You have to give credit to the IndyCar Series and the staff at Texas Motor Speedway for trying something different. The 1.5 mile speedway has hosted some of the most memorable Indy races in all of motorsports, with photo finishes occurring on a regular basis. However, the last few events run there have been somewhat of a letdown, with the leader running away in the final laps. It was time to do something different, and having two shorter races with two race winners was the chance for TMS to once again host amazing finishes. Under this methodology, teams would have double the chance of going to victory lane, there would be a greater sense of urgency to make it to the front, and of course, fan favorite Danica Patrick would have twice the odds of winning. The open wheel series has also been getting beat by NASCAR for years in attendance and television ratings, so two short races would cater to what has suddenly become an ADD nation, where instant gratification is a must. Thanks Twitter.
The contests went just about an hour apiece, with too long of a half time show in between. For a casual or rookie fan in attendance, this change of pace might come off as more appealing than three or four straight hours of racing. As a diehard fan of NASCAR, though, you can only hope this doesn’t happen to stock car racing.
This experiment will likely continue in the IndyCar series as it would only be fair to try a few more times before judging whether or not it is a failure. Regardless of the outcome, however, NASCAR should not even think about trying this. In fact, the only twin races that belong are the Daytona qualifiers. One can’t help but wonder if NASCAR is thinking of trying duel point races in the near future; after all, the duels at Texas this past weekend occurred the day before what many people say is too long of a race at Pocono, where the media had a field day with 5 Hour Energy sponsoring the race. Whether the distance at Pocono needs to be shortened at all is a whole different topic (personally I believe 500 mile races are a good thing; more on that later), but two events are clearly not the answer.
First of all, the opportunity to have two winners on the same day is ridiculous. It may be good for the sponsors having an extra chance to appear in victory lane, but it cheapens the overall feel of an individual victory for the fans and the drivers. Dario Franchitti had to be the most frustrated winner of all time last Saturday, mostly because the man he is chasing in the points, Will Power, got lucky with a good starting spot in the second race while Franchitti did not. After winning the first sprint, the defending IndyCar champion started in the back of the field and made a nice charge to finish seventh, all without the aid of a caution. Unfortunately for him, Power took advantage of his top five starting spot to pick up his first career win on an oval.
The end result was having both Power and Franchitti pose in victory lane, celebrating their triumphs. It was awkward, and as a fan of either driver, you couldn’t help but have an empty feeling in your stomach. It wasn’t enough to feel like a complete victory; after all each race was only half the total points. While some critics would like NASCAR to try this at Pocono or some of the cookie cutters where little goes on in the middle portion of ther race, imagine the backlash that would occur from longtime fans. Something like this would be the final straw for some who have stuck with the sport through all the controversial changes made in the past few years.
Another item that supporters of these sprints brought up was the greater sense of urgency to get to the front. Quite frankly, this is an argument that has gone stale. (Just look at ARCA races, the rush to the front is just the same as it is in NASCAR or any other series). Those that buy into it say that shorter races mean the drivers will try to get to the front quicker and not conserve their equipment. Maybe so, but part of the attraction to racing is that it is long; seeing who is best early on, what strategies will unfold, whether parts will fail, all while watching certain guys work their way up through the field does nothing but add to the intrigue. Franchitti is a perfect example. While he made it exciting by working his way through the pack in event number two, the distance was too short for him to make something out of it. However, if Franchitti had started 28th in a 500 mile bout, he would have had time to make it to the front, potentially providing for a more climatic battle at the end.
The fact is, in any series, most of the time one guy will run away with it and win by a few seconds. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it helps make the occasional side by side photo finishes all the more memorable. The problem today is everyone wants a dramatic end to every race, and that is simply not possible, no matter what is tried, whether it is two short pursuits (as we saw Saturday), or throwing a caution with ten laps to go to bunch up the field (like we see in the All-Star race). The product NASCAR brings on Sunday is fine just the way it is, and if they were to make any changes to that, chances are it would drive away more fans than it would gain. Just look at what happened in 2004 as the perfect example.
NASCAR needs to follow the oldest cliché on this one – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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