Learning From Nascar’s All-Star Race

Nascar’s All-Star Race had all the right ingredients to be a fantastic event. The racing was fantastic, the new aero package worked well, and Nascar’s young guns were at the forefront of the racing. Rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney battled hard in the Sprint Showdown, third-year driver Kyle Larson barely lost the main event to Joey Logano, and sophomore Trevor Bayne made a daring last-lap pass to advance to the main race.

However, as Nascar does year after year, it tinkered with the format of the all-star race, and it ended up hurting the sport. The last 13 lap segment was supposed to feature the first 11 cars pitting and dropping to the back of the pack, forcing them to fight their way through traffic to the front of the field. However, after Matt Kenseth failed to make a mandatory pit stop, half the field was trapped a lap down with no way to get back on the lead lap, creating a disjointed, confusing finish.

Although the racing was exciting, the confusing format was difficult for fans, drivers, and even the announcers to follow. Forcing part of the field to pit is an interesting idea, but for the future Nascar must clearly define and standardize its rules to ensure everyone is on the same page. Nascar keeps getting its decisions 90% right–it will need to clear that last 10% to truly reestablish its standing among fans.

The Wood Brothers and the Charter System

At the start of the year, Nascar and its teams announced a major overhaul in the sport’s structure. The group implemented a charter system, whereby 36 teams receive guaranteed spots in the starting lineup and access to better prize money, while other teams must race their way in to fill out 4 spots in the 40-car field. The move was designed to make owning a Nascar team similar to owning an MLB or NBA franchise, with guaranteed race appearances and payouts. The guarantees are meant to help teams attract sponsors looking for stability. Teams can also sell their charters on the open market, providing an out should owners decide they wish to leave the sport. With the cost of competing nearing $25 million a year (Bloomberg Businessweek), drivers and teams need all the help they can get to stay afloat.

Like any change in Nascar, the charter system sparked a lot of controversy. The Wood Brothers racing team, one of Nascar’s most historic franchises, was denied a charter spot. Although Nascar’s reasoning was that the group had only run part-time over the past few years, the team and its fans were enraged, especially since the team will be running full-time this year with rookie driver Ryan Blaney. Now, the team which once raced David Pearson and Dale Jarrett will have to qualify on speed each week while full-time backmarkers such as Go FAS Racing are locked in. The charter system is locked in for the next 5 years–if the Wood Brothers don’t purchase a charter from another team, it could be a long time before they’re locked into the race.

Now we come to the crux of the issue–was this fair? The Wood Brothers have not run a full-time schedule since 2008, but every time they put cars on track they’re competitive–they even won the Daytona 500 with Trevor Bayne. They’ve put out 25 top 20’s in the past 5 years despite running a partial schedule, something a lot of other full-time teams can’t say. The Wood Brothers are Nascar’s oldest team, having competed in races since 1950. It would be a shame to see them left out of the new Nascar.