More NASCAR Changes: All Star Race Gets Makeover for Fans

More NASCAR Changes: All Star Race Gets Makeover for Fans

CONCORD, N.C. -- The inversion is gone. Another driver is in. The Nextel All-Star Challenge has been caught up in the changes sweeping though NASCAR's premier division.

One day after officials announced a revamped Chase for the Nextel Cup, Lowe's Motor Speedway unveiled a new format for the all-star exhibition scheduled for May 19 at the Charlotte track. The event will be broken into four segments to mirror the four quarters used by other professional sports, and three drivers will transfer from the Nextel Open preliminary race.

"The effort that we put forth is really to make it easier for the fans," NASCAR vice president Steve O'Donnell said Tuesday during the preseason media tour. "We know that's going to take some time. As with anything, as with any change, it's going to take some time. But we believe we're headed in the right direction, and it will make the sport better."

The night will begin with the Nextel Open, which is broken up into two 20-lap segments separated by an optional pit stop. The top two finishers, as well as one driver chosen in a fan vote, will transfer into the main event.

The all-star race will be comprised of four 20-lap segments. Replacing the random inversion that had been used to shuffle the lineup prior to the last segment is a mandatory pit stop. The order in which cars exit pit road is the order in which they will start the final segment. The winner will still receive $1 million.

"People said [the inversion] reeked of gimmickry, and all that kind of stuff," said Lowe's Motor Speedway president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler. "Also, we had drivers doing some creative lagging. This way, it will keep everybody running to the front. That's what we want to do. We want to have lead changes, that's the big thing."

The all-star weekend will begin on May 16 with the Nextel Pit Crew Challenge, the results of which will now determine the order of pit selection for Saturday night's main event. The pit crew competition will be held not at the speedway, but at Charlotte Bobcats Arena in downtown Charlotte.

It's part of a tactic to create a city-wide all-star weekend like those seen in Major League Baseball and the NBA. That some crewmen tend to lose footing on the slicker basketball arena floor is a small price to pay.

"That's showtime down there. That's all that is," Wheeler said. "Yeah, [crewmen] slip and slide a little bit, but people like that. Maybe we ought to shoot the cars out of a cannon."

The idea so transfixed the master promoter that he had to ask a reporter to repeat the next question. "Sorry," he said. "I was still thinking about that cannon."

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