CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 21: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Toyota, leads the field to the start of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Pit road strategy will now be the deciding factor in who takes home the $1 million prize.
In a reflection of the current state of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, the rules for NASCAR's All-Star Race were tweaked Tuesday to put a greater emphasis on pit road strategy.
Heck, why not? Every race seems to come down to pit calls, fuel mileage or rain strategy these days, so the All-Star Race format now fits right in.
Here's how it will work:
• The race will have four 20-lap segments and the signature 10-lap shootout.
• Each segment will have a winner, who then clinches a top-four spot coming to pit road for a mandatory stop just prior to the 10-lap finale. If a driver wins a segment twice, the second-place driver for that segment gets a top-four spot.
• For the final mandatory pit stop, drivers can take fuel only, two tires or four tires.
In other words, the whole All-Star Race is going to come down to who plays the track position game the best. Charlotte is a very aero-dependent track, so a driver on old tires might have a shot to win the All-Star Race in a 10-lap dash for $1 million.
"I think it'd be close," driver Kasey Kahne said. "I think it would just depend where the [cars with new] tires were. If four guys did [gas only] and you're starting up front, you might be able to get far enough away that by the time the [new] tires came through the other three guys, he might not have time to catch you.
"Usually tires don't fall off very fast at Charlotte."
And really, that's the game. Whoever puts himself in position to take gas only or do a stop-and-go on the final pit stop will have a real shot of winning the race.
At Charlotte, 10 laps simply isn't going to be enough time to zoom through the field on fresh tires.
"It's just going to be how everybody sets themselves up for that last pit stop," said Steve Addington, crew chief for Tony Stewart. "The big key is going to be that segment win, so you can be at the front."
Think about this: If a driver wins the first or second segment, he then doesn't have to worry about track position until the very end, because he's guaranteed to be in the top four coming to pit road. All he'd have to do is stay on the lead lap, but there's little risk of getting lapped in a 20-lap segment anyway.
So a driver who has a segment win under his belt could hang back, take four tires on the second-to-last pit stop, take fuel only on the final stop, come out ahead of everyone else and go home with $1 million.
It's likely that Sprint, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway would prefer that doesn't happen. Last year's All-Star Race was a snoozer compared to past events -- the memorable moment of the night was Carl Edwards wrecking his car in the grass after he won -- so the new pit strategy twist might create some late passing.
Drivers have said Charlotte's 2006 repave was so good that the track is still as smooth as it was during the first year of fresh asphalt. But NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said the combination of the surface and a new right-side tire might shake things up a bit.
"There's some more age on the track, so it won't be exactly the same as it was a year ago," he said.