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Spinning Wheels: An All-Star Solution

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Getty Images

Quick, name a sport where everybody loves the All-Star Game!

Obviously, there is none. The NBA’s player draft and NHL’s divisional three-on-three format have at least made things a little compelling, but they can still only do so much. The MLB edition no longer awards home-field advantage to one league for the World Series. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is like looking into the future of the game in all the worst of ways, which is to say that it’s just about unwatchable.

And Sunday’s Clash at Daytona International Speedway was so bad that Kevin Harvick called for its abolition.

Some of Harvick’s criticisms were spot on. For one, NASCAR already has an All-Star Weekend in Charlotte in May, and one that doesn’t feature the kind of pack racing that leads to massive wrecks like the one that tore up almost all of Sunday’s field. Secondly, the race hasn’t been run to its original length since before Harvick, one of the sport’s oldest veterans at this point, even made it to Cup. Up until 2001, it was a 20 or 25 lap race; since 2001, it’s never been scheduled for fewer than 70.

But most importantly, the Clash no longer resembles what it was initially established to be: an event for pole winners and previous Clash winners. This year’s field was stretched to 20 cars, as it also welcomed all of last year’s playoff drivers and any former Daytona 500 pole or race winner who competed full-time in 2018.

So Harvick is right—the Clash as it currently exists is kind of a pointless exercise. But it doesn’t have to be.

The solution: let the drivers who won poles in the other two national NASCAR series compete. All of them—at least, any of them who can find a Cup ride for the weekend.

Honestly, that shouldn’t be tough. Most of last year’s Xfinity Series polesitters come from Cup organizations—Cole Custer at Stewart-Haas Racing, Christopher Bell at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Austin Cindric at Team Penske are just a few. Daniel Hemric and Matt Tifft both moved up to Cup in the offseason anyway. And imagine the effort that would’ve been put behind Ross Chastain, who lost his Xfinity ride with Chip Ganassi Racing in the offseason after losing his sponsor, to get him the funding to run the Clash with Premium Motorsports.

Even the drivers who aren’t Cup-affiliated would have a guaranteed ticket to approach another race team for a tryout in Cup equipment. It’s an exhibition race, right? It’s a learning exercise for the teams involved to get their cars right for Daytona, and opening up the field a little more gives the have-nots a better chance to get on an even playing field with the big-name teams.

It gives young drivers a chance to prove themselves against Cup’s biggest names in an environment where they don’t have to worry about screwing up anybody’s points and all the cars are basically written off the second they unload.

Quite frankly, it should go the same way with the All-Star Race in Charlotte, too.

Chances are, it’ll never happen. Thanks in part to long-term contracts, NASCAR is a slow-moving behemoth, one that’s going to need to get out of its existing schedule deals before it can add more of the road courses and short tracks that fans have begged for. Changing the format of a non-points event for something like the fourth time in six years probably isn’t high on the totem pole.

But mark my words: having an Xfinity or Truck Series regular beat Cup’s biggest stars in an event like the Clash is a starmaker. And as more and more of the current generation of stars begin to hang up their firesuits, NASCAR can use any excuse to create another young star that it can get.

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