Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was defined by the little excitement that it produced.
An all-new format and option softer tire set expectations high that the tame event of late would once again be filled with memorable moments.
However, neither the four stages nor the tire made much of a difference.
Intermediate tracks are often less thrilling. High speeds and lots of grip at night make passing difficult which ultimately produces strung out racing.
Jimmie Johnson finished third after winning Stage 3 and leading all but one of the 20 laps. He was then guaranteed a spot in the Final Stage, where he started second.
When race winner Kyle Busch made a three-wide pass for the lead on the initial restart, it put Johnson behind, and he was never able to catch up, finishing third.
The seven-time champion believes that improving the event starts with cars, and not necessarily the format or venue.
“But the one thing I don’t want to overshadow, we’re always looking to make things exciting,” Johnson said. “We all run the same speed. The rule book is so thick, and the cars are so equal, we run the same speed. You can’t pass running the same speed. It’s just the bottom line.”
While running equally under the rule book ideally prevents any team from gaining an advantage, it might be hurting more than helping the competition.
Once Johnson was in third after the final restart, there wasn’t much that he could do to catch Busch and second-place finisher Kyle Larson. They would have needed to make a mistake to change the running order which is unlikely given the ideal conditions running under the lights at a mile-and-a-half.
The only opportunity to gain positions is on pit road or during the first couple of laps following a restart when the cars remain close together.
“Pit road is so important,” Johnson said. “The short run when the tires are cool, how the car acts and behaves, two to three laps, it’s where the race is won or lost now.”
As each team has figured out new ways to create speed, the rule book continues to expand to keep the competition equal, but it ultimately may be hurting the racing.
“It’s just the environment we’re in,” Johnson said. “It’s a credit to the garage area being smart, not in a negative sense, but the damn rulebook is too thick. There’s too much going on. We’re all running the same speed.”
Saturday night’s format seemed to be one of the most compelling the event has seen in years. However, it cannot make up for cars that are running the same speed and don’t have much of an advantage over one another.
Moving forward, improving the aero package on the cars should be the goal for the event as the sport continues to look for new ways to enhance its All-Star Race.
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz
EMAIL JASON AT firstname.lastname@example.org
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.