MONTE DUTTON: THE ALL-STAR BETS ARE OFF
Oh, bother, Winnie the Pooh might say. What to do with the All-Star Race? What indeed?
Each year brings with it talk of relocating the Great Race That Has Lost Its Way. How come Charlotte gets three race weekends? It used to be because it could draw a crowd two weeks in a row. This isn’t true anymore. Nor is it true that most tracks can draw a crowd with a weekend alone, at least not as in the days of yore.
Yore featured slam-bang duels between Earnhardt and Elliott, Wallace and Waltrip, Davey and Kyle, etc.
Once was it One Hot Night. Now it’s One Bold Move. That’s what won the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race for Kyle Busch. Busch pitched a no-hitter. No runs, no hits, no errors. The only caution flags were between the segments.
The talk this year is radical. Put it on a local short track. Oh, South Boston Speedway, maybe, suggests South Boston, Va.’s Jeff Burton. Take it to Eldora in open-wheel Ohio. Run the Cup cars on the dirt. Run a road course. I haven’t yet seen anyone suggest running the desert from Phoenix to Tucson, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Let me introduce a topic that strikes me as overlooked.
One of the reasons that the all-star race is run at Charlotte is that the teams are located there. The overhead is low. Money in the All-Star Race is top-loaded. The winner gets a million bucks. For everyone else, the money isn’t all that great. For those who serve the hors d’oeuvres – i.e., run the Open – the money isn’t much at all. One reason everyone is happy to participate in the Open is all the crew members sleep in their own beds, drive to the track in their own cars and the hauler rolls to the other side of town instead of the country. No flights. No rooms. No service.
Everyone says home, sweet home. Most mean save, sweet save. Folks in NASCAR have backed off a little on the notion that money is no object.
Maybe it moves nearby to a track that would provide more excitement. Bristol, Darlington and Martinsville are in driving range. Darlington has only one date. Would the third week in May pair with the first in September? Probably would.
If NASCAR wants to take it to a new venue, why not Road America in Wisconsin? If it wants to please the partners, rotate it to tracks that have only one regular date. The latter won’t happen because NASCAR would never organize something years in advance – Fontana next year, New Hampshire year after that, etc. – and this is pretty obvious since NASCAR can’t set rules for the All-Star Race a month in advance. That’s a weak comparison, but you get my drift.
Then there’s the compromise decision, one that that doesn’t require a huge investment of money. Keep it at Charlotte, but run it on the road course that is being coincidentally improved, and, for practical purposes, reopened.
For what it’s worth, 20 years ago, I wrote that one segment of The Winston (as it was then known) should be run through the infield road course.
At the time, I was joking.
As these words are written, the 2018 Monster Cup schedule is on the verge of release. My hunch is that the slot for the All-Star Race isn’t going to be in permanent ink.