Softer tires to be used at All-Star race

NASCAR in the Pits

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This is a strange time in NASCAR and one that often feels very close to the Wild West.

In this time of rebuilding, the mindset should be that anything goes and nothing is off the table. NASCAR can tinker with the rules and the regulations and the formats until something absolutely clicks. On Monday, less than two weeks away from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR went ahead and added a fourth stage to its longest race of the year.

Which brings us to Saturday night’s All-Star Race. If given a blank sheet of paper for a race that is basically a made-for-TV cash grab, why not shake the whole thing up?

Instead, what NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway and the driver council came up with was the optional use of a softer tire for the event. This is as inside baseball as can possibly be. The ability to use a softer tire is something drivers and teams will strategize over, and the true gearheads will get geeked about.

The rest of the world? Well, there are probably a million other options that might have stirred a greater interest.

The race is three segments of 20 laps and one final 10-lap segment. The softer tire should be faster than the other option, but no one is certain how long the speed will last.

Teams are now challenged to decide if they will use the tires early to be one of the 10 cars advancing to the final shootout, or if they will save the tires for the final sprint to the $1 million prize.

Got it?

Marcus Smith, the president and chief operating officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., believes the “bonus tire” is going to add excitement to the race.

“The teams are constantly engineering their way around the boundaries that are set,” Smith said. “That’s part of the idea in throwing a challenge at these really smart race car drivers. The bonus tire is going to put on a new challenge for them, force them to bring their creativity and thinking, and it’s going to produce a fantastic race.”

OK, but we’re talking about tires. Even Smith concedes it is not the sexiest fix under the sun.

“We’ve done the best we know we can do, with the tools we have at this time,” he said.

At a time when anything should go, softer tires were the best the industry could come up with for a showcase event. Here are some other ideas, some realistic and some ridiculous:

n Don’t tell teams the rules — segment lengths, inversions, etc. — until the pre-race driver meeting. That gives them roughly 2 hours to figure out a strategy.

n Stage an iRacing online tournament for the drivers on the infield big screen to set the starting order.

n Make the drivers have a foot race to their car on pit road. They can begin the race whenever they climb in.

n Raise the purse to $5 million. Put a playoff berth on the line. Somehow, raise the stakes to make it a meaningful race.

n Make it be a true head-to-head of short shootouts in which drivers advance until one is left standing.

n Let it be a true race of technology and drivers get to pilot whatever their team builds, ala “run what you brung.”

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