NASCAR has introduced a new wrinkle to their upcoming Sprint All-Star Race that is sure to turn one of the more exciting events on the NASCAR calendar into an interesting and highly strategic race for the drivers involved.
The Sprint All-Star Race is notable for two reasons. For starters, the race only takes the best of the best: riders must have won a NASCAR race in either the current season or the previous season to qualify. It also automatically includes all of the All-Star and Sprint Cup winners from the past 10 years, plus a few extra riders who either have to qualify through a preliminary race or a fan vote. The other aspect that makes the race interesting is the prize - $1 million to the winner.
The race is broken up into segments of 20 laps each, and each of these segments is treated as a small race. The winner of each segment gets money, although the prize is only approximately $100,000 - a sizable chunk of change, nowhere near the million-dollar prize the winner gets. Thus, most riders were treating the All-Star Race as any other, simply competing for the million and hoping they snagged a segment win if they didn't. However, new rules for this year will make the segment much more important, reports USA Today.
After the four segments of 20 laps each, all cars will be forced to pit before the final 10 laps. NASCAR has now revealed that the four segment winners will be the first cars allowed onto pit road. This means that the drivers will have an advantage over their opponents if they manage to be first across the finish line at the 20-, 40-, 60- and 80-lap marks. Those four riders will be in prime position when the next 10 laps begin and the race for the million is on.
Tony Stewart has won the million in the past, and has had some success this year with crew chief Steve Addington. The pit boss said that the new rules would likely introduce some complex strategy to the race, as some drivers may just barely stop in pit road while others will hope to get every advantage possible in order to win on the final few laps.
"The guys in that top five or six are going to be the ones with the pressure on them to decide if they want tires," he told the news source. "There'll be a guy in eighth, ninth, 10th that's going to gamble going for a million bucks who will do a splash of fuel, [or] a stop and try to get clean air and get away from everyone else."
Of all the races in NASCAR, the All-Star puts perhaps the most emphasis on pit crews, right down to where the team will be located along pit road. The best teams from the NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge, which will be held two days before the All-Star race, will get to select where their team will set up shop.
Overall, it looks like this year's All-Star race is shaping up to be a great one, and fans should have something to watch for during the whole race, not just the final ten laps.
"This format change will give a little more incentive to the drivers to win these segments," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton told the news source. "It'll keep the focus on pit crews and how they perform and also the strategies the crew chiefs must come up with to try to win. We think the last 10-lap shootout will be one of the best and most competitive we've had."