Sports

CUP: Change Is The Constant For All-Star

Across almost three decades of competition, the Sprint All-Star Race has had more formats than Taylor Swift has had bad boyfriends.

The first year – 1985, everything was simple. Seventy laps with a mandatory pit stop.

It became evident, however, that, to make the event special – and more than just another race, unusual touches would be needed.

For the third race, in 1987, the race was presented in segments, with drivers racing 75 laps, then 50 and then a final 10. The idea was to juice competition, especially over the closing laps.

The segment idea has been tinkered with over the years, as have the race qualifications and other particulars.

There have been “halftime” breaks for car servicing, inversions of segment finish orders, eliminations of trailing cars in segments (remember “Survival of the Fastest”?) and other sorts of competition adjustments.

Perhaps there will never be a perfect format.

Officials thought they had a great one last year, but teams played the margins to the hilt. The winners of each of the first four segments were given the top four starting positions before the final pit stops and the 10-lap finishing shootout, and drivers stained that system by winning a segment and then camping at the rear of the field the rest of the way.

Jimmie Johnson won the first segment then “rested” through the others before winning the shootout segment. It was sandbagging at its most intellectual.

So… welcome another format change for this year.

In Saturday night’s race, drivers will be lined up for the final pit stop round according to their average finish in the first four segments. In theory, drivers must race hard through the segments if they want a good starting spot for the finale.

As another incentive to run hard, an extra $1 million prize is on the line if a driver wins all five segments.

Can one team “play” the system to encourage yet another format change for 2014?

Stay tuned.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.