All-Star Race experimentation receives mostly high marks

Kevin Harvick emerged victorious from an All-Star race that produced a whopping 38 lead changes. Sean Gardner/Getty Images

CONCORD, N.C. -- Kevin Harvick still won. Track position remained a key element. And drivers wrecked as they went three-wide into the corner.

In some ways, the NASCAR All-Star Race portrayed aspects of a typical 1.5-mile event.

But the NASCAR All-Star Race wouldn't rate as typical as NASCAR experimented with an aerodynamic package that featured restrictor plates, front air ducts that pushed air through the front wheel wells and a big spoiler.

For an event desperately needing a boost, the non-points race got one Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The lead changed 12 times when counted at the start/finish line -- none in the final 11 laps -- but 38 times, according to NASCAR, when using its timing lines scattered throughout the track.

NASCAR had one promising night. But don't get too excited just yet. NASCAR's charter agreements with the teams require several months of lead time for major aerodynamic changes. They can't make the change for this year (at least with approval from the teams, which is doubtful, because of the costs involved).

As much as anyone hates to hear it, the prudent approach is the right approach even after a relatively successful All-Star Race that saw cars run much closer together and drivers working together to get their lane to run faster and push each other to the lead. The race featured the typical move of helping a driver to make some passes and then hanging that driver out to dry in order to advance positions.

"From an eye test, we were certainly pleased with what we saw," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said. "I think you'll hear drivers say, directionally, there's some things we can look at. We agree. ... We'll try to put a timeline together to look toward 2019."

Brad Keselowski, not a fan of the package when announced last month, delivered this assessment:

"You definitely seem to draft a little bit more, which has its highs and lows, but track position is super important, drag is super important," he said. "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."

Keselowski was not being sarcastic. The teams were given the front aero ducts and didn't know their exact design until Friday. Their wind tunnel time and simulation data were limited because of it.

Not surprising, drivers had different ideas for how to work on it, how to tweak it.

"It's interesting for sure," AJ Allmendinger said after he won the last-chance qualifying race. "I've still got mixed feelings on it. ... Part of me thinks if we didn't have as much restrictor, maybe a little more motor, it would be a little bit better. It was interesting for sure."

The top speeds in practice clocked in at 16 mph slower than with the previous package.

"There is some tweaking [needed]," Joey Logano said after his third-place finish. "Personally, I would like to get rid of the drag ducts, just to try it. I don't think that's the right direction. Maybe it is. You don't know until you try it.

"I thought the racing was pretty entertaining from the driver's seat. I would assume from TV and from the grandstands it was pretty entertaining."

NASCAR will use the package for the Xfinity Series cars at Pocono, Michigan and Indianapolis. Harvick and O'Donnell said the key is engine development so they don't have three different engine packages -- one for restrictor plates at Daytona/Talladega, another for restrictor-plate races at select intermediate tracks, and then non-restricted engines for the rest of the races.

"By the time it evolves, especially for the engine shop, this particular engine package would need to look very similar to what your Daytona and Talladega package [need] to look like. ... That's the reason you can't just say, 'Pull the trigger, let's do it,'" Harvick said.

"It's a big ship to turn. It would be interesting."

Any rules package for 2019 likely would have to be decided by early September.

"It's a [new] motor package; it's potential body change from what we race," said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart-Haas Racing vice president of competition. "We're just creating more work for ourselves, which just takes more resources.

"If it puts good racing on and the races are spread out, we'll all figure it out as teams. Dumping it on us right now wouldn't be the right thing to do."

But there will be plenty of conversations, and soon.

"Directionally [we] do like some of the things you see," O'Donnell said. "Now you've got to get together with the industry, debrief like we always do with the race teams, the drivers, certainly listen to the tracks and the fans, then the [manufacturers], talk about how do we continue to look at this and look at it in a smart way, look at it in an efficient way."

The drivers seemed relatively content with the racing. Harvick, mired in the pack for the second and third stages of the four-stage event, said it felt a little bit like an old race at Daytona when the track had several bumps.

"You could dive to the bottom, and the middle and the top was still going to be faster coming on the outside of you," Harvick said. "I probably made a lot moves I shouldn't have made, but you are trying to make something happen."

There was one big wreck, and it occurred because Martin Truex Jr. was taking more than giving, a typical restrictor-plate crash.

"I knew if I let off and made sure we all didn't crash, none of the other guys would have and I wasn't going to win," Truex said. "So I kept my foot in it and hoped we all could keep it straight. And I guess we all ran out of room. ... We were four-wide going into [Turn 3] and there's just not enough room for that."

Truex quipped the package "was fun while it lasted" and the one good thing was he was able to improve on being awful in practice Saturday morning to running well Saturday night.

No cars got airborne, a typical concern on restrictor-plate tracks.

"I'm pretty sure there's still a chance," Allmendinger said. "That giant thing [of a spoiler] that hangs on the back of our race car, if it turns backward, I'm pretty sure [it will go over].

"This is a test. That is what this race is about. ... I wish the cars will be a little bit faster, but they sure put on a good race."

So do the drivers want it?

"That's not my decision to make," Keselowski said. "They're going to do what they want to do. It doesn't matter what I like. I like having a job."