CONCORD, N.C._ Not guaranteed a spot in Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have to race his way into the main show through the Sprint Showdown or by winning the Fan Vote. Friday morning, Earnhardt Jr. indicated he would like to see a format change for the annual event, but not to for the reasons you may think.
Growing up around the sport, Earnhardt Jr. rekindled memories of his past, saying as a fan he prefers short segments that led to the big moments that came to epitomize the All-Star Race. Talking with Charlotte Motor Speedway track president Marcus Smith during Thursday night’s Pit Crew Challenge, Earnhardt Jr. made a few suggestions about how to alter the event.
“From a fans standpoint I think the first segment is too long,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I really like the ’87 All-Star race, the way that race was structured I don’t remember exactly what the lap numbers were but I was thinking something like 25, 10 was a good lap structure. Make the event a little shorter and make it a little more about the fireworks that the drivers provide in the event.”
Saturday night’s format will see a 50 lap segment – with a mandatory green flag four tire pit stop – followed by two 20 lap segments before a final 10 lap shootout.
“Try to take the All-Star Race and make it more like a stick of dynamite than a whole row of 180s,” Earnhardt Jr. explained.
Veteran teammates Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have both been part of many different All-Star formats, but they too would like to see shorter segments.
“I prefer a few less cars and shorter segments,” Gordon said. “I think it is more exciting. When I look at all the different formats I’ve run. Let’s be honest, it is a 10-lap shootout. So, it is just whatever process gets you to the 10 laps. The four different segments to me seems to be pulling and stretching things a little bit and then we continue to make rules on when we can pit and when we can get tires and what lap and all those things.
“So, to me, I really like the format where it was, I don’t remember how many laps, 25 or 30 laps, then they took a fan vote on inverting the field and they always inverted pretty much the most. Then you ran 25 or 30 more and then ran 10. I liked that, I thought that was pretty cool.”
Although he preferred that format, Gordon quickly pointed out you would not be able to do that today, at least with so many cars, since it is so difficult to pass these days.
“It’s been so long that it was dramatically different, that pretty much what I remember is the 10-lap thing,” Martin said. “Back in the day, I wanted the best car to be able to win the race. And this format’s not about that, and it shouldn’t be. Because if you want to stir it up for the fans, and you want to make it crazy and exciting and sparks to fly and everything else, this is the format for that. So if I’ve got the fastest race car here tomorrow night, I’m wishing it wasn’t this format. But if I don’t I’ve still got a chance. So, it is about the fans, 100 percent.
“That’s why there’s a million dollar check out there is because it’s for the doggone fans and that’s what it’s for, you know? It’s not for us,” he said. “It’s not for the competitor. It’s not for the guy with the fastest car. It’s about a loud and crazy shootout. And I think it’s a great format for that.”
Earnhardt suggested if you want to make the day longer for the fans, giving them more racing for the price of the ticket, bring in other events during the day that focus on something like the Nationwide Series, something Gordon thinks the fans would embrace.
“Those are all great ideas,” he said. “You definitely want to give the fans their monies worth for being here and you can’t bring them here just for 10 laps even though I think that would be the best show. But, in my opinion, is what the All-Star event is really about is just an incredibly intense 10-lap shootout. But, people come from a long way, they pay a lot and you want to make sure they are entertained so there has to be some other ways to keep them entertained throughout the day and night getting them ready for that shootout. That is why there are four segments.”
Providing honest insight, Earnhardt Jr. vowed to race for the win in Saturday’s Sprint Showdown, not taking for granted that he will win the Sprint Fan Vote. Racing in front of his hometown crowd, Earnhardt Jr. knows the fans want to see him in the main even and, despite the pressure, he plans to do just that.
“When I was a kid it just seemed like it was a little more of a circus than a celebration and a fun time and now that I’m in the event and working and trying to race and trying to win it it’s a lot more pressure, lot more intense but maybe it’s still fun from the other side of the fence to experience,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “But it’s a lot of pressure for a driver coming out here especially now trying to get through the Shootout and all. It should be fun but I’m looking forward to the experience. I’m sure I’ll be a better person for it one way or the other.”
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