TIREd of the Same Old? Here's a New Reason to Watch NASCAR All-Star Race

nascar cup series all star race practice
Here's a New Reason to Watch NASCAR All-Star RaceJared C. Tilton - Getty Images
  • The NASCAR All-Star Race has been used as a test track of sorts for innovation.

  • In 2017, NASCAR's stage racing format made its debut at the All-Star Race.

  • This year, teams are bring given tire options that could lead car to running on totally different compounds during the race.

When NASCAR’s All-Star race was initially announced at the 1984 Cup Series Awards Banquet in New York City, the stock car racing community was elated, believing the sport had been elevated to the level of Major League Baseball and the NFL which had its All-Star game and Pro Bowl, respectively.

At the time, that was its intention when then series sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. created it and announced the $500,000 purse—to showcase the sport’s top drivers. Stock car racing drivers had never competed in a 70-lap event that paid $200,000 to the winner.


Originally known as The Winston, it was reserved for the previous season’s winners, the race winners of the current season up to the event, and the victor in the preliminary Winston Open. There were a few races that lived up to the hype, the pomp and circumstance, and the excitement that was promoted.

However, as the entry requirements began changing and various gimmicks were implemented in an effort to create an exciting event, the All-Star race underwent a metamorphosis. It evolved into an event where NASCAR could test various ideas with its top drivers without affecting the points standings.

Stage racing was first used in the All-Star event before it was introduced into Cup Series points races in 2017. NASCAR is doing the same thing this year with its race tires. NASCAR knows it has to do something to improve short-track racing, which has been the sport’s foundation.

Racing on the 1.5-mile speedways improved tremendously with the current car. However, it has been a debacle on the short tracks. NASCAR has tried numerous aero packages to improve racing at those facilities without success. However, the unexpected tire-wear during the Bristol race earlier this year possibly provided the solution.

This Year's Grand Experiment

For Sunday’s All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, three tires options are available to the competitors—a wet weather tire, a prime tire and an option tire.

The option tire is the same compound as the wet weather tire but without the tread. It’s softer than the prime tire, which is the baseline tire assessed in the Goodyear tire test at the 0.625-mile track. The option tire provides better grip because it’s softer, but it wears faster.

nascar cup series all star race practice
Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson practice at North Wilkesboro.Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

All of the competitors in this year’s All-Star race will receive nine sets of tires for the weekend. Teams in the Open received three sets of prime tires and two sets of option tires for practice, qualifying and the heat races.

The All-Star teams were given two sets each of prime and option tires. They must all start the 200-lap event on the option tire. Then, after 100 laps, the teams must change all four tires, but they can determine which tire fits their strategy the best.

This is the second time a tire option has been offered in the All-Star race. It wasn’t successful in its debut because everyone elected the same tires at the same time.

However, this year could be different. Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin were among the drivers who were pleased with the tires’ performance during practice Friday evening.

“The softer one is significantly faster and falls off more, so we’ll have to be strategic in how we use it,” Truex said. “It’s cool to see the track widen out in practice. I was surprised by that in a good way.”

The track was repaved after last year’s All-Star race. Truex said that due to the repave it had “a lot more grip”, but the historic track’s characteristics remained the same with “the way the banking is progressing through the corners and where the bumps are.”

Hamlin said there was something to be learned from this weekend.

“We ran a tire that they (NASCAR) would never feel comfortable with us running, especially on a new paved track like this,” Hamlin said. “We ran over 40 laps, and we didn’t see any cords or anything. I’m very happy with what we saw.”

What About Other Tracks?

While the two different tire compounds may be the solution for current short-track issues, something else might be needed in the future for another size track.

“When you think about the schedule and the races, it’s like it takes the schedule three to five years to catch up with the racing, maybe even longer sometimes where you’re like, ‘Oh, this type of racing is excellent. We should have more of these types of races,’” Brad Keselowski said. “Inherently our racing seems to evolve, for whatever reason, in those time spans and what might be a good race track for us competitively changes.

"It always seems to be a struggle to get the schedule in step with the racing and how it works as far as the most compelling events for whatever reason.”

So, in the future if NASCAR formulates another idea for the sport that could affect the overall racing, you can bet you’ll see it tried first in the All-Star race.