Tire choices may be critical in All-Star Race

Tires will be key players in Saturday's NASCAR Monster Energy All-Star Race. Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

CONCORD, N.C. -- Most All-Star events provide a chance for fans to see a unique combination of players.

NASCAR is trying to make its 2017 All-Star event have a unique combination ... of tires?

Well, when all of the stars race against each other every week, NASCAR wanted to find something to intrigue its hard-core fans.

NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Goodyear will use the NASCAR Monster Energy All-Star Race to experiment with teams having a set of soft tires to go along with two sets of regular tires for the 70-lap event on the 1.5-mile track Saturday night.

The race, which will have 20 drivers, will consist of three stages of 20 laps and a final 10-lap, 10-driver stage. The 10 drivers in the final stage will consist of the winner(s) of each of the first three stages, with the remaining spots filled by drivers with the best average finish in the first three stages.

There will be no mandatory pit stops, and drivers will line up before the pits are open after the third stage by order of average finish.

If they want to get tires at any time during the race, they and their crew chiefs will have the choice of putting on one of three sets of what Goodyear is calling "Prime" tires, or a lone set of "Option" tires, depending on the kind of set they started the race with.

They can't mix-and-match sets. The option tires, which are softer, are designed to improve lap times by three-tenths to a half-second. The prime tires will have more durability built in and may allow a driver to skip pit stops while maintaining good speed.

The key will be how many drivers will save the set of soft option tires for the final stage. If the driver puts them on just for the final stage, they must start behind any driver who did not change tires or has the prime tires.

"It's going to be interesting to see how it works out," said Kyle Larson, the NASCAR Cup Series points leader. "I don't think you will have every car on the option tire for that final segment, but I could be wrong. Because there are going to be some people that will probably use it in that last segment before the final one to try and better their average position to lock into that top 10 for the final stage."

Teams will get a set of the soft tires for their practice session Friday in addition to their sets of primary tires for practice.

"We will get an idea of kind of how the tire will be because we get one set to use in practice," Larson said. "So we will have to learn as much as we can on that and get a good idea of what it's going to be like."

The soft tires will get hotter, lose grip and give up quicker than the primary tire. The construction of the tires are the same, the tread is just different. The left-side soft tire tread is the same compound used at Fontana and Darlington. The right-side tire tread is not similar to any other track on the circuit.

"I want to say this is going to be the best thing for movement and traffic and passing guys -- and you hope that the [soft] tire has the durability built into it so you don't have to worry about the safety side of it as far as blowing out," said 2004 NASCAR Cup champion Kurt Busch.

"I like it. It all makes sense. We'll see how it goes."

The prime tire used in the All-Star Race will be the same tire drivers will use for the Coca-Cola 600 the following week.

"When it's for a million bucks, you digest whatever it takes to win it," Busch said. "This could be a direction for the future of the sport."

NASCAR will evaluate how it works in the All-Star Race to consider whether it wants to look into doing it during points races next season.

That makes things much more complicated, especially with all the additional sets used on a race weekend. Goodyear has not done any on-track testing for the softer tire -- it has primarily been done in the lab.

"It's a discussion that we had to get with NASCAR and work through," said Greg Stucker, who runs the NASCAR program for Goodyear. "Any series that runs primes and options is on road courses. Nobody does it on their oval applications.

"It's just a different animal. You'd have to sit down and try to define and determine what your objectives are and say what do we want to accomplish? Not to say we can't do that but that's the No. 1 goal ... with an option tire. The All-Star is made for it."

There are 16 drivers already qualified for the main event (winners of races in 2016 or 2017, past champions and past All-Star winners who compete full-time): Chris Buescher, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Larson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.

There are 24 drivers competing in the Monster Open on Saturday afternoon, a 50-lap, three stage (20-20-10) event with the three stage winners in that event advancing to the all-star race plus a fan-vote winner making it a field of 20. Drivers in the Open will have only prime tires.