PHOTO: The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown is no more, and T.J. Ingerson says it’s a shame. (Pat Brandon/NASCAR Hometracks photo)

–by T.J. Ingerson
VMM Correspondent

It’s a sad day to see that NASCAR has cancelled the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale. The idea in 2003 was to put the then-Busch North Series and the NASCAR West Series under the same rules package, then hold a special race at the end of the season on one of the raciest tracks in the United States with the top 15 drivers from each series representing their series. Anyone that remembers that first All-Star Showdown remembers that it was a classic.

Young Joey McCarthy led the first 100 laps, but it was Austin Cameron, who had come back after battling cancer, who won. And just like that, the All-Star Showdown became a race that helped us Northerners through the winter.

After wins by Mike Johnson, Matt Kobyluck, David Gilliland, and Joey Logano under the “All-Star” format, NASCAR decided to change it, going away from the top-15 or top-20 and allowing outside entries into the show. Matt Crafton and Ron Hornaday, Jr., joined the show for 2009, which was won by Matt Kobyluck. That race also featured Joey Logano wrecking Peyton Sellers out of the race lead on the final lap. Logano, who had been racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, showed up in a Gibbs car and stole the race away from Sellers, for nothing.

A year later saw Logano, driving for North Haverhill, N.H.’s Fadden Racing, take the win, followed by Sergio Pena. Pena had never turned a lap in a full bodied stock car in race conditions before showing up to the so-called “All-Star” Showdown.

Again, this past year saw Travis Pastrana race, in Pastrana’s first stock car race. Steven Wallace also ran, and took attention from the teams that deserved it.

My opinion has always been, since NASCAR first went away from the original format, why call it an “All-Star” race? The race really isn’t showcasing the “All-Stars” from both series going up against each other when outsiders can come in. Instead of giving the teams that deserve the attention for having the seasons they had, the spotlight was taken away from them. Instead of fans tuning in and seeing who could be the new hot-ticket item coming up through the ranks (like it did for Gilliland in 2006 and Logano in 2007), they turned in for the names, such as Crafton, Hornaday, Wallace, now-big-shot Logano, and Pastrana. No one cared about Matt Kobyluck, Mike Olsen, Jason Bowles, Sean Caisse, Ryan Moore, David Mayhew, or anyone else who ran the East and West Series.

I firmly believed this day would come, but it’s definitely a disappointing day. What made the All-Star Showdown great was taken away. And that’s what ended up killing it.

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Think about this: You get to the race track early to catch a few laps of practice, then use the down time between practice and the start time to get a bite to eat. You sit down with your fist full of French fries, juicy chicken tenders, or a large helping of poutine, and then it rains. It rains a lot. It rains hard. Everything you brought with you is soaked. Your seat is drenched. That meal you just bought? Ruined. Basically, you could be the most miserable person at the race track.

Until you see the drivers and crews in the pit area.

They have just spent their entire practice time working on getting their car perfect, tweaking on every little thing they possibly can. They knew exactly what their car did before it rained, and they were happy with it.

Now? They don’t have a clue what their race car is going to do. They do know their car will lose grip, they just don’t know where it will lose grip. Why will it lose grip? Well, the rubber gets washed away from the race track. The track that was plastered with sticky rubber 20 minutes ago has nothing on it anymore. All that sticky rubber is gone. That race car that just was “gripping” the track won’t do that anymore. And the problem is for crews, which end of the race car will lose grip first? It’s impossible for crews to predict what will happen, and gives teams a long night ahead of them.

If the front end loses grip first, teams will be fighting a tight race car and will have to loosen it up. If the rear end loses grip first, teams will be fighting a loose race car and have to tighten it up. Then the problem will be that rubber starts to get laid back down on the race track, the track gets some of that stickiness back, and the track will change again.

It’s why “green” race tracks frustrate drivers and crews. It feels like you’re chasing the race car all night long. The rain may cool the track off (which also adds to the challenge for the crew chiefs), but the action definitely gets heated up in the pits as crews try to make the correct adjustments.

Some teams may opt for smaller adjustments, such as adjusting the tire pressures, to make sure they don’t over-adjust the race car. Some teams may not do a thing to their race car. And some teams, perhaps just a fraction of them, will throw everything but the kitchen sink at it.

So, that meal of yours that got destroyed? Try to enjoy it. Heck, get yourself a second helping. Because the rain sometimes can bring on better racing as teams struggle to get a handle on the race track.

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There is a debate about resetting tire pressures in between practice sessions. I have always been of the belief that it’s best to reset your tire pressures just before your car rolls onto the track for the second or third practice. And here’s why.

Tire pressures are an adjustment. I can add a pound of air in the right-rear tire and make the car handle slightly differently. So if I go out onto the track and run ten laps and make an adjustment in between practice sessions, why wouldn’t I want to figure out from my baseline where that adjustment moved us to? Without resetting, you’re trying to find a moving target.

Put it this way. Tires don’t get up to the same operating temperature, so they won’t get to the same “room temperature” at the same rate. It is my belief that if you don’t reset your air pressures in between practice sessions, you won’t get accurate information about what your is car is doing.

When the car sits in between the last practice session and the heat race, everything cools down. As the tires cool down, they’ll go below the temperature that you probably went out onto the track with during the last practice session. If you felt your car was good during that last practice session, chances are your car won’t be good during the heat race.

I’m not saying to reset the air pressures when the car comes off the track for a quick adjustment during the middle of practice. But if you’re going to change a spring, shock, or some bigger adjustment, I would highly recommend resetting air pressures at that point.

As your team continues to grow, your notebook will thank you for taking accurate information.

As always, email me at tj177mmi@gmail.com with your suggestions, questions, thoughts, or ideas. Always wondered why a car does something? I’ll let you know!