If Kyle Busch, last year’s winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race, wants to defend his victory, he’ll have to do it by conquering a plethora of new circumstances in this year’s marquee event.
Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will see a new rules package, which includes restrictor plates along with a 6-inch high spoiler with two 12-inch ears, a 2014-style splitter and aero ducts.
On top of that, the mandatory pit stop as seen in years past has also been eliminated, blowing the doors wide open for an array of pit strategy in the 80-lap race, which is broken up into four segments — 30 laps, a pair of 20-lappers and 10-lap finale.
Adam Stevens, crew chief for Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota brigade, says the team is preparing for a number of potential outcomes.
“It’s going to go one of two or three different ways,” Stevens told NASCAR.com. “It’s either going to be easy wide-open where it’s going to be more like a traditional superspeedway restrictor-plate race. That’s a possibility if the grip level is high.
“If the grip level is a little bit lower than what we anticipate, then we could be lifting a bunch more and it can get strung out. We don’t know. If we’re not putting a lot of stress and a lot of heat in the tires, then maybe they’ll hang on longer and keep us bunched up. And then if we are (putting more stress and heat on tires), we may be lifting a lot more. You’re kind of having to prepare for two or three different scenarios because until we get on the race track, you can just guess yourself in a circle. You just don’t know.”
As far as pit strategy is concerned, Stevens says with so many brand-new factors coming into play, the possibilities are endless and it all depends on circumstances that may arise.
“A lot of that depends on how the cautions fall and how this new aero package uses the tires,” said Stevens. “It’s a new tire combination, as well. There’s so many unknowns, it’s almost impossible to predict.
“I don’t know if that with this aero package and the restrictor plates if we’re gonna be easier on tires and easy wide open where we won’t be thinking we need tires every time the caution comes out, or if it’s still going to be hard on the tires and we run 15-20 laps and we’re gonna want tires,” he added. “There’s just no way to tell until we get some laps on the race track.”
With practice sessions occurring during the heat of the day on Friday afternoon, Stevens says the way the cars handle then will be a big indicator for what teams can expect when temperatures cool off Saturday night.
“It’s all a matter of grip level. Obviously with the track temperature up in the heat of the day, the grip levels are going to be down,” Stevens said. “So, with this particular package with the restrictor plates and all the extra downforce, if we can get around their wide open during the heat of the day, that’s going to only get easier at night. It might throw the balance off a little bit, but it’s all a matter of overall grip level and if we have enough to get around there wide open all night.”