NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Shakedown Session: August 10th, 2011

“Times They Are A-Changing At Pocono Raceway”

To say that the past few days for Pocono Raceway have been tumultuous is an understatement. First, track founder Dr. Joseph Mattioli retired unexpectedly following the conclusion of the Good Sam RV Insurance 500. Today, more earth-shattering news for the Pennsylvania track came when it was announced effective next year, the track will go from having 500 mile races to having 400 mile races. The move has been made to make race strategies more interesting and to add a new wrinkle into fuel calculations.

The track claims this was done to add excitement to race fans, but this is really more of a sign of track management acknowledging that Pocono is just not a suitable track for a 500 mile race. A vocal number of fans have decried the fact that Pocono’s races are just too long. Of course, these same fans have also said that Pocono is undeserving of two dates on the NASCAR schedule as well due to what has been perceived as boring racing. While the track will likely have two dates long-term due mainly to the fact the track is located in a major NASCAR television market, the fact remains that Pocono can no longer justify holding 500 mile races on a track that looks like it was designed by a five-year old on PCP, so management has gone to 400 miles in order to appease the NASCAR fan base.

In the big picture, this likely won’t change much at Pocono. The race has become mostly a fuel-mileage duel, and was already before fuel mileage races became the norm in NASCAR. The same fans who detest Pocono will continue to loathe Pocono regardless of what the track does, and the track will still have two dates for the foreseeable future.

Really, there is no choice but to let Pocono keep their two race dates at the moment. With Gateway, Nashville, and Memphis no longer hosting NASCAR races, Kentucky having to work out parking capacity and traffic issues, and Iowa probably facing the same issues if they were to get a Cup date in the near future, which tracks would even warrant a second date?

Let’s get back to the topic at hand, folks. Shorter races might mean the race will end sooner and it might be a short-term boon to ticket sales, but will this really truly solve what seems like a neverending list of complaints about Pocono? Likely not as fans, perhaps justifiably so, will complain that the races there are boring and the cars get too far spread out and there’s not a great deal of passing. Granted, Sunday’s race was exciting in the closing laps with Brad Keselowski, broken ankle, sore back, sore feet and all, doggedly fighting off a hard-charging Kyle Busch and even Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch’s skirmish for third-place saw paint trading and flaring tempers normally reserved for Bristol.

Unfortunately, most races at Pocono haven’t been so exciting and now the track is resorting to the ploy of shortening the races to drum up some measure of interest in their track from casual fans as well as die-hard fans. The people in the Pocono area will likely enjoy the change as they support their track fervently. The question at the end of the day is will other NASCAR fans who don’t grasp the outright quirkiness of Pocono grasp this concept?

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