Another year, another new format for NASCAR's All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
CMS announced Wednesday its new format and rules package for the May 19 race. Format-wise, this year's All-Star race will include four stages of 30, 20, 20 and 10 laps, respectively. Each stage is eligible to go into overtime, and only green flag laps will count in the final stage.
"Making it simple for the fans (is key)," NASCAR chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell said. "One of the things we've heard loud and clear from the fans is each new year it's a different format, and trying not to make it as complicated, as straight-up as possible."
And while the All-Star format has changed every few seasons since the race's inception in 1985, the headliner from Wednesday's announcement is easily the new rules package NASCAR has implemented.
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For the first time ever, teams will use restrictor plates at Charlotte Motor Speedway (the only two tracks that use them regularly are Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway). The cars will also be fitted with aero ducts, a 6-inch-high spoiler with two 12-inch ears and the 2014 style splitter. This is the same package the Xfinity Series ran at Indianapolis last season, but it has never been run with Cup cars.
All of which is a long-winded, complicated way of saying: This should be the most unpredictable, up-in-the-air All-Star race in recent memory.
“No one knows how this package will race around each other (in a Cup Series car),” Joey Logano, the 2016 All-Star winner, said in a statement. “The All-Star Race is the perfect opportunity to try something new and out of the box from a rules perspective."
Wednesday's announcement marks a second noteworthy shift from the usual at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2018. In October, the track will debut its unique "Roval" course, which combines segments of the traditional 1.5-mile track with elements of a new road course.
The All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway has long been a petri dish of sorts for NASCAR, a true race environment where different packages and rules can be tested without costing drivers points. Stage racing, which was implemented last season, was first tested at CMS during the All-Star race.The reason CMS can make changes like this — especially semiregular ones — to the All-Star race is because instead of counting for points and race victories, like almost every other weekend, it operates as a bonus race, with the winner taking home a cash prize rather than a playoff berth.
"Every football game, you're hoping for a last-second touchdown. Every basketball game, you're hoping for it to go down to the wire," Speedway Motorsports Inc. president and CEO Marcus Smith said. "And in every race, we're hoping for that last-lap pass excitement.
"We have super-high expectations for racing that has sparks flying, cars beating and banging, and that's what we as NASCAR fans are hoping for and kind of expecting."