2012 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race: Format Was a Good Idea, but It Did Not Work
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Not 12 hours after five-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson cruised to victory for the second week in a row, NASCAR fans were left clamoring for the sport to make yet another change. Not to the cars, the schedule or the points system, but to the oft-tweaked NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
The 2012 format for NASCAR's annual exhibition event looked great on paper.
The All-Star Race, which consists of the best drivers in the sport, would be made up of five segments. The first four would be 20 laps apiece, with the fifth and final segment being a 10-lap shootout. Furthermore, the winners of the first four segments, respectively, would line up first-through-fourth coming onto pit road for the mandatory pit stop prior to the final segment.
The idea was great, as the new format was intended to put more emphasis on winning the early segments, with the reward being all-important track position for a key point of the race.
Unfortunately, once the format was put into place on the track, the result was utter disaster and embarrassment.
Johnson won the first segment after passing pole-sitter Kyle Busch midway through the opening 20 laps. In doing so, he essentially assured himself the top spot heading onto pit road prior to the final segment.
With that, Johnson was left with no incentive to race over the course of the next 60 laps, which composed segments two through four, except to stay on the lead lap.
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Johnson would go on to run the next 60 laps a good 10-12 seconds behind the leaders in an effort to stay out of trouble and avoid doing any unnecessary damage to his car. And as the event went on, second- and third-segment winners Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski joined Johnson at the back of the pack, all three puttering around the 1.5-mile oval in cruise mode.
But the poor format of the race was done no favors when a caution came out for Greg Biffle's blown engine midway through segment four, allowing a handful of cars to come down pit road.
Among those to come to the pits were Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski. With nothing to lose, the three previous segment winners put four fresh tires on the car and were still assured of the top three spots coming onto pit road prior to the final segment.
When that mandatory pit stop finally came, Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski merely had to stop in their boxes for a moment before taking right back off again, and they still had four fresh tires on their cars. After all, the rules for the mandatory pit stop did not say tires had to be changed, just that a "stop" had to be made.
With that, Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski lined up first, second and third, respectively, on four fresh tires. And guys like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose lined up fourth and fifth, but they had worn tires.
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Essentially, because of the format, coupled with an untimely caution, the All-Star Race turned into a three-man showdown, which very quickly became a one-man show.
After riding around in conservation mode for 60 of the first 80 laps, Johnson wiped the floor with the field on the final restart and cruised to his third All-Star Race victory over Keselowski and Kenseth.
After the race, several drivers took issue with the 2012 format, including the runner-up.
"I hate conserving race cars," Keselowski told Sporting News. "They're meant to run hard."
Kenseth seconded Keselowski's sentiment:
It's kind of strange to ride around back there. I mean, being drivers, all we're programmed to do is go as fast as you can, be up on that edge as far as you can without wrecking it. It's really hard to run slow like that, try to save it, sit there for them 40 laps.
Certainly, when the good folks at NASCAR drew up this brand new format for the 2012 All-Star Race, nobody expected these kinds of loopholes to be exploited. But they were, much to the chagrin of anybody who stayed up to watch what is supposed to be one of the most intense races of the NASCAR season.
When it was drawn up, the format for the 2012 Sprint All-Star Race seemed like a good idea. Now, the best idea may just be to throw it out and try again next year.
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