Smith's push for All-Star race package at 600 denied
By STEVE REED
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) Charlotte Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith learned a long time ago from NASCAR Hall of Fame father Bruton Smith not to be afraid to try "new and crazy" things when it comes to auto racing.
That's why the younger Smith lobbied NASCAR hard to use the same rules package for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 that was experimented with in the All-Star race. Even though Kevin Harvick led the final 11 laps and rolled to his third consecutive win this season in the $1 million shootout, the restrictor plates created a tighter field and improved on-track action.
Smith said he received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from fans this week who want to see the same race setup for NASCAR's longest race.
But stock car racing's governing body ultimately decided against changing the setup it has been using in regular Cup races this season, leaving Smith a little disappointed.
"I am all about the fans," Smith said. "I want what the fans want, and sometimes I want to try things the fans don't even know they want."
With NASCAR's longest race of the season up next - the 600 is a marquee event because it is 100 miles longer than anything else on the schedule - Smith wanted to ensure an entertaining event and pushed for a similar setup for Sunday.
The race is the third on the biggest day of motorsports in the world, and it is the nightcap to Formula One racing in Monaco and the Indianapolis 500.
His intentions are good, but not practical.
NASCAR could not change the rules for a crown jewel race days before the event. Doing so would be an expensive and difficult endeavor for the teams, and not all would be able to prepare for a different rules package in the same amount of time. So ultimately changing the rules on very little notice was deemed unfair to the teams and the integrity of the competition.
"Logistics were against us in the way the teams work and do so much ahead of time," Smith said. "But I am really happy with the way the sport overall has responded. There's a really good shot we are going to see it (the package) more" in the future.
While the drivers were fine experimenting with the package in the non-points All-Star race, they weren't keen on pack racing on a 1.5-mile speedway.
The restrictor plates also slowed the cars tremendously, so once a driver hit his setup, all he had to do was basically steer and try not to make a mistake.
"You got to be careful about taking that sample size and saying it is going to be the greatest thing ever," said Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 6 Ford. "When you take that rules package and let them work on it in the garage for a month things will be very similar to how they were. It was a good thing to try, but it's not exactly what I want to see on a weekly basis."
That said, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said he won't be surprised if NASCAR adopts some form of the All-Star race package soon.
"There seems to be a very positive response in what was seen in the race," Johnson said. "I know there is a lot of consideration being put into it and we might just have to try it somewhere to see. That could be the realistic next step to try it at a real points race and see."
It just won't be this week.
"I knew the odds were definitely against me," Smith said if his politicking with NASCAR. "But I had no idea we would get the incredible positive support that have all just jumped in on this and said `This is the direction we need to go. It may not be perfect, but let's not let perfection be the enemy of progress.'"
AP Motorsports Writer Jenna Fryer in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
Updated May 24, 2018