CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR attempted a new Sprint All-Star Race format to increase passing in the final green-lap dash to the finish and succeeded, as Joey Logano outmaneuvered Kyle Larson with two laps remaining to win the $1 million exhibition race. But a whole lot of confusion reigned before the outcome Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
NASCAR went to a new format of two 50-lap segments that required green-flag pit stops during the segments. That caused incredible confusion when the caution came out near the end of the first segment.
“It’s the dumbest damn thing I’ve ever been a part of,” three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart said after getting caught up in an accident where he felt he should have been higher in the field if not for how NASCAR scored him.
Logano acknowleged he experienced similar confusion during the race.
“I was confused,” Logano said. “All I know is if there is a car in front of me, I probably should pass him. That’s kind of where my head was. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think it is.”
Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president for competition, said NASCAR tried to predict all the scenarios but didn’t anticipate that a driver would risk staying out until the last moment in the first segment and trapping drivers a lap down while also eventually having to serve a penalty himself.
“It’s something that we certainly, if we continue on with this format, we have to look at,” Miller said. “But you have to expect that certain circumstances are going to happen in this type of race, and we had one crop up tonight that maybe we could have been a little bit more ready for and weren’t.
“It was a very unique situation, and we did not in our race procedures have a mechanism to correct that.”
The confusion continued late into the race. Some speculated that Kyle Busch sped on pit road on purpose so he would be one of the drivers not allowed to pit before the 13-lap dash to finish. He looked at such a suggestion as if it were nuts, although Jimmie Johnson actually sandbagged so he would have old tires at the end.
The strategy backfired because only Johnson and Busch restarted that 13-lap segment ahead of the drivers with four fresh tires. NASCAR required the top-11 drivers to come into the pits and get those fresh tires before that final segment. NASCAR had told the drivers it would either be the first nine, 10 or 11 drivers who would have to pit for fresh tires.
“It didn’t work, did it?” Busch said about the format. “I have no idea what the race looked like on TV, so I can’At comment on what it was.”
Before NASCAR got to its final 13-lap show, it was a mess in the event that included 20 drivers. Drivers had to pit under green in the 50-lap opening segment before three laps remained. When the caution came out with four to go, Matt Kenseth had not pitted and ended up being held a lap for not doing the pit stop.
“I’ve never been this confused in a race car my entire life,” Kenseth said. “So I hope everybody watching understands because I have no idea what happened ever since the first car pitted. … I can’t say I don’t like [this format]. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Because Kenseth had lapped so many cars by not pitting, eight cars were a lap down at the start of the second segment. That made things even more confusing and frustrating, considering a driver ended up getting penalized for not pitting and those who lost a lap couldn’t get those laps back. Stewart was one of those a lap down.
“I’m glad it’s my last one,” Stewart said. “I’m all right. I’m just madder than hell because I don’t understand how the hell they’ve officiated this from start to finish.”
Kenseth was involved in an accident that included Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne 20 laps into the second segment.
“I’m as baffled as everybody,” said Stewart, who missed the first eight races of the season with a broken back but was OK after Saturday’s accident. “It’s the most screwed up All-Star race I’ve ever been in.”
Even the drivers who finished near the front were confused.
“The ideas were great, but I think the simpler we make it, the easier it is to follow, and you just had to worry about rooting for your guy,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished third. “I was pretty confused right up until it was 13 laps to go [for the final segment], and then I knew we were racing from here to the end and this was all normal rules.
“Everything before that, I was out of my element. … I think they ran into some scenarios tonight that they didn’t anticipate, they got caught off-guard.”
Brad Keselowski, who made the suggestion for NASCAR to have the leaders after 100 laps to pit while requiring others to stay out on old tires, said he felt as if NASCAR accomplished its goal of having a pass for the lead late in the event.
“The last four races, there hasn’t been a pass for the lead in the last 20 or 30 laps,” Keselowski said. “I think our fans deserve a better format than that, and they got that today.
“I don’t know how you can get much more compelling racing than what we saw today, so they need to get unconfused and enjoy the racing.”
NASCAR had talked to the Sprint Cup Drivers Council, which driver Denny Hamlin helped put together last year, to get ideas and feedback on the format.
“How do you keep up at home to be honest with you?” Hamlin said. “I knew when it took about 10 minutes to explain the rules in the [weekly pre-race] drivers meeting that it was going to be a complicated night.
“All this is to give the fans a great finish, and we’re trying to fabricate something for them to look at this All-Star race and say that it’s exciting. You want to create a last-lap pass every race you can, but you also don’t want to get too goofy trying to create it.”