CONCORD, N.C. -- Shorter stages and an elimination factor will almost certainly produce more intense competition when the 2017 Monster Energy All-Star Race takes place May 20 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But there's a new twist to the format introduced this year that is expected to be the real game-changer -- the availability of an "Option" set of tires, to be used at each team's discretion.
The softer compound tires are expected to be anywhere from three-to five-tenths of a second faster initially than the "Prime" tires that will also be used by teams.
"For dirt tracks, you have two or three different compounds you can choose from, different staggers to make your car work better," Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson said during Tuesday's All-Star format announcement at CMS. "Adding that little bit of tire game and strategy is exciting for the race teams and if you can hit on it, it's really good."
But it's not a guarantee, Larson, driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, warned.
"They say it's softer, but sometimes softer compounds can react differently when they mesh with a different rubber out on the race track," he said. "So you never really know how it's going to be. We're going to have to try to learn as much as we can in that short practice that we get."
The format for year's event is modeled after the 1992 All-Star Race, and consists of 70 laps total, run in three 20-lap stages followed by a 10-lap shootout. The final segment will consist of 10 drivers -- winners of the first three stages and the remainder determined based on average finishing position through the first three stages. Any ties would be broken by highest finishing position in the third stage.
Teams will be provided one set of the softer tires for practice only and one set for the All-Star Race. The tires must be installed as a set; also, any team waiting until the final stage of the race to install the softer tires must start behind any team or teams running the harder, prime tires.
The format for this year's event is modeled after the 1992 All-Star Race, and consists of 70 laps total, run in three 20-lap stages followed by a final 10-lap shootout.
"The more tractive compounds used in this combination of left and right-side tires will showcase the strategy of the event, and will give teams the ability to choose exactly when to use this set-up to give them the best chance to win," Greg Stucker, Goodyear's director of racing, said in a release from the tire supplier.
The prime tires will carry the traditional yellow lettering on the sidewalls while the option tires will feature bold green lettering, allowing fans to tell at a glance which teams are running which type of tire during the event.
Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford) called the tire equation "huge."
"We'll have a set in practice and that will allow the teams to adjust to the car according to that set, or (find out) that it's not that much of an advantage" said Busch, the 2010 All-Star winner said. "That's something we'll have to find out through practice.
"But that makes it that much more fun, going into a race where there's a million bucks on the line, no points and the format is very crisp and clean this year … if these tires, if they're soft and they go, I'll run them all 70 laps."
Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said having tire options in points-paying events in the future was possible.
"We want to see how this plays out but when you look at one of the levers we can look to pull from a competitive standpoint, this is certainly one of those and one we're excited about," O'Donnell said.
"We're positive on what could happen here on Saturday night; it's something we would look at for sure."
Having two tire choices isn't new for NASCAR. In the late 1980s and early '90s, teams had the option of running tires produced by either Goodyear or Hoosier. But as both companies used softer and softer compounds in an effort to provide the most speed, durability suffered. Tire failures became common and drivers paid the price.
With Goodyear being the sole supplier today, such concerns no longer exist.
"We know these tires are going to be safe," former crew chief Jeff Hammond said. "They may wear out; they may give up. But (drivers are) not going to have to worry about going down through there and (the tires) not being able to handle the pressure."
Hammond, now a NASCAR analyst for FOX, won the Daytona 500 as crew chief for Darrell Waltrip in 1989. Hammond said the team qualified "on Goodyear tires and then we wound up switching to Hoosiers (for the race)."
"These (softer) tires could wind up being the magic to upset some other guys that have been fast all year long," he said. "We may have a very unique final 10-lap field … for that final segment."
Fifteen drivers have already qualified for this year’s All-Star Race, 12 for having won one or more Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races since the start of the 2016 season and three as former All-Star Race winners.
RELATED: All-Star Race drivers so far
Those drivers are: Race winners Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman; Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne are eligible as previous All-Star Race winners.
Up to three additional drivers can advance out of the Monster Energy Open, a 50-lap qualifying race also scheduled for May 20. That 50-lap race will feature three segments (20 laps, 20 laps, 10 laps) with segment winners advancing to the All-Star Race. Once a driver wins a stage during the open, he or she is not required to compete in the remaining stages.
One team will qualify for the All-Star Race based on fan vote. Details of that program have yet to be released.
Programming info for the Monster Energy All-Star Race
When: Saturday, May 20, events start at 6 p.m. ET with the Monster Energy Open followed by the Monster Energy All-Star Race
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio