What now after NASCAR’s option tire bummer and the All Star fight?

There was a lot to like about the weekend despite the optics


We all expected more and not just fans but the competitors and even NASCAR itself. For the second year in a row, but this time on new pavement, the NASCAR All Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway was a one-sided beatdown.

Joey Logano led all but a single lap, when he came down pit road and stopped short of the start-finish line, but most of the scorn will be directed towards the much-ballyhooed option tire experiment. Simply put, a tire that was designed to produce almost a half second advantage before trailing off, accomplished neither.

By the final 100 laps, everyone bolted on their remaining option tires and drove them to the finish, without any blistering or considerable falloff whatsoever. Kyle Larson, wanting to be on offense, took fresher tires before the final restart with 47 laps to go and they meant next to nothing.

It’s a disappointment, no doubt about it, and everyone felt it after the race on Sunday night. A great deal was riding on the success of this concept, and what fans do not want to hear on Monday is that it still is, because there were a handful of positive developments even if the experience was an overall net negative.

But this exercise requires a little bit of nuance and intellectual honesty.

Objectively, North Wilkesboro Speedway appears to be the greatest repave in NASCAR short track history because the seven-month-old surface immediately produced three lanes that most fresh asphalt requires three years to produce … at a minimum.

This wasn’t just the byproduct of the option tire either as the Truck Series used the entire track over the weekend, even after the surface layer rubber was washed away by a record thunderstorm on Saturday night.

Also, the option tire isn’t going to get enough credit because on that surface, at night, there just wasn’t enough speed disparity from the primary tire … but this is still a good tire.

Again, objectively, this is the softest compound that Goodyear has ever taken to a NASCAR Cup Series race because this is technically the same formula that is used on wet surface in the immediate aftermath of a storm.

First and foremost, this race probably should have taken place at 3:30, Larson be damned, to produce the kind of lap time deviation everyone at Goodyear anticipated. After all, this tire compound was tested in March in the middle of the day.

But most importantly, all the smartest people in the garage are still convinced that the option tire needs to become the new short track tire from Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond.  

They want it in November at Phoenix for the Cup Series championship race too.

We’re talking Chris Gabehart, Cliff Daniels, Rodney Childers and Matt McCall level smarts.  

They are convinced that this tire at a more abrasive short track will create what happened at Bristol in March, albeit it on a scale, throughout the season. There’s still some debate about what that looks like, of course.

Does NASCAR continue to pursue an option and primary tire simultaneously as a strategic wrinkle or do they just go all in on making a reliable and competitive super soft short track tire?

Either way, that was a positive development from this weekend too, that despite the disappointment, that NASCAR and Goodyear are still willing to take this experiment further. They are willing to risk a potential shit show with tire failures to reproduce what happened at Bristol, and to a degree, the start of Richmond on the wet weather tire compound.

None of this changes that the Next Gen remains a draggy slug on short tracks, one that makes too much grip and drives too well, without enough horsepower to punch through both the turbulence and the limit of the tire.

All of these things can be true.

However, it’s also true that short of a hybrid engine extension (like the one IndyCar is about to debut) by the end of the decade, Cup Series cars are currently locked into the 670-horsepower target range. There doesn’t appear to be an appetite to spend on a narrower tire and the wheels to support it … at least not until a new charter agreement gets completed.

So, NASCAR and Goodyear have no other option but to make this direction work because it’s the only area of the platform the industry is willing to work on. Just believe there was a lot to like about the option tire concept, even if it didn’t totally produce the intended results at night on a freshly repaved surface.

There is an important tire test coming up at Iowa Speedway and everyone believes the All-Star Race direction will soon be applied to points races too and it’s on those older surfaces that it can be judged entirely.

But still, it’s okay to be disappointed about Sunday night, as long as we’re all intellectually honest about it.

About the fight

Here’s a hot take some fans aren’t ready for.

Kyle Busch is more deserving of a penalty after Sunday night than Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but nether should face real consequences with Rick Stenhouse (Sr.) likely warranting the heaviest hammer from the sanctioning body.

Busch intentionally crashed Stenhouse, the SMT data surely reflecting it, and that warrants a stronger punitive action on precedence than what Stenhouse did in waiting to initiate a confrontation.

Of course, being totally candid here, their physical confrontation was wildly entertaining and it saved an otherwise disappointing event for NASCAR. Really, league president Steve Phelps should send them bonus checks as opposed to fines or suspensions.

You know the old adage — fight in my pits, $300 fine, fight on the frontstretch, $300 bonus.

Busch is mired in a year long slump that is well below his standards and expectations. He feels like he has been run over at various points over the season, and there is some merit to that from a racer who genuinely races way cleaner than his reputation would suggest.

With that said, welcome to the midpack Rowdy, where every restart is a Truck Series bloodbath. Under the rules of the modern NASCAR, and where track position is most easily obtained in the three laps after a restart, Stenhouse had an opening and he took.

It’s simultaneously true that Busch left Stenhouse a lane, and that taking said lane inevitable denied Busch any saving grace off the corner.

“I suck as bad as you.”

That line from Kyle Busch, spoken from the lift gate towards Stenhouse, is really what this is all about.

A year ago, today, both Busch and Stenhouse were already locked into the playoffs and having top-10 caliber seasons to that point. Even beyond the Daytona 500 win, JTG Daugherty Racing was contending for stage points every week.

Busch seemed genuinely revitalized by Richard Childress Racing. Now, RCR is starting to once again lose the resources race at the Cup Series level to the likes of Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Stenhouse just signed an extension with his team, but it’s an open question what that team even looks like next year with an ownership reorganization looming and the results also falling below their established standards last year.

Busch is running bad right now and took his frustrations out on Stenhouse, who in turn had two hours to think about how he was absolutely junked, and why wouldn’t that be his reaction when Rowdy doubled down?

Ultimately, it gave the race a much-needed memorable moment. Stenhouse will probably get fined $25,000 just like Matt Crafton did last year after the Truck Series race at Talladega. His dad, Rene Sanchez was suspended for interjecting himself into that scuffle and Rick Stenhouse probably should too.

The only question, again, is whether NASCAR takes action on Busch who very clearly wasn’t lifting until Stenhouse crashed.

Man, Joey Logano needed this.

It doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things, of course, but this is also one of the worst winless stretches of his career dating back to March 19, 2023 at Atlanta.

That’s still true since the All-Star Race doesn’t count towards points or the official win tally.

But this is starting to become on-brand for Team Penske in the Next Gen era. This is the third year in a row that Penske has been competitively absent at the start of the season. In fact, it’s worse this year, in the first year under the Ford Mustang Dark Horse body era.

But when the consequences are raised, so too do Logano and Ryan Blaney rise to the occasion, having won the past two championships when they were counted out come the summer months.

Given that RFK Racing has been leading the charge all season, and even with Stewart-Haas Racing showing flashes of brilliance, it’s just a matter of time before Penske figures out how to maximize their downforce and drag levels and get their champions back on track.

In the meanwhile, this was a warning to the rest of the garage that clock is starting to tick.  

Stray bullets

  • If at Wilkesboro on the option tires, the All Star Race needs to be under the sun
  • Never back the grandstands off the catchfence because the atmosphere is incredible at Wilkesboro, NASCAR’s Field of Dreams venue
  • Give Marcus Smith and Steve Swift all due credit for this repave
  • I hope two years of bad weather and logistical issues don’t hurt the future of the track
  • The All Star Race should go back home to Charlotte with the intermediate package so compelling
  • Turn the ROVAL weekend date into a playoff points race for North Wilkesboro
  • It’s still really freaking cool that Wilkesboro is back as a regular stop on the tour

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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