The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: Time for the Pocono Twin-200s? by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday June 16, 2011

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MPM2Nite: Time for the Pocono Twin-200s?

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday June 16, 2011


Imagine taking Pocono’s two traditional 500 mile races and turning them into a pair of two two hundred mile races run on the same day. Is it time given the realities of stock car racing today?

I proposed this idea last year in the Pocono race recap I wrote. Some people immediately accused me of hypocrisy because I have long defended the epic 500 mile length of the Pocono events. I can’t tell you if I’ve been to more races at Dover or Pocono, but growing up in these parts they were the two closest tracks and I’ve been to a ton of events at both tracks, and had a ball I might add. 500 miles at Pocono never bothered me back in the days the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Harry Gant, Tim Richmond and Davey Allison were out there racing each other like every lap was the last lap.

But lets face reality. The lukewarm, white-bread, points hungry, millionaire drivers of today seldom get up on the wheel until the final 20 laps. Thus race fans tend to see an interesting start to a race and an interesting end to a race, but a middle section, the majority of the race, is less than interesting to be polite. It’s like a horse manure sandwich, tasty toasted wheat bread on either end but nothing but crap in the middle.

Interestingly this past weekend’s Indy Car race at Texas was split into two 275 mile segments with an hour intermission between the two races. (An hour intermission is way too long by the way. I’d shoot for less than thirty minutes to keep the fans engaged. Sounds to me like someone is more interested in concession sales than the fans’ race day experience.)

So how would a Twin 200 mile race be run at Pocono? It wouldn’t be that hard. A pair of 100 lap races with the aforementioned half-hour break in between. The field would qualify as normal on Friday for the first 200 mile race. The race would be run as normal for the first segment and the finishers would be awarded half the points of a regular race (Sorry, can’t have Pocono awarding four races worth of points to the victor. Darlington maybe, but not Pocono.) After the first 200 miles the starting field for the second race would be set by inverting all the drivers who finished on the lead lap at the front of the field (a fairly common practice at the local tracks) with those who finished one lap or more back lined up behind them.

As IndyCar showed last week, two races on the same day can work. Is it something NASCAR should consider doing at Pocono?

Any driver or team who wrecked a car or had terminal mechanical issues would be allowed to start the second race in their backup car but they’d start tail end on the field. During the break teams would be able to make any adjustments or changes they can accomplish in the allotted time period. But we’re not waiting on ya’ll. If your car is still torn apart at the end of the thirty minutes, you join the race a number of laps down. Other than that they’d just go out there and run another hundred laps.

Here’s why I think the idea would work. I’m a race fan. I go to races and watch races hoping to see good racing. I genuinely don’t care who wins. But I realize there’s a lot of folks who are “driver” fans, not race fans. If Junior or Gordon wrecks out or blows up early in the race they pack up their stuff and head for the exits, thoroughly disgusted with their decision to attend the race and lay out all that cash. Now the “driver” fans will have two chances to see their boy win the race or at least score a good finish. There are more laps of competitive racing rather than cruising which ought to help keep the fans of every driver on their feet and cheering. If I recall back in the day when I was an ardent Bill Elliott fan I knew Bill had a good race because I’d wake up the next day with sunburn in my armpits because I’d had my fists pumping over my head all day cheering him on while my ivory white Irish skin baked in the midday sun.

Two sets of sponsors get to celebrate a win for their poster boy in their clown suits. Sponsors like winning races. It helps keep the money pump ratcheting. The TV networks will probably see increased ratings and that sort like that. They can work in more of their commercial load during the break leaving fans watching on TV more green flag laps of racing live. (Yeah, I know, wishful thinking.) During the half hour breaks fans at home would have time to grille up some burgers and have a beer. As best I can tell, burgers, bread and beer are the last three items we aren’t importing from China so we’d actually be helping the American economy. (Yes, I am being somewhat facetious but I really do like burgers and beer….as my physique attests to). Maybe Pocono could up the ante by awarding a $100,000 bonus to any driver who could win both races on a single weekend and a one million dollar bonus to any driver who could win all four races in a single season.

Twice the fun for the price of one ticket? No more watching one driver lead the last 156 laps? Yeah, sign me up Dano! In this economy and with American’s current lack of attention span it’s all about giving the fans more than they expect for the hard earned dollars they lay out to attend a race, a not inconsiderable sum. A bold experiment? Perhaps. But if the Pocono track management agrees I’ll show up and anyone who doesn’t like the experiment can throw rocks at me after the race on pit road. I’ve been stoned before.

Interestingly enough such an experiment would not be unprecedented in NASCAR racing. I know a lot about the history of the sport after forty years of studying that history. But here’s something I didn’t know until recently. The spring race at Darlington started as the “Rebel 300”. But in 1963 they split the race into two 150 mile segments. The overall winner of the event was decided by whichever driver garnered the most points in both events. No, really. There’s an article in the July issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines written by Jim Donnelly that documents the event and offers tons of photographic evidence. Joe Weatherly won the first segment and Richard Petty the second, with Weatherly getting the nod over the King for a better overall finishing average. Two sets of fans, arguably the two most popular drivers in the sport in that era, went home happy.

This really isn’t that novel an idea. They’ve been running motocross motorcycle races under the “twin race” format back since the day when my knees and lower back allowed to race and occasionally win in MX racing.

Give this idea a try. If it doesn’t work, scrap it.

On the plains of hesitation lie the bleached bones who when within the grasp of victory sat and waited and waiting died. -Winston Churchill

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Bill B
06/16/2011 07:18 AM

I think we should just leave it alone. I thought the IRL experiment last weekend SUUUCKED. I watched the first race and then had no interest in the 2nd race. BTW, your idea would necessitate tracking points down to the half (3.5 points for 2nd place).

Also, since your premise is that the millionaire drivers only mix it up at the beginning and end, then I must ask, why Pocono? Why not all the other 1.5+ mile tracks? It’s not like Pocono has a monopoly on a boring middle part of the race.
If you are keeping tabs, you can mark down one “NO” to this idea.

Bill B
06/16/2011 07:19 AM

Oops, I meant 3.5 points for 7th place.

06/16/2011 09:44 AM

Lets just go with the simpler solution shorten the Pocono races to 400 miles. The Indy thing in Texas reeks of desperation for a series trying to remain relevant outside the Indy 500. I don’t think the drivers or crews would like it one bit having to worry about 2 points races in one week. I’ve been to Pocono, and 400 v. 500 miles would not be a selling point of going there again. More important would be improving the traffic situation so it doesn’t take longer to get back to the highway than it does to run the race.

06/16/2011 10:03 AM

Gee, Matt. You make too much sense. Go away. We don’t want no sense.

But, ya know, I can see that in my head and my voices in there tell me it is a good idea. It would make it more like local track racing. I mean in my area we might have 4 races of an evening and it is fun to watch and if you have a car you get multiple chances at scoring something as a reward for dragging the thing to the track.

But it is just too sensible. So go away. We don’t need no sense ‘round here.

Carl D.
06/16/2011 10:16 AM

Two fairly-interesting Pocono races in one day vs. one usually-boring race…. though the traditionist in me hates the idea, the race fan says sure, give it a try. I don’t like the half-points, though… award points based on the average finishing position in both races. Tie-breakers could be based on laps lead.

Shortening the race from 500 laps to 400 laps doesn’t improve the racing one bit. It just shortens the crappy part in the middle. If you have to shorten a race because of boring racing, you haven’t addressed the real problem.

Greg in Atlanta
06/16/2011 10:48 AM

As with 99% of the time, I am with you, Matt. In the “old days” races couldn’t be long enough to suit me! Though I did have the opinion a track with two races should have differing lengths (ala Daytona and Charlotte … and once upon a time also Atlanta and Darlington … and originally Michigan). But, times have changed. What I would like to see is the “race” is divided into THREE events. Hence, no matter the number of entries, everyone “turns a qualifying caber” and the “odd number qualifiers” are in HEAT #1 and the “even numbers” in HEAT #2. And, ONLY the TOP TEN finishers in each heat qualifies for the MAIN EVENT. Length of heats and main would vary from race-to-race and track-to-track as is the case now. Also, no points paid in heat races; in fact, I say only pay points to the TOP TEN finishers in the MAIN EVENT (Formula 1’s point system works!). Also, no “crazy contrived rules,” i.e. “required pit stops,” etc. If you can run the heat race on a tank of gas, then more power to you! The “Main Event” should “require a gas stop(s)” simply on distance alone. Starting lineup for the “Main Event?” Win your heat and you are on the front row. Finish second, row 2, etc. Also, no “wild cards” or “fan votes,” etc. gets you in the main event — “Top Ten” in the heat race means “Top Ten In The Heat Race!” … … … Questions? … Comments? … Joys & Concerns?

06/16/2011 11:04 AM

Matt, I watched all the races this weekend (Nascar, Indy, F1) and by far the most boring was the Pocono race. The Indy race would have been better if the intermission was shorter and they inverted the field for the second. They have to do something to spice up Pocono because that race is almost unwatchable. I’ve had long road trips stuck in a car that seemed shorter then that race. I think your idea is excellent and I would love to see Nascar do something different. Although by far, the best race this week was the F1 race and they go two hours max. Maybe they need to just shorten some of these races instead of having drivers ride around for 400 miles before they start to get up on the wheel.

Bill S.
06/16/2011 11:16 AM

Sounds as gimmicky as the Chase, which I believe, Matt, you are on record as hating.

As if the All-Star race wasn’t drawn out, boring, pointless, and endless enough, now you want essentially a multi-segment points race. It would truly become the 24 hours of Pocono.

Just throw a competition yellow at the end of each quarter of every race. The ensuing smash-ups on the restarts should be enough to keep even NASCAR fans awake. We know at least half the drivers have not mastered the stick shift yet, (including a couple of former champions), so this would really separate the drivers from the riders.

Bill B
06/16/2011 12:14 PM

If NASCAR ever decides to do this I hope they do what they should have done before they instituted the chase; try it out in the lower series first to see how it works and work the bugs out.

Chris in TX
06/16/2011 02:25 PM

I was at TMS for the twin 275s (as I am for every TMS race). This was excellent, and the drivers went all-out the whole race. This actually might be an advantage for Penske/TCGR…because most of the other teams can only keep up when the 2 “red car” teams out-strategize themselves. But, the racing was hard. I’m as surprised as the next guy that they weren’t on top of eachother and wrecking, but the racing was excellent.

If they reduce the time between to 30mins, and do an inversion rather than a draw, it would be just about perfect.

Matt, normally your writing solicits lots of eyerolling and yawning from me (not that you should care, I wouldn’t). This is an excellent idea for…well, several tracks.

I don’t think the 2×275s had anything to do with desparation or trying to stay relevant. Eddie Gossage always wants the races at Texas to have some sort of differentiator beyond being an excellent venue. NASCAR has no interest in this (which is a benefit to noone), but Indy works with him. This is one of the reasons why the Indy/truck weekend is always the best weekend for racing at Texas (much better than the Nationwide/Cup weekend in April or the triple in November…but at least the Nov weekend has the Trucks to help)

06/16/2011 07:03 PM

Where do I sign up for this suggestion. I probably would be awake for the duration. Im in!!!!

06/16/2011 08:27 PM

I think it’s time to put the blame for the boring races where it belongs, on the drivers. They don’t care where they finish. Get rid of their salaries and make them earn their money on the track. Pay them a percentage of what the car earns in the race. The higher up the finish the more money there is. Like in the old days. When they realize that the driver ahead is costing them money, it might make a difference in their racing. There will probably be a lot more feuds.

downunder fan
06/16/2011 08:53 PM

V8 supercars in Australia have been running split races at a number of tracks for a while and it works OK. They even have separate qualifying for each part. Keep the hour break and have a short 1 lap qualifier in between the races.

06/17/2011 10:25 AM

Is Matt off this week? Did Humpy Wheeler write this column? LOL

Ya know, I just don’t care what they do in NASCAR. It is such a load-of-crap dog and pony show. I mean, last night on NASCAR Hub, they ran a story about “Are Fords Too Dominant”. Seriously? They win 4 races in 2 years and they warrant this kind of story? When in the last DECADE have they run a story about Chevy being too dominant? DW, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson have won over 25% of ALL Cup races since 1983 in Chevys. That is factual research, not just made up numbers.

NASCAR is just a whorehouse that smells like Sunoco and Goodyears (gotta plug the sponsors). The France family sells out to the highest bidder, an honor typically held by Chevrolet – now maybe rivaled some by the free Lexuses (or is it Lexi?).