NASCAR’s All-Star Race is, in general, not great. It’s meant to show off the best drivers in the sport, but the problem is that the race happens on one of the most boring tracks on the schedule. NASCAR tries a new, odd format to make the race interesting every year, and it almost always backfires—but this year, it may not.
NASCAR announced Wednesday night that instead of adding weird rules around mandatory pit stops, drawing numbers, average finishes and everything else the top-level Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has tried for the All-Star Race in recent years, it would just change one major thing: the race cars. They’ll all have restrictor plates on them for the All-Star at Charlotte Motor Speedway this year.
The sanctioning body also announced the rest of the format for the race, which is just an exhibition event for bragging rights and $1 million—no championship points. The race will have four segments, and overtime will be an option in all of them if a late caution comes out. NASCAR got rid of mandatory pit strategy, too.
Here’s the format:
And here are the changes to the cars for the All-Star Race only, which include restrictor plates and aerodynamic changes:
Restrictor plates are metal plates with holes measured to a certain size in them, given out by NASCAR at the start of a race weekend and taken back at the end so teams don’t tamper with them. The plates limit airflow to the engine and reduce horsepower at NASCAR’s biggest oval tracks, the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and 2.7-mile Talladega Superspeedway.
The plates came after the cars got too fast in the late ‘80s and wrecks got worse, even injuring people in the stands. Modern cars are still slower by about 15 mph.
Using restrictor plates probably sounds as weird as any other All-Star rules that backfire, given that Charlotte Motor Speedway is a 1.5-mile oval and plates are typically only used at NASCAR’s biggest circle tracks. But NASCAR tried plates in last year’s second-tier Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place where stock cars go to parade, and actually made it into an actual race.
The plates and aerodynamics package NASCAR used closed up the field and did the almost impossible: made a stock-car event at Indianapolis good. That was the Xfinity Series, which uses different and lower horsepower cars in the first place, but plates are worth a try if there’s any hope of a better All-Star Race.
Hope is good enough for the All-Star at this point, since it has a bad reputation that’s seemed to get worse each year. It’s inherently difficult to make the race interesting and unique in the first place, since most other sports market their All-Star events as the top athletes competing at the same time. That happens every weekend in NASCAR, so it’s hard to make it special.
The race itself is never very good either, of course, which makes it worse and leads NASCAR to try wacky stuff that fails to improve it.
That includes the past two years. In 2016, NASCAR didn’t account for “unique situation[s]” in its race format and screwed the whole field up with its rules around pit stops. It trapped a huge part of the field a lap down, messed up the inversion NASCAR put in the format, and could have resulted in a huge pileup.
The format was so bad that Tony Stewart, who retired that year, said it was “the most screwed up All-Star” he’d ever been in and that he was glad he wouldn’t be racing it next year. Past All-Star winner Denny Hamlin said “nobody liked” the format on Twitter after the race.
In 2017, NASCAR tried giving teams multiple tire compounds to choose from at the All-Star. But poor wording of the rules let teams find loopholes in their tire choices, and the race ended up being a dud anyway.
The restrictor plates may turn out just as badly as any of those attempts, but at least they sound like a good, worthwhile attempt on the surface—not like some wild, loosely planned format meant to hopefully shake things up. At least the last few years have taught us all to not go into this with high expectations.
And if you don’t have high expectations, it’s hard to be let down.