It was not ‘One Hot Night.’ There was no pass in the grass. No driver was left saying he hoped the winner choked on the paycheck. But the Monster Energy All-Star Race was entertaining again if nothing else.
Saturday night’s edition did not have any of the classic moments that long ago helped give the race its win-or-nothing reputation. The 2018 race instead saw a return of competitiveness to an event that has notoriously lacked it in recent years.
Passing. Battles throughout the pack. The ability to hunt down the leader. A pack that didn’t get too strung out.
Of course, the aero package in place for this weekend was designed to do that. NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway officials made the smart decision to implement what had worked last year to spice up the typically ho-hum Xfinity Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Restrictor plates, a six-inch spoiler with ears on both ends, aero ducts and the 2014-style splitter slowed the cars down and creating a drafting effect throughout the field.
At the finish line, the gap from the winner to 10th place was 1.5 seconds. It was only 4.4 seconds from first to 15th.
Listening to how the spotters were giving their drivers information, it was easy to think we were racing at Daytona or Talladega. Two- and three-wide battles broke out at times and if a driver lost his momentum, positions were lost in bunches.
Statistically the 2018 All-Star Race was one of the most competitive in the last six years. Per NASCAR:
(Of note, the total laps for Saturday night was 93, not 80)
The All-Star Race followed what was a highly entertaining Monster Energy Open. The 50-lap event was a nice warm-up act that saw six leaders and seven lead changes. AJ Allmendinger won the race as seven other drivers breathed down his neck on the last lap.
Let’s not be naive about all this, though. Using this package, at Charlotte at least, was probably good for just one night.
Smart engineers, crew chiefs and others in the garage would be chomping at the bit to deal their claws in. Meaning, the longer the package is around for them to perfect, the more likely the shine would wear off.
“Give us a few weeks to work on the race cars with a package like this and I’m sure we can mess it up,” a realistic Brad Keselowski said.
And admittedly, the package didn’t solve the age-old problem of clean air. The leader was still able to break away from the pack, even if it was never to where they were completely untouchable – as has become common at 1.5-mile tracks. Those behind the leader still had to work hard to shrink the gap and then put together a run to grab the spot.
“We would all be closer in speed – the more practice sessions we have, the more opportunities we get, the closer the field gets,” said Jimmie Johnson. “Right now is probably the best it will look here.
“Now, I think tracks with longer straightaways – Michigan, Pocono, some other tracks – it’ll really put on a great race. I was a bit concerned the straightaways weren’t long enough here to get this draft and really make up time on people. But we found a way to make it work.”
For one night it made the race worth watching. Which is exactly what the All-Star Race needed.