got voted into the All Star Race anyway, and was junk there as she's been pretty much everywhere.

Of the participants in the preliminary the only noteworthy production outside of the three cars that transferred came from Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, and AJ Allmendinger.   Austin Dillon in particular had an embarrassing finish after starting second. 

So wraps up the All Star Race, and now the real show - the 600 - beckons.

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