Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

TORRES: Underwhelming Night of All-Star Gimmicks at Bristol

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

I don’t know about you guys, but I felt the 36th annual NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway failed to deliver the hype.

At this point, I don’t know what NASCAR can do to make the million-dollar chase better aside from a suitable rule package that’ll make “Thunder Valley” or any circuit exciting to host an All-Star night.

When the sport has reached the point of using gimmicks to become the event’s selling point, you know it’s time to question the event’s worthiness. It certainly doesn’t help when those gimmicks proved to be a disappointment to where a Chase Elliott win doesn’t feel special like it’s supposed to be.

For starters, fans across all social media loath the numbers being placed outside the center door.

Stewart-Haas Racing certainly gets a fat goose egg for some of the worst out there, especially Cole Custer’s abomination of a paint scheme that had me feel like Pam Beesly leaving Michael Scott’s office in absolute disgust when she found about him dating her mother.

Fortunately, guys like Martin Truex, Jr. and Ryan Preece showcased how of the concept works with certain paint scheme designs. Other than that, it’s a basket case of bad number placements or mass clutter, but that subject has been beaten up like a dead horse already, so I’ll move on.

You know that “Need for Speed: Tokyo Drift” looking underglow underneath the rear of the cars?

Apparently, the drivers aren’t too fond about the concept as indicated by Kevin Harvick when someone asked about it during Wednesday’s post-race video conference.

“I wish mine would have fallen off (laughing). The only person that I talked to that thought that underglow light was good was my eight-year-old,” said Harvick, who finished third in the All-Star Race. “Hopefully, the kids liked it because it was definitely something that I’m way out of that age group for, I guess you’d call it the underglow light.”

If you’re one of the lucky ones (hopefully wearing a mask) that got to see this extravaganza, I wonder if y’all even enjoyed the underglow lights?

Personally, it doesn’t make the cars go any faster and what people thought it was going to be turned out to be underwhelming. Cool for the kids like Harvick said, but as a 25-year-old, I could care less unless if I was at the track to see it in person.

Being a racing photographer, I’d have a different take but with the pandemic, I’m expressing my take elsewhere.

What I’d hope to have seen is something special during the burnouts like orange smoke visibly seen from Elliott. We’ve seen the clips and photos from Nashville when Chip Ganassi Racing put on a show last year. How about Wednesday night in front of a pro-Elliott crowd? Nope.

Just a typical victory burnout you’ve seen at any other NASCAR event with little bit of orange underneath the No. 9 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

It probably has something to do with the lights at Bristol, but shouldn’t track facilities shut all of the lights to fully see the underglow’s capability of how beast it’ll look under dark?

I’d like to think so, but if they weren’t going to do it, much less put the underglow below the entire car, then what’s the point of having it?

Just for folks to say ‘Ooh, pretty rear lights?’

However, stuff like that doesn’t define an entire race. The racing product is what matters, so what gimmick did NASCAR implemented at Bristol?

Perhaps the most disappointing implementation was the glorified choose cone where one reporter got his wish. Unfortunately, the restart format didn’t convince me whatsoever.

When it visually looked like any other race without any one-sided decision, you know it’s over hyped. I’m sorry, but it’s clear as day the top lane was the go-to restart line. No matter what pit strategy the 20-car field went with, inside won’t win right out of the gate.

You’ll either get smoked by the top groove after spinning your tires or fall victim to the dreaded dirty air which doesn’t make the quality of competition as positive.

Harvick brought up a valid issue of this choose cone format. When drivers realize a certain trend, chancing it isn’t worth trying.

“I think the thing that it does is it just takes all the question out of where everybody is and who is where,” said Harvick. “When you get to that line everybody has already made their choice and there’s no funny business of people trying to start in a different lane or do something that they didn’t choose to do.

“I think that went really well and, for the most part, I don’t think there were any issues.”

At least there wasn’t issues, but it defeats the purpose of having it in the first place when “no funny business” prevent spicing things up. In that regard, fans must be disappointed.

How was the race after restarts?

Like you would expect at Bristol, one lane becomes feasible pending on the length of the race. Therefore, the top lane is a waste for this format.

We’re expected to have a fun war zone where fierce competitors giving it their absolute all for a million dollars, but when Kyle Busch finds it difficult to make that groove work, then it’s a greater problem that boils back to the package.

Busch admitted that even he was right on the bumper of Elliott, you cannot make a race winning maneuver due to you guess it, dirty air.

“I just had to try something different than what we were doing. Even if I got to him, I wasn’t going to be able to pass him because the air following guys just wouldn’t let me get close enough all night. Me anyways,” said the runner-up finisher.

“Still felt like I had to drive 110 percent to even make that finish happen. Still kind of slow, just missing something. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) made some good adjustments on pit road there during the race to get us closer instead of just running 10th all night. Just second, that’s it.”

Elliott saw the lane issue different because the top groove is more ideal for longer runs, something it can’t be done in a race meant to be short and competitive.

“The track prep was no different today than it has been the past two or three years we’ve been coming here. The difference was the length of the event was not long enough for us to get the grip strip up off the bottom to where the momentum around the top became the dominating factor,” said Elliott.

“Look, at the end of the day, by the end of a 500‑lap race, the top is the place to be. At the end of a hundred some odd lap race, the bottom is the place to be. There’s still a place to be so I’m not really sure that it matters.”

At the end of the day, the 2020 edition of the All-Star Race will go down as a lackluster event. Bristol is a great place of hosting such race, but there’s still some improvements necessary to make the event phenomenal and gimmicks isn’t the way to go.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.