Sprint All-Star format puts emphasis on tires, intrigue

Rules outlining the 2016 versions of the Sprint All-Star Race and Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway were announced Friday, and NASCAR’s annual All-Star Race will once again include a dramatic final segment to determine a $1 million prize winner.

There are three segments in this year’s Sprint All-Star Race — a 50-lap opening segment, a 50-lap second segment and a 13-lap final dash to the finish with a unique rule.

For the first time in the event’s history, the starting order for the final segment will be determined following a random draw that decides if the top running nine, 10 or 11 cars have to pit for a mandatory four-tire stop between Segment 2 and Segment 3. Pit road will be closed for all other cars, and those for which pit stops were mandated must resume position for the final sprint, lining up behind the cars that did not pit — creating an unpredictable, no-holds-barred rush to the checkered flag and All-Star history.

Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski said Friday at Kansas Speedway that the track reached out to several drivers for ideas on how to alter the format. His theories apparently resonated, he said.

“I just wanted to see the race something that I would want to watch if I was a fan, and something that I would want to be proud of if I was the driver that won it,” Keselowski said. “Quite honestly, I didn’t feel like the formats of the past few years were that way. So when sitting down and kind of going over it all, I kind of had this over-arching theme that I think our sport is best when at the end of the day we have what I call common winds, where everybody is happy. Those are easy to say, hard to do, but I think they’re out there.”

The All-Star Race (May 21, 7 p.m., FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) features drivers who have won a race in the current or preceding year, past NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winners and past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions. Winners of the three segments in the Sprint Showdown (May 20, 7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will also line up for the All-Star Race.

RELATED: See the list of eligible drivers

Fans will again have the opportunity to select at least one driver through the popular Sprint Fan Vote, which will fill any remaining starting spots until the field reaches a minimum of 20 cars.

“We worked with NASCAR and talked to several drivers to gather feedback for what they thought would make the very best race for the fans,” Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager Marcus Smith said. “The drivers don’t all agree on the perfect strategy, which means some drivers will be fighting on race-worn tires to stay up front at the end, while others will be charging through the field on new tires after the final pit stop.

“At the end of the final shootout, one driver will have a million reasons why ’13’ is a lucky number.”

Carl Edwards, the 2011 winner of the All-Star Race, weighed in on the changes during a Friday media availability at Kansas Speedway. He said that new tires and how beneficial they might be will play a significant factor in how the three-segment race unfolds.

“The one thing that will be interesting is through that night if you have to pit that much and get tires, you have a really good database to go off of to know what you want to do and know where you stand,” Edwards said. “It could be complete chaos, which is probably going to be fun.”

Keselowski, who lauded the collaborative effort to reach the final 2016 format, said that he had fielded plenty of questions about why the final segment was scheduled for a specific 13-lap distance. He said that the segment length achieved a proper balance, making drivers on new tires work through the pack or drivers on old tires hang on with little time to spare.

“It’s not like some devil-worshiping thing, I can promise you that,” he said, “but when we looked at the number it would take for the driver to drive through the field in the scenarios that we played out, on average it was 8-12 laps. If you make a mistake, it could take as much as 15 laps, so I think that’s kind of where the number came from was trying to fit in between that 10-15 lap range and that was a unique number that hit it and could generate some interest.”

Additional rules are as follows:

Starting order for the opening 50-lap segment for the All-Star Race will be determined by qualifying, and includes a mandatory green flag pit stop with a minimum of two tires.

A break between Segment 1 and Segment 2 includes a mandatory pit stop with a minimum of two tires. The exit off pit road following that stop sets the starting order for Segment 2.

During the 50-lap second segment, cars must make a green-flag pit stop and change a minimum of two tires prior to Lap 85.

The Sprint Showdown includes three total segments of 20 laps, 20 laps and 10 laps. The winner of each of those sprints earns a start in the All-Star Race.

Additional rules for the Sprint Showdown:

Starting order for the first 20-lapper will be set by practice speeds, and the winner advances to the All-Star Race (and sits out Segments 2 and 3 of the Showdown).

The second 20-lap segment starting order will be set according to pit road order after a mandatory pit stop for a minimum of two tires. Again, the winner of that segment will automatically advance to the All-Star Race and sit out the final segment.

The winner of the final 10-lapper will also advance to the All-Star Race, with the starting order in this segment again set by pit road order following a mandatory pit stop for a minimum of two tires.