New All-Star Race format announced

On Monday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR announced the format to the 2017 All-Star Race, including some new changes to the annual event.

The race will consist of four stages. The first three will be 20 laps in length with the final stage being a 10-lap shootout. Only 10 cars will earn a spot in the final 10-lap stage.

If a driver is to win one of the three 20-lap stages, they automatically advance to the final stage. It’s kind of like the playoffs qualification: you win a race in the regular season and you’re in the playoffs. Same thing here: you win a 20-lap stage, you’re in the 10-lap finale.

What about the other seven drivers, you ask? Those will be determined by best average finish in the first three stages combined. The top seven with the best average finish in the first 60 laps will earn a spot in the final winner-take-all-stage.

Before the final stage begins, the 10 cars will be lined up on track in order of average finish with the highest average lining up first and the worst of the 10 lining up last. Self-explanatory, right?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Those 10 cars will be given the option to come down pit road for fuel, adjustments and tires. How those cars exit pit road (or opt to stay on the race track) will determine the starting grid for the final 10-lap shootout. But it gets even more interesting.

NASCAR is taking a page out of open-wheel racing’s book and giving the teams a choice of a different tire. Crew chief’s will have the option to put on a special, softer tire before the beginning of the final stage. Or, if a team chooses to do so, they may put the softer tire on at an earlier stage of the race. This tire will provide more grip for the driver in the car, thus having more car control and faster speeds around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Got all that? This might help.

“We’re extremely excited about this format and the ability to bring an Option tire to this year’s All-Star race,” Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing told CatchFence.com. “The more tractive compounds used in this combination of left and right side tires will showcase the strategy of the event, and will give teams the ability to choose exactly when to use this set-up to give them the best chance to win.”

But there’s another catch: if you put on these soft tires, you must start the stage at the rear of the 10-car field behind the competitors that chose to keep regular tires on their cars. This will make for more passing, strategy and drama as the 33rd annual event comes to a close.

“The Monster Energy All-Star Race is designed to be fun for fans, showcasing the best drivers and race teams in NASCAR,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer said. “With the effort that Goodyear has put into this race with multiple tire compounds, I am excited to see how the stages play out, especially the final 10-car, 10-lap sprint to the checkered flag.”

Photo: Getty Images

“This new 70-lap format pays tribute to the 25th anniversary of ‘One Hot Night’ while pushing the drivers to the brink of insanity with the chances they’ll take to win $1 million,” Speedway Motorsports Inc. president Marcus Smith said. “I’m as ready as our fans for a May 20 Saturday night shootout where only a daredevil behind the wheel truly has a shot at Victory Lane.”

“One Hot Night” was the first All-Star race under the lights at CMS back in 1992. It was met with tons of excitement, optimism and happiness. If 2017 is the same, we’re in for a treat.

So, who’s going to be racing in this event anyways? If you’re a driver who won a points event in 2016 or 2017, won a Monster Energy Series All-Star Race before and compete full time or have won an MENCS championship and compete full time, you’re in. Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch, who were both present at the announcement, will be eligible to compete.

If you don’t fall under that criteria, no worries. There’s still room for you.

The Monster Energy Open (formerly known as the Sprint Showdown) is not a golf tournament, but rather the preliminary event to the All-Star Race. It will consist of three stages of 20, 20 and 10 laps, respectively. Winners of each stage automatically clinch a spot in the Sunday evening event. You can also earn a spot in the main race by winning the fan vote.

Qualifying for the 70-lap race will be held on Friday evening and remain the same from years prior. The driver will run three timed laps on track, with a four-tire pit stop included in there. While coming to pit road, there will be no speed limit. Cars will come bolting off turn four at over 180 mph (instead of the usual 45 mph) before getting serviced.

The five teams with the fastest cumulative time will advance to the final round, where they will then determine the top five starting positions in order for the main event just over 24 hours later.

Oh, and by the way, the winner of the race still earns a hearty $1 million check. No points, no playoffs. Just a check, a trophy and the pride of being the best of the best.

The Monster Energy All-Star Race will take place on Sunday, May 20, 2017, with TV coverage on FOX and radio coverage on MRN. The Monster Energy Open will take place on at 6 p.m. that same evening on Fox Sports 1.

Be sure to tune into Victory Lane this week, where I will discuss this new format further with Jonathan Merryman of NASCAR.com.