NASCAR Needs to Reconsider the All-Star Race

NASCAR's All-Star Race debacle on Sunday proves the event is in need of a serious refresh.

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Ryan Blaney crosses the finish line at 2022's NASCAR All-Star Race. His window net has fallen after he attempted to re-secure it.
Ryan Blaney crosses the finish line at 2022's NASCAR All-Star Race. His window net has fallen after he attempted to re-secure it.
Photo: Chris Graythen (Getty Images)

On Sunday, May 22, Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney won the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race and, with it, the $1 million prize — but officiating at the very end of the race meant he very nearly didn’t. And that was just one of many mishaps during the Texas Motor Speedway event that shows the All-Star Race is, at the very least, in need of a serious refresh.

The All-Star Race has been around in one form or another since 1985, when it was called The Winston and was, with few exceptions, hosted at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Back then, it was a fun way to get local Charlotte fans out to the track to see something a little different, and over the years, it has evolved to become... significantly different. After the most recent running, plenty of fans have been asking if we need the All-Star race at all — or if there’s a way to “fix” the event’s problems.

See, as the event has changed through the years, its rules have become increasingly complex, and they change each year. While that’s to be expected of any race series, the All-Star event this year included regular qualifying paired with elimination-style pit stop challenges. It had more stages than the standard race, and the winners of each stage secured restart positions near the front of the field — but only if they’d finished a different stage in a particular place.

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It’s not an intuitive event to watch, and it also means that fans are so busy keeping up with format changes that they can totally forget about the other rules in place for the All-Star event, like the fact that the race isn’t supposed to end under a caution. Which is exactly what happened this year.

NASCAR’s officiating also plays a huge role here: When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed on the final lap of the event, officials threw a yellow flag mere moments before Blaney crossed the finish line. It was such a last-minute effort to extend the race that the No. 12 Penske crew had no idea what had happened. I stood watching the pit crew celebrate while Blaney himself loosened his window net to round the track and wave at fans. Watching from the pit lane area, I started heading over to Victory Lane, only to glance at the TV and see that five laps had been added to the race.

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The rules of the race, of course, dictated that the race must end under a green flag, so there would need to be a sprint to the finish. But then came another question: What would happen with Blaney? His window net was obviously down, but pitting to replace it would forfeit his lead. And while he managed to get the net up just before the restart, it immediately fell down when the cars got up to speed. In a race that had already seen one car launching over another, the lack of a safety measure seemed especially ominous — though NASCAR ultimately opted against any punishment.

And those were only some of the concerns. The fact that the race started at 8:30 p.m. ET on a Sunday night, Texas Motor Speedway’s poor track surface thanks to a traction compound called PJ1, the race’s distance from Charlotte, and the fact that many teams were left rushing to repair cars for the upcoming Coca-Cola 600 all left a sour taste in fans’ mouths. Each race weekend, journalist Jeff Gluck runs a poll asking fans whether or not a race was good. Out of the 239 races Gluck has polled, the 2022 All-Star race ranked at the very bottom of the list in terms of fan enjoyment.

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Is the All-Star race even necessary anymore? What started as an enjoyable exhibition has turned into a mid-season slog in the midst of ever-growing NASCAR Cup Series calendars. Wouldn’t these already overworked teams have benefitted from a weekend off to prepare for the Coke 600? Was there any benefit to anyone — aside from Ryan Blaney — for showing up this weekend? Or is there a totally different way to put on an All-Star race — maybe as a part of the pre-season Clash, or as a season finisher just before the awards banquet? Whatever the case, something needs to give.