NASCAR announced a new format Friday for the Sprint All-Star Race on May 21 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The brightest stars in stock-car racing will battle through 113 laps for a $1 million prize, using a strange and somewhat convoluted — but potentially epic — race format.
The Sprint All-Star Race will be divided into three segments, two of 50 laps and one of 13 laps, with the longer segments featuring mandatory green-flag pit stops.
It will culminate with a furious 13-lap dash for the trophy — and the cash — with a pretty significant wrinkle: NASCAR will randomly draw to determine whether the top nine, 10 or 11 cars must pit for a mandatory four-tire change, while the rest of the field remains on older tires.
The top cars on newer tires will line up at the back of the field and try to race back through traffic as the million-dollar drama unfolds.
“We worked with NASCAR and talked to several drivers to gather feedback for what they thought would make the very best race for the fans,” Charlotte Motor Speedway president and general manager Marcus Smith said in a release from NASCAR.
Fans who don’t like the late-race tire rules can blame 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski. He was among the drivers consulted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, and his ideas were central is defining the final segment.
“I just wanted to see the race be something that I would want to watch if I was a fan, and something that I would want to be proud of if I was the driver that won it,” Keselowski said. “Quite honestly, I didn’t feel like the formats of the past few years were that way. … For this particular format, the idea was how do we make the drivers feel like they earned it and the fans feel like they saw a great race.”
Carl Edwards, a Columbia native and the 2011 Sprint All-Star Race winner, said a lot hinges on the tires, but if they fall off as expected it could be a “genius move” to put the faster cars at the back of the field and make them race back through the field.
“Charlotte is so fast and the surface is so nice and Goodyear has done such a good job with the tire that it’s historically been a tough place to pass,” Edwards said. “I guess for me I look forward to that race being one where we can really mix it up and race close, and I hope that’s the way it is.”
Keselowski said the 13-lap final segment was based on the fact that race data suggests it would take eight to 12 laps for a driver on new tires to weave through the field.
“There is probably an argument to be made that it’s a little bit gimmicky, and that’s fair, but it’s the All-Star Race and I feel like the All-Star Race gets a free pass on gimmicks to some extent,” Keselowski said. “It should be a short, fun, amazing race. I’m feeling pretty optimistic that it’s going to be the best race of the year.”
Qualifying will set the field for the first segment of the race, which will feature a mandatory green-flag pit stop with a minimum two-tire swap. During a short break after the first 50 laps, which includes another mandatory two-tire change, the field will be set by the pit-road exits.
The second 50-lap segment will feature a third mandatory two-tire pit stop before lap 85. During the second break before the final segment, NASCAR will draw to determine how many cars get new tires, and only those cars will be allowed onto pit road.
Pit-road exit will determine the order those cars line up at the back of the field, and only green-flag laps will count in the final segment.
The All-Star race airs May 21 on Fox Sports 1, which also will show the Sprint Showdown on May 20.
The format for the Sprint Showdown qualifiers also has been updated to three segments, two of 20 laps and one of 10 laps.
Drivers who have won a race during the 2015 or 2016 seasons are eligible for the All-Star Race along with past winners, past Cup Series champions and Sprint Showdown winners or last-chance qualifiers.
A fan vote will ensure a minimum of 20 cars in the field.