After an impressive start to All-Star weekend on Saturday morning with the rain-delayed Sprint Showdown, all eyes were on the new NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race format to see if it could equal the excitement from the preliminary race, but the new format fell well short of expectations as the Showdown overshadowed the main event.
The Sprint Showdown started off with a photo finish between Trevor Bayne and Chase Elliott in the first segment of the All-Star preliminaries as Bayne made a daring three-wide pass for the lead and held off Elliott by just .004 seconds to move on to Saturday night’s All-Star Race.
“That was pretty cool. That takes me back to Texas in 2011 in the XFINITY race when I restarted fourth and pushed Carl out before winning the race. I was thinking about what I could do and I timed the restart really good and got right to the 21’s bumper at the line and was able to get three-wide off of turn two. The car was pretty good there. In clean air I was alright. I was a little concerned with dirty air, but I got a run and went through the middle. It was a little sketchy squeezing through that hole, but it worked,” said Bayne.
Bayne’s Roush-Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, powered his way to the second segment win in the Sprint Showdown by 1.525 seconds over Austin Dillon, but more fireworks came in the final segment to determine which drivers would transfer into the main event Saturday night.
Much like the first segment, the third and final segment of the Sprint Showdown also came down to a photo finish. This time, it was Kyle Larson and Elliott beating and banging off of the wall and each other coming down to the finish line, with Larson edging the rookie by .016 seconds, and Elliott on the losing end of his second photo finish of the day.
As day turned to night and the All-Star Race got underway, all eyes were on the superstars of the sport to see if they could duplicate the racing action that took place hours earlier, but even a new format could do nothing to spice up an All-Star Race that will be remembered more for the bizarre things that happened throughout the night than the racing action on track.
To be fair, the rules changes that were implemented prior to the All-Star Race weekend helped with the racing action on track, with drivers running three and even four wide at times through the night and passing with relative ease, but even that could not help the trainwreck that the new All-Star Race format became.
The new format, which was a product of the driver’s council and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski in particular, left both drivers and fans confused on what exactly was going on during the race.
To kick off the bizarre nature of the race, Matt Kenseth failed to make his green pit stop in time and was docked a lap by NASCAR for failing to do so. Teams were then ushered down pit road between the first and second segments for a mandatory pit stop, but the lead lap cars wound up pitting with those that were scored a lap down, leaving NASCAR officials scrambling to figure out the running order.
The final segment kicked off with three cars on old tires trying to hold off the 11 behind with new tires, and as most would have expected, the new tires won out. Despite a thrilling finish as Joey Logano and Kyle Larson battled down to the finish for the win, with Logano winning out after Larson got into the wall late in the going, that is not what will be remembered from Saturday night’s running of the All-Star Race.
By the time the race was complete, the damage had already been done and social media was ablaze with talk of the confusion, overshadowing the decent racing that had taken place throughout the night, which was much improved from years prior.
Some of the comments from the drivers on the format and the officiating in the race include:
“This race reminds me of when I tried to fly a remote-control helicopter for the first time. I didn’t know what the hell was going on,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
“I’m as baffled as everybody. I don’t know how in the hell we were scored a lap down after they stopped the 20 car (Matt Kenseth) and the pit everybody together a lap down then lead lap and then lap down. It’s the most screwed up All-Star race I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad it’s my last one. I’m all right. I’m just madder than hell because I don’t understand how the hell they’ve officiated this from start to finish,” said Tony Stewart.
Denny Hamlin, who finished ninth on the night, joined the fray and blasted the new format on Twitter after the race.
No sir it didn’t. It came from 1. Nobody liked it https://t.co/DbpWudod1X
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) May 22, 2016
If the drivers, fans, and others are that confused and dislike the new format so much, it’s safe to say this one won’t be coming back anytime soon, and that’s probably a good thing. The All-Star Race used to be so much simpler and easier to follow for everyone involved, thus making it that much more fun. So here’s to getting back to the good old days of the All-Star Race, and hopefully very soon.
Image: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images