Race Weekend Central

All-Star Weekend Has Been One Without Direction – Until Now?

For NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season, All-Star weekend holds a special significance with the triumphant return of North Wilkesboro Speedway.

But what’s also lost in the excitement is that the return has single-handedly made the All-Star Race one of the most anticipated weekends on the calendar once again.

For the past several years, it seemed as if the All-Star Race had gone from a must-see television to just another race on the calendar. The $1 million-dollar prize is the same as it was in 1992 and 2003 ($1 million in 2003 money is now worth more than $1.6 million today), and the constant changes to the format of the race have left no sense of continuity.

See also
Dropping The Hammer: North Wilkesboro Dreams Become Reality

The race also loses its meaning when one realizes that it’s often the guinea pig for implementing change. Due to negative fan reception about racing at intermediate tracks, the 2018 All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was run with restrictor plates. Yes, you read that right. Restrictor plates.

The 2018 edition and its package ultimately provided the basis for the 550-horsepower package that was implemented for 2019 — an era of racing where just mentioning the word ‘550’ would produce a collective groan from some fans.

The 2020 edition at Bristol Motor Speedway marked the first All-Star race outside of Charlotte since its lone appearance at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986. But more than just the venue was under the microscope that year, as the cars were given under glow, and, more notably, off-centered numbers on the side of the car.

The reception to the numbers at the rear of the sides was negative, but once again, the All-Star Race was used as a test for another sweeping change that became permanent (with a few alterations) for the Next Gen car in 2022.

Moving forward, the ever-changing format of the race and its gimmicks are sources of confusion more than ones of excitement. Between eliminations, varying stage lengths, field inversions, special pit stop rules and more, NASCAR has tried everything. And when it comes to the number of stages and stage lengths, the All-Star Race hasn’t had a repeat format since 2014.

YearTrackSegments (Laps)
2023North Wilkesboro100-100
2022Texas25-25-25-50
2021Texas15-15-15-15-15-30-10
2020Bristol55-35-35-15
2019Charlotte15-20-20-30
2018Charlotte30-20-20-10
2017Charlotte20-20-20-10
2016Charlotte50-50-13
2015Charlotte25-25-25-25-10
2014Charlotte20-20-20-20-10
2013Charlotte20-20-20-20-10

For the last 10 years, All-Star weekend has been a matter of throwing mud at the wall in the hope that something sticks.

This upcoming weekend at North Wilkesboro looks to be a departure from the current trend.

Left with the choice of implementing a race or a race with numerous gimmicks, NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports elected to make North Wilkesboro’s return as close to a race as possible.

“We wanted it to be simple,” said Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith. “We wanted the speedway to be part of the star factor of this event.”

There’re just a few things to know:

  • The 200-lap race will have a halfway break at lap 100.
  • The teams only have three extra sets of tires for the race (and only one set after halfway).
  • Laps run under green and yellow will count, and overtime rules are still in effect.
  • There are no inversions or any other gimmicks in place.

Unlike the last few years, the 2023 All-Star Race will be a race.

It’s certainly a welcome change of pace. In an era of NASCAR where points races have been complicated to some degree (stages, playoff points and the playoff system to name a few), the idea of having 200 laps, no points, three sets of tires, a $1-million prize and nothing else is refreshing.

Instead of throwing a bunch of gimmicks at the wall each year, perhaps the needed fix for the All-Star Race will be a lack of them.

See also
Who's Performing & Appearing at North Wilkesboro

Of course, that’s the not the end of the story. After all, the cars have yet to hit the track for Sunday’s (May 21) race. The elephant in the room also involves North Wilkesboro itself: is the track set for a points-paying race in 2024?

A points-paying Cup race at North Wilkesboro hasn’t been run since 1996, and if NASCAR is going to make the effort of a return, not using the track for a points-paying event would feel like a disservice.

But there is a points-paying event for the weekend, as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will take to the .625-mile oval on Saturday (May 20) for its first race at the venue since ’96. That race, as well as the fan interest in All-Star weekend, may serve as a catalyst for a future promotion to the 36-race Cup schedule.

If North Wilkesboro does return as a points race, the attention soon turns to the All-Star weekend. The venue for 2024 is currently unannounced, and while it’s probable that the track could host both the All-Star Race and a points race, it’s not a guarantee either.

If the All-Star Race is back for 2024, NASCAR has the potential to establish continuity and rebuild the event to its former glory. But if North Wilkesboro proves to be a one-time deal, then the All-Star Race is back at square one: as a rudderless ship that presses onward with little thought or direction.

About the author

Thanksgiving Photo

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch and is a three-year veteran of the site. His weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” He also writes commentary, contributes to podcasts, edits articles and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage.

Can find on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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sb

Especially happy that the pit crew challenge has returned in its original state…on a real pit road with no speed limit! Time for the pit crews to shine!!!

Bill B

The All-Star race has been a joke for so long that it’s hard to even get excited about anything they do to try to make it more appealing. I usually watch it but it rarely lives up to the hype. This next-gen car has sucked on short tracks so there is a good chance the novelty will wear off quick if the race ends up being a parade.

The other thing that has been a turn off for me with the All-Star race is the ever increasing field size. It should be those who won a race in the previous 36 races and the winner of The Open. And that’s it. The more drivers that they add to the field, the more it’s like just another week and another race, and the less special the whole ordeal is.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill B
Kurt Smith

They did make a rule a few years ago that any driver who won a pole at Daytona could participate. I think they just did that so Jeff Green could be in the race.

wildcats2016

I agree with you Bill B. We used to make the trip to Charlotte every year and in the early years, the race was lots of fun! After the changes with the car and the ridiculous – everyone gets in philosophy – including the fan vote, it has lost its panache and its fun. I’ll probably watch but not guaranteed.

Jeremy

You know what might make the “All Star” race worth watching? Eliminate all stages, do away with the green/white/checker, no “lucky dog” passes, race to the caution, then toss most of the rulebook and let the Crew Chiefs have at it!

Oh, and Fox can have nothing to do with the telecast.

DoninAjax

Let them run Super Late Models or Modifieds!

Kevin in SoCal

Safety issues mean we will never race back to the caution again. The crew needs to get to the wrecked cars and drivers as quickly as possible to help in case of injury.
The same with full speed on pit road.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kevin in SoCal
DoninAjax

Calling it “All-Star” is a joke typical for the NA$CAR product.

chastainfanbecausemoose

Off topic but still interesting. On google maps street view, you can view the Las vegas speedway with its original seating capacity. Makes you feel nonstalgic for the days when Nascar was good and relevant. To see this, and reminisce, you can go to this link. https://www.google.com/maps/@36.2710729,-115.0149055,3a,75y,173.07h,62.58t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s27d2imI43dEI2em6OgTHSw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

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