What's an All-Star race without the All-Stars?
The Nextel All-Star Challenge could be one of the most exciting all-star attractions in sports, writes Terry Blount. What's missing? Rotating venues, a simpler format ... and some of the All-Stars.
The annual Nextel All-Star Challenge has produced some exciting racing over the years, but calling it an all-star event is a bit of stretch.
Hey, Michael Waltrip actually won this thing once.
Making an adjustment to rectify that flaw would require another format change to an event that changes more than the NASCAR rulebook.
Quick, in a minute or less, tell me all the format changes and qualifying rules for Saturday's race. If you were able to do that in 60 seconds or less, see a psychiatrist immediately. You really need to get out more.
The new plan was revealed back in January on a poster board that resembled an MIT professor's equation for nuclear fusion.
The main show now consists of four 20-lap segments (or quarters) with no caution laps counted in the last segment.
Eighteen drivers have a spot in the event this year based on a long list of criteria: winners from 2006 and 2007 (drivers or car if the driver changed teams), past Cup champions and past all-star winners over the past 10 years.
The 1-2 finishers from the Nextel Open qualifying race (40 laps over two 20-lap segments) also make it. And one lucky driver gets voted in by the fans, but he has to finish on the lead lap in the Open.
Excuse me while I go take a couple of Tylenol (the official pain reliever of NASCAR) to deaden my headache from explaining all that mess.
It's easy to see why the casual fan doesn't really understand how this thing works. But once you get past the constantly shifting and convoluted rules, the on-track action usually is a heck of a show.
No points are on the line, so drivers can go all out and get wild to try to earn that $1 million prize for the victory. The event has given fans some memorable moments.
The only problem is they've all come at Lowe's Motor Speedway, except for the 1986 event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Nothing against Humpy Wheeler and the folks at Lowe's. They rank among the best at promoting an event, but true all-star shows should move around.
Otherwise you become the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii, the most meaningless all-star game in sports.
The drivers and crews don't want the all-star race to leave Charlotte, where the NASCAR teams are based. It gives everyone an extra week at home and a break from the brutal travel schedule (38 events in 41 weeks) of the Cup season.
But the schedule includes seven points races (two at Lowe's, two at Bristol, two at Martinsville and one at Darlington) that are less than a two-hour drive away.
An all-star event is primarily for the fans. Instead of constantly changing the format to keep things fresh at the same venue, keep the format the same and change the venue.
Speedway Motorsports Inc. mogul Bruton Smith continues to lobby for a second Cup date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so why not move the all-star race to Vegas?
Lowe's and Las Vegas fall under the SMI umbrella. Smith easily could make the move with a little coaxing. The entire atmosphere around the all-star event is a glitzy, super-hyped show, a perfect fit for Las Vegas.
Move the event from year to year among several worthy locations. Imagine how crazy things would get with an all-star race on the half-mile oval at Bristol.
And maybe the all-star event is just what California Speedway needs to garner more interest from the Hollywood crowd.
Give the sparkling Kansas City track (another facility with only one Cup event) host duties one year.
Holding the event at nontraditional NASCAR markets is a great way to increase the fan base. Having the race at Lowe's every year is a little like playing every Major League Baseball All-Star game at Yankee Stadium.
You need some venue diversity to keep it interesting.
Making this event the best it can be isn't difficult -- move it around, simplify the format and make sure the best drivers from the current season are in the show.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.