CONCORD, N.C. — There was a consensus that something had to be done to NASCAR's annual All-Star Race, which had stopped being special years ago.
Here's what typically happened: A bunch of Cup Series drivers circled around Charlotte Motor Speedway in cars that made it too difficult to pass for the lead, so the one with the clean air zoomed to an easy $1 million prize.
It was terrible racing, and everybody knew it.
So give NASCAR and CMS president Marcus Smith credit for trying a radically different rules package Saturday night in a grasp toward adding something to the snoozefest. They went with restrictor plates, the horsepower-choking gadgets traditionally used only at the circuit's two superspeedways — Daytona and Talladega. But pack racing on a boring 1.5-mile oval is at a minimum something different, so there was no reason for NASCAR not to give it a try.
The results were mixed, partly because Kevin Harvick won for the third consecutive race and sixth time this season, though Saturday's race was not for points.
"Everything is going our way," said Harvick, who is trying to earn his second season championship in five years. "It's kind of a game at this particular point."
The final 10 laps, which are supposed to be a rough-and-tumble chase for the big money, were instead a Harvick rout, and that might dilute the evaluation of the experiment. Still, this was clearly different than recent All-Star Races.
"Kudos to NASCAR for trying something, right?" said Team Penske driver Joey Logano, who finished third. "We as competitors come into this race track and say, 'The heck with it, we'll go for anything.' At least NASCAR has the same attitude. It's the race that you have nothing to lose. They looked at it that way."
NASCAR touted the 38 green-flag passes for the lead. Harvick led the final 11 laps — the race went to overtime — and there was no dramatic sprint for the monetary prize, but there were zero green-flag passes for the lead last year. In fact, there were a combined 61 green-flag passes from 2013 through last season.
So from a statistical point of view, the package clearly was a step in the right direction.
"We're not high-fiving," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's head of competition. "I think you judge it by the fans. I think you look down the last 10 laps, everybody is standing up. People were enthused. You saw drivers out there competing. You saw three lead changes in one lap at the end of the third stage."
NASCAR is aware it needs radical improvements to on-track product, but changes are expensive to the teams and disruptive to the purity of a championship season. That's why Smith, who has to sell tickets to next week's Coca-Cola 600, wouldn't hesitate to bring the rules package back on Sunday.
He loved what he saw Saturday, and he understands the Coca-Cola 600 — the longest race, by 100 miles, on NASCAR's schedule — could use some spicing up, too. The drivers, though, weren't exactly in love with the restrictor plates.
What happens next is in NASCAR's hands, and O'Donnell said "never say never" regarding the All-Star car setup appearing in a Cup Series race again.
"For us, we've got to take the time, be smart about this, really look at it, see where we can go from here," O'Donnell said. "But I think it's fair to say that this is something we absolutely want to look at."