Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: A Fight Proves the All-Star Race Matters

1. The NASCAR All-Star Race Is the Best All-Star Event of Any Sports League

The concept of an all-star game is one that’s familiar to any North American sports fan and seems like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing the very best of the best compete against each other all in one place?

In reality, all-star games have been the bane of the biggest leagues’ existence for some time. The leagues love the idea of them because of the money and attention involved. But for significant and understandable reasons, none of the athletes selected really want to play in them, primarily because there’s a risk of serious injury in a game that doesn’t even count.

See also
Thinkin’ Out Loud at the All-Star Race: This Ain’t Your Grandpa’s North Wilkesboro

As a result, several all-star games have evolved into logical, but depressing forms. NFL stars play touch football and the NHL’s best skate 3-on-3. The NBA plays a weird parody with scores that are double that of a normal game. Only the MLB All-Star Game resembles an actual honest-to-goodness contest that just happens to feature the greatest players from every team.

Consider all of this the next time you question the existence of the NASCAR All-Star Race, because as silly as it seems on the surface to have a non-points race in the middle of the season, it’s not any more ridiculous than what any other major sports league puts on. And on top of that, NASCAR uses its midseason showcase in ways that no other major sport is trying.

Namely, the All-Star Race is a testing ground for rules and procedures that often work their way into regular season races down the road. Race-long double-file restarts and the choose rule are just two examples, and the choice between option and prime tires in the 2024 edition was the latest experiment.

MLB uses the minor leagues to do similar evaluations of new rules, and as noted, the NFL and NHL can’t use their all-star games to tinker because they aren’t close enough to the real thing. NASCAR can and does make the best possible use of its event, trying out new things and even visiting tracks that don’t host points-paying races.

Put more simply, the All-Star Race has a purpose, and that not only makes it unique, it more than makes up for any and all hand-wringing about the format, field or venue.

2. You Won’t See Fists Flying at Any Other All-Star Event

Not to pick on the NBA, but it’s useful to highlight another positive, if seemingly counterintuitive aspect of the NASCAR All-Star Race. The NBA could have an all-star game more similar to MLB in that it resembles a real game, and the league desperately wishes it would.

The problem? The players don’t want to do it. They want a break from the grind of the lengthy season and wish to avoid injury. It’s hard to fault them.

Even attempts to essentially bribe them into caring by raising the amount of money involved — for both the NBA players and charities important to them — haven’t worked. That’s relevant to racing because somewhat cynically, NASCAR touts the $1 million prize for winning the All-Star Race as the big inducement for racing hard when pretty much everyone knows it’s not as big a deal as it’s made out to be.

The difference is that Cup Series drivers clearly do care despite all that. Maybe not as much as a regular season or playoff race, but they take it seriously and the dust-up between Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at North Wilkesboro Speedway was proof.

It’s not like it came out of nowhere. While not at a Kendrick Lamar-Drake level of feuds, Busch and Stenhouse have had run-ins and exchanged insults sporadically for years. This time, though, it led to punches flying (though not really connecting) and gave the wider sports world a big talking point headed into this week.

I used to think that one of the worst parts of the NASCAR All-Star Race was that it was the same drivers fans see competing against each other on a weekly basis. All NASCAR can do to try to make it special is reduce the size of the field so it’s more exclusive, but otherwise it’s not like the other sports leagues where one of the attractions of the all-star event is just seeing the stars together.

The Busch-Stenhouse fracas has made me reconsider that stance. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say, and in this case it led to things getting physical. Would you see that in any other all-star game?

Probably not.

3. But Dads Should Stay Out of NASCAR Fights

Last year in this very space, I contemplated whether NASCAR would be better served by allowing drivers to fight until they got some of the aggression out of their system a la the NHL. Part of my reasoning was that things really get dangerous once crew members and others nearby jump in. If NASCAR officials focused on preventing third-party intervention and then breaking up the scrapping drivers, that might be a better way to go about it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you Ricky Stenhouse Sr., obviously not a big 5 Points reader. When a driver’s dad gets into a trackside scuffle, that’s when things have gone a bit too far.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of Busch vs. Stenhouse has focused on whether Ricky Jr. is going to get suspended by NASCAR. An even better question is what discipline his father might receive because he should never have been physically involved in what went down.

To review: driver fights, sometimes OK. Other people becoming part of the action? Never a good thing, and NASCAR should come down reasonably hard on the elder Stenhouse to reinforce that message.

See also
The Underdog House: Hold My Watch, Richard

4. On the Other Hand, Maybe NASCAR Should Lighten Up About Other Things

One of the smaller, but stranger stories to come out of this weekend at North Wilkesboro was originally spotted by our own Chase Folsom: NASCAR made Brenden Queen remove his Butterbean nickname from the back of the No. 1 TRICON Garage Toyota Tundra truck and put his actual last name on it.

NASCAR defenders jumped in on social media to helpfully explain how Queen is the driver’s last name and the organization would have its reasons for wanting it on the truck. Many others, however, noted that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was allowed to have Dale Jr. on the side of his cars for years, as well as the hypocrisy in letting fill-in drivers compete while the name of the regular driver is still on the vehicle.

Here’s the thing: In a sport where sponsorship and marketing are king, it seems extremely shortsighted to prohibit a driver already known by a particular moniker not to have that on his car. But even if NASCAR decides that’s opening up too big a can of worms and there needs to be some decorum, there should at least be some consistency.

If it’s good enough for Dale Jr., it should be good enough for Butterbean, and I bet Junior himself would even agree with that.

5. Why NASCAR Charters Might Be Cheaper Soon

While the future of the NASCAR charter system is still up in the air, one accepted part of the current status quo might be changing sooner rather than later.

The price of a charter has consistently gone up since it first became a thing.

Technically, the value of a charter has risen by an infinite percentage since the original charters were created and given to teams for free eight years ago. But even removing the “well, actually” mindset, charters have appreciated in value quite a bit, rising from a few million bucks to the nearly $40 million purchase price that Spire Motorsports paid in 2023.

It’s not uncertainty that could put an end to this trend, but rather the most widely accepted economic principle of them all: good old supply and demand. Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal reports that if Stewart-Haas Racing makes all four of its charters available, which seems like something that could happen, it will probably reduce the price of any charter for sale this offseason to the $20-$30 million range.

That’s kind of a bummer for SHR co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, I imagine, but good for any other team trying to expand or move from a lower series to Cup in 2025. Think of it as something of a market correction for top-level stock car racing, one that’s only to make the Cup Series a little more accessible.

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6 Comments
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DoninAjax

An “ALL-STAR” event should have the BEST current players competing against each other. In no way does that apply to the drivers in the NA$CAR event!

Ed Rooney

Wow. Are Frontstretch writers on NASCAR’s payroll now??

Echo

The writer is a wrestling editor. Look him up.

Wildcatsfan2016

What?!

Echo

He’s a wrestling editor, ignore his articles.

Jeremy

I think the fight just proves somebody got mad. lol

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