NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR All-Star Race: Track, qualifying, format, Open and more

May 19

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

Drivers don’t necessarily dislike going to Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race, but they don’t want to go to the same track year after year after year for the event.

With the drivers making a second consecutive trip to the 1.5-mile track for the All-Star Race this weekend, many hope the venue will change for 2023.

The All-Star Race used to be a staple of a two-week racing calendar at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was considered a special event for which only the winner received a significant purse and drivers didn't have to make an additional trip. 

But the event seemed to get stale at Charlotte, so NASCAR started to not only create unique formats but also at times use the race to try different aerodynamic packages or rule changes that it was considering.

The COVID-19 pandemic also gave NASCAR an opportunity to change course, as 2020 saw the race move to Bristol as part of the schedule restructuring. Then, when Speedway Motorsports wanted to add Circuit of the Americas (in Austin) to the NASCAR schedule in 2021, NASCAR moved a points race from Texas Motor Speedway (in Fort Worth) to COTA and the All-Star Race from Charlotte to TMS in hopes of creating special events at both tracks.

Kyle Larson on why he wants the All-Star Race to move yearly

Last week at Kansas, defending All-Star Race champion Kyle Larson described what he knew about this year's format and talked about why he’d like to see the event move around.

"I know there's a lot of logistics and, I'm sure, a lot of stuff that goes into it, but I feel like the championship race and the All-Star Race would be fun to see it move around," said defending All-Star winner and Cup champion Kyle Larson.

"Obviously, the championship race is difficult because it's November, and weather throughout the country is not the same. In May, I feel like you can kind of race wherever in the United States. For the All-Star Race, I would love to see it move around. I think that'd be exciting."

The All-Star Race has been held at Speedway Motorsports tracks, so the feeling is that if the event moves, it likely would be held at one of the tracks in its portfolio. The problem is many of those tracks already have points races within a couple of months of May, and then there would still potentially be three points races among Texas and COTA (which can be done — it’s just a question of whether that would hurt attendance).

"It needs to be a big event," said driver/owner Denny Hamlin. "I personally think we need to stop saying it's for a million dollars as our promotion tagline. It’s been that way for [close to] 30 years.

"We’ve got to update a little bit. ... I'd like to see it move in general."

Denny Hamlin on All-Star Race format, promotion

Denny Hamlin said it’s time to stop promoting the All-Star event as a race for $1 million. He explains why and also gives his thoughts on the format.

The NASCAR Cup Series hasn’t had the greatest events at TMS since a reconfiguration gave the track two distinct turns. The track has been a testing ground for how much traction compound should be used in hopes of creating a second groove.

"You should rotate it," former Cup champion Chase Elliott said about the All-Star site. "I think that's what that race was initially designed to do, was to move around and give fans in a different region a special event like an All-Star Race, which I think is really cool.

"It’s what other all-star games do in other forms of sports."

Chase Elliott on why the All-Star Race should rotate

Chase Elliott has two reasons why the All-Star Race should travel: Other sports rotate their all-star events, and he hasn't had much success at Texas Motor Speedway.

The hope — for the second consecutive year at Texas — is that the All-Star Race and its format will make things exciting. The format is not simple to explain, but most drivers don’t sweat the details.

"I enjoy the All-Star Race," former Cup champion Joey Logano said. "I think everybody does, right? No matter what the rules are. It’s hard to understand the rules sometimes because they’re so different all the time.

"It seems like you’re never out of it."

Joey Logano on what he likes about the All-Star Race

Joey Logano says he enjoys the All-Star Race no matter what the rules are.

Here is a breakdown of how the event will go, starting with qualifying.

— Sixteen drivers who didn’t automatically qualify for the event are in the preliminary last-chance qualifier, called the Open: Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Tyler Reddick, Garrett Smithley, Chris Buescher, Harrison Burton, Justin Haley, Todd Gilliland, Cole Custer, Ty Dillon, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cody Ware, Landon Cassill, BJ McLeod and Daniel Suarez.

— Their starting order will be determined by single-car, one-lap qualifying on Saturday.

— The Open will be a 50-lap race Sunday with stages of 20-20-10.

— In the first two stages, all laps count except stage breaks, and there will be one attempt of NASCAR overtime at the end of each stage. In the final stage, only green-flag laps count, and there will be unlimited overtimes.

— The winner of each stage advances to the All-Star Race (and doesn’t compete in the remainder of the Open).

— Of the drivers who do not qualify via the Open, the driver with the most votes from online fan voting advances to the All-Star Race. As of Monday, the top four, in alphabetical order, were Jones, LaJoie, Reddick and Suarez.

As for the main event, the All-Star Race has 20 automatic qualifiers, drivers who have either won a race in 2021-22 or are past All-Star Race winners or Cup champions.

Those drivers: Ross Chastain, Austin Cindric, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace, William Byron, Michael McDowell, Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman.

— Their qualifying will be conducted Saturday in two parts. The first will be one-lap, single-car qualifying. The top eight will advance to a three-round elimination bracket, in which they will have two-driver, head-to-head matchups with a four-tire pit stop followed by a race down pit road (no speed limit) and around the track to the start-finish line. 

— The losers in the first round will line up fifth through eighth based on qualifying speed, the losers of the second round will line up third and fourth based on qualifying speed, and the result of the final round will determine starting spots first and second.

"The qualifying format will be really, really cool," Briscoe said. "I hope I can make that top eight just so I can be a part of that."

— The All-Star Race is a 125-lap event with stages of 25, 25, 25 and 50 laps. All laps count. There will be one attempt at overtime in the first three stages and unlimited attempts at overtime in the final stage. Stage breaks will be like regular stage breaks (if you pit, your running position is how you come off pit road), but laps between the stages do not count.

— The winner of Stage 1 will start on the pole for the final stage as long as he finishes 15th or better in the next two stages. The winner of Stage 2 will start second in the final stage as long as he finishes 15th or better in Stage 3. The winner of Stage 3 starts third in the final stage.

— If any of the drivers who earn spots in the first two rows of the final stage don’t meet that 15th-place criteria in the ensuing stages, they will start based on where they were running at the end of the pit cycle following Stage 3.

— Any spots reserved in the first two rows that are forfeited (or if a driver wins more than one stage) will not be filled by a second-place driver. There will just be fewer than four reserved spots.

— After the second stage, each team will be required to do a four-tire pit stop. The driver with the fastest time from the pit-in line to the pit-out line (who has a pit stop without penalties) will start fourth in the final stage, as long as he finishes 15th or better in Stage 3, and the pit crew will earn a $100,000 bonus. If there is a tie, the driver who was highest in the running order at the end of Stage 2 will be the winner.

— In the final stage, if there is no natural caution between Laps 15 and 25, NASCAR will throw the caution on Lap 25.

Sound confusing? That's because it is. But it's designed to create excitement from beginning to end, to reward drivers for getting up on the wheel early and to not allow them to sandbag for winning an early stage. Also, this format brings a pit crew element into it.

Drivers typically don’t sweat the format until a few days before the event. Many who were asked about it last week at Kansas didn’t know the fine points, and NASCAR was still finalizing some of the "what-if" scenarios this week.

"I saw the format, and it just looked like a bunch of fine print to me," Hamlin said. "So it's very hard to figure out. I wasn't in the mindset at the time when I saw it come out to try to process the whole thing."

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What to watch for

Teams will have the same left-side tire for Texas that they had last week at Kansas, and that likely has some teams concerned about whether the tire can handle the punishing loads, as several teams had tire issues on the 1.5-mile track.

With the All-Star Race a series of short runs of at most 25 laps, teams might be willing to take a risk and have air pressures dangerously low or camber adjusted for maximum speed and hope the tires don’t blow out.

A $1 million check — the winner’s purse for the All-Star Race — will force teams to make choices.

William Byron and Austin Dillon on the All-Star Race in Texas

Growing up close to Charlotte Motor Speedway, William Byron and Austin Dillon went to several All-Star races at the track. They share their thoughts on the event being held in Texas for a second consecutive year.

Thinking out loud

The NASCAR appeals panel made an interesting decision when it changed the suspensions to the Denny Hamlin team (suspensions to crew chief and two crew members) from four events to four points races.

That means they can work this weekend at the NASCAR All-Star Race but will miss the next four races at Charlotte, Gateway, Sonoma and Nashville. The suspensions of teams that didn’t appeal their penalties include the All-Star Race.

Is that fair? Probably not. But the appeals panel has the latitude to modify the penalty, and while it didn’t give a reason for the change, it is likely to make the point that teams appealing shouldn’t assume a penalty will stay the same.

Social spotlight

They said it

"This win showed why Kurt [Busch] is a champion and why we brought him on board." — 23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan following Busch's victory at Kansas

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!

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