With the NASCAR All-Star Race heading to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time ever in two weeks, the race format will see some special changes. On Wednesday, NASCAR announced the race’s lap and stage count, the format for the NASCAR Open, and even the introduction of a choose cone for restarts and new number placement on paint schemes.
With COVID-19 throwing the NASCAR Cup Series schedule out of order, the All-Star Race was moved from its traditional home at Charlotte Motor Speedway to the short track Bristol for the first time in its history. The race will be split into four stages of 55, 35, 35, and 15 laps; caution laps will be counted for just the first three stages.
“This NASCAR All-Star Race under the bright lights of Bristol is setting up to be a memorable event for ages to come,” Bristol general manager Jerry Caldwell said. “With a million dollar payout and no championship points on the line in this all out high-banked short track clash, it’s surely going to be a race that fans will not want to miss.”
Perhaps the most notable change is the arrival of the choose cone. Prominent in grassroots short track racing, the cone requires drivers to select a lane that they want to restart in. Normally, drivers would restart in the position that they exited pit road.
“The choose rule is going to add another dynamic to the race,” NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell stated. “Drivers and fans have been asking for this change and I can’t think of a better time to try it than the all-star race.”
Another change has sparked plenty of debate among fans: the car numbers will be moved from their usual spot on the door to the rear wheel, with sponsors taking the door location. In recent years, NASCAR has given teams the freedom to experiment with number location, with the ARCA Menards Series East and West seeing some teams race with the numbers on the quarter panels, and some sim racers in the NASCAR-sanctioned eSports leagues have followed suit. NASCAR’s international series have also placed their numbers elsewhere; for instance, some PEAK Mexico Series drivers feature their numbers on the rear window similar to the Supercars in Australia.
The number movement has been rumoured long before the announcement. In late June, Spire Motorsports asked fans via Twitter poll to select a livery for Justin Haley, all of which feature the new number placement.
After winning the 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400, Haley is the lone driver already guaranteed a spot in the All-Star Race who is not racing for Cup points. Fourteen other drivers are also locked in: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, and Martin Truex Jr. Excluding the obvious Haley, every driver qualified for the race via victories in 2019 and 2020 or being a previous All-Star Race winner.
Although the All-Star Race has regularly served as a testing ground of sort for new rules and packages, it is not a guarantee that the new number and choose cone will become permanent mainstays in NASCAR. Nevertheless, it certainly does not hurt to use an exhibition race to experiment with new ideas.
The NASCAR Open, a qualifying race for the All-Star, will be split into three segments of 35, 35, and 15 laps. The winners of each stage and the victor in the Fan Vote will run the All-Star event.
The race is scheduled for 15 July.