RELATED: Complete race results
CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer’s team got creative.
Brad Keselowski’s got nothing.
And at the end of the night the primary/option tire experiment in the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race provided mixed results and mixed reviews.
“It was a good try,” Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, said following his 13th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Track position is key and you try to do something to get track position and you don’t have the upper hand.”
Bowyer was impressive in winning the first stage of the Monster Energy Open to earn a berth in the All-Star Race. But crew chief Mike Bugarewicz saved the team’s best move for the $1 million-to-win nightcap.
After putting on its lone set of option tires, which were softer and thus provided more grip and initial speed, after the first stage of the four-stage race, Bugarewicz called for a two-tire stop after the second stage.
Bowyer headed back out onto the track with the lead and with two different tire builds on his car. Green option tires still on the left and two fresh primary tires (with the yellow lettering) on the right.
A NASCAR no-no? The rules for the race stated that the primary (harder) and option tires had to be installed as sets with no mixing sets. But teams were provided three sets of primary tires and only one set of the option tires, and nothing was specifically said about the legalities of a two-tire stop.
“They didn’t say anything as far as the explanation of the rules,” Bugarewicz told FS1 before the third stage got underway. “But I … read the entry blanks and stuff before I got here and I never saw it in there. I kind of had planned to do this and if it’s not in there I guess I can do it, right?”
The creativity failed to pay off. Bowyer dropped quickly once the stage began and within three laps was clinging to a top-10 spot. When the segment ended, he and Joey Logano (Team Penske Ford) had identical average finishing positions for the 10th and final spot to advance to the final round. Logano took the spot based on a higher finishing position in the third stage.
“I think if we would have had tires and started up front, we’d have been hard to handle tonight,” Bowyer said. “We were a good car all night long, it’s just this format and the way the race is. You can’t complain about it because it is what it is. It’s the All-Star Race and everybody wants to be a part of it, it’s just unfortunate that your hands are tied.”
Keselowski failed to receive any benefit from the softer compound tires. During pit stops between the second and third stages, crew chief Paul Wolfe called his driver in for the switch to the option tires. However, Keselowski quickly returned to pit road for a possible lug nut issue. The crew changed all four tires, and because he had made two laps, although under yellow, with the option tires, the team could not put them back on the car.
“You’re supposed to put on your soft option tires as a set, as stickers,” Team Penske competition director Travis Geisler said. “So once we rode around under the pace laps they weren’t stickers anymore. We couldn’t re-use them. It’s clear to me. It was in the rule book that way.
“That’s where the confusion with the 14 came in because the rule book said ‘must be used as a set.’ The entry blank says must be put on as a set. If you want to take them off as not a set, then that was OK.”
Because they started at the back of the field, three of the four drivers transferring out of the Open — Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney — started the All-Star Race on their option tires in order to try to improve track position.
Others changed after the first stage. And many more after the second. None of the 10 finalists, however, appeared to put the option tires on for the final 10-lap shootout.
Not surprisingly, race winner Kyle Busch admitted to being “a fan of it” when asked about having two tire combinations.
“I thought it was pretty good, pretty fun, gave my car a better sense of feel that I was looking for throughout that run that we had it on the car,” he said.
“We weren’t quite able to make the powerful moves that maybe some of the other guys did on that tire there to fire off in that third segment. Our car kind of stayed with us a little bit better.”