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NASCAR has finally figured out how to slow Kevin Harvick down on 1.5-mile tracks, which should make Saturday night’s non-points All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway the most competitive since its inception in 1985. There’s still $1 million given to the winner, but this year all 21 eligible drivers will actually have a legitimate shot to win because NASCAR implemented a new restrictor-plate and aero-package program this week as a test.

NASCAR announced last month they would put restrictor-plates on the engines to restrict air flow to slow the cars. The effect is a reduction of about 250 horsepower. Rear drag will also be created by raising the spoiler up to six inches and front aero ducts have been added that will move the air to the side of the car before it hits the front wheels.

This package is modeled after what NASCAR used at Indianapolis last season in the Xfinity Series. The desired end result is cars being bunched up together like at Daytona and Talladega with lots of lead changes and a fantastic finish like plate races typically produce.

If it works out well and the racing is competitive, expect to see the program used more next season and beyond, and I’m fine with it. I think I’m going to like it. This is part of the answer moving forward to making the races more competitive and drawing more fans back to the track.

Let’s face it, NASCAR has a problem on its hands, which is why the France family is having Goldman-Sachs shop it around to see if there are any serious buyers. Bill France’s grandchildren have been so behind the curve on everything to do with their sport. They wait to the lowest point NASCAR has been in two decades to find a bidder.

Anyway, the racing should be good. And while I don’t mind seeing Harvick win every week – five wins in 12 races – I do at least like to see him work for it, which he did Saturday night at Kansas. There is a major divide between those who are fast and those that aren’t on the big horsepower tracks. Harvick’s Stewart Haas Racing team put the work and money in to gain an edge, and it stinks for them to see that edge and secret negated this week with $1 million up for grabs, but the sport is dying and needs a boost.

What we need is drivers like Bubba Wallace or Chase Elliott winning races, or a possibility they have a chance to win. Right now, they don’t unless it’s a plate race. When races on the 1.5-mile tracks come around, we all know the only way Harvick loses is if he has an unforced error. That’s no fun. Those races have been no drama, for the most part. But things will be different this week.

Now that we know what the cars are going to be like, let’s discuss how many drivers will be racing and the format.

It begins with 17 drivers getting an automatic berth due to winning a race in 2017 or 2018, winning a past All-Star race or winning a season Cup series championship. Three more drivers will be eligible by winning one of the three stages (20-20-10 laps) in the Open qualifying race and the final spot will be voted in by the fans.

The All-Star Race itself is broken up into four stages (30-20-20-10 laps) with the fourth stage winner getting the big $1 million check. And it’s actually a big check they bring out with the winner’s name on it just like a Las Vegas jackpot winner or a state lottery winner.

So that’s 21 drivers who all have a legitimate shot at winning the race, which should make odds hunting this week a worthwhile process. I’m willing to bet a few sportsbooks post odds without knowledge of restrictor-plates being attached and they book it like it’s a regular race on a 1.5-mile track that’s going to be won by either Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Larson. I’m not saying those guys can’t win, but their chances are a lot worse with the plates on.

Harvick was 5-to-2 to win last week at Kansas. This week he should be closer to 8-1 or 10-1. Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon was 200-1 last week. This week he should be closer to 40-1. Shop around and take advantage of the value with bookmakers asleep at the wheel.

What we’ve seen with the regular 2018 package is dominance by Harvick winning three of the four races on 1.5-mile tracks.

Next week in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the regular package will be back in place, but for the non-points All-Star Race, we get a glance at what may possibly be the future of NASCAR for the sake of the sport being more competitive and safer.

Although this isn’t the exact same plate package as Daytona and Talladega, I think we’ll see something similar with drafting being a key component. Watching practices on Friday will give us a lot more information on how the cars run, but expect Fords to be fast again like they have been in the past three years of plate races.

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