This week’s question that’s up for debate is one that’s hung around the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for awhile now. Should 500-mile Cup races be shortened?
Less Is More
The number 500 has always held a special place in auto racing ever since automobiles started circling 2.5 miles of bricks in Indianapolis. Once NASCAR came along, the popularity of a 500-mile race only seemed to increase. It’s also aesthetically pleasing, a nice, even number to work with when determining lap counts or other related figures.
But in 2018, not every race needs to be 500 miles. Some of them are due for a little liposuction.
It’s time to trim the fat.
Let’s start with this weekend’s event at Texas Motor Speedway. Did we really need to watch Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars circle the quad-oval 334 times? No. The race really wasn’t all that intriguing during the early stages.
So there’s no harm in removing a little dead weight. Removing miles/laps from a race doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of it. Pit strategy still plays a role in the outcome and the intensity will still ratchet up when it gets close to crunch time. A shorter race simply means “crunch time” comes sooner.
I’m not suggesting MENCS races start mimicking their XFINITY Series counterparts. They already do in enough ways but that’s a discussion for another day. The Cup event is the marquee show each weekend and should be the longest.
But it doesn’t need to be unnecessarily long.
Shortening races is not uncharted territory for NASCAR by any stretch of the imagination. In September 1996, drivers strapped in for 500 miles at Dover. 14 caution flags and 500 laps later, they finally unbuckled their harnesses, finishing less than 16 minutes short of a solid five hours in the car. I’d be willing to bet the people sitting on minimally-cushioned grandstand seats were relieved and possibly numb by the time that marathon ended.
Recognizing the need for a change, NASCAR announced next year’s race would be reduced to 400 miles. They’ve run just 400 miles in both events at Dover since 1998 and it’s done nothing to diminish the importance or quality of the races there.
The same could be said for Pocono Raceway. Pocono races were notorious for climbing into the four-hour bracket. When green-flag lap times approach 50 seconds and there’s 200 of them, it only takes a handful of yellow flags before Sunday afternoon starts interfering with dinner plans.
Now, more than ever, it’s incredibly difficult to keep an audience engaged and actively interested in what’s going on during a race. If you don’t tailor content to meet your audience’s needs, they’ll likely do something else and merely “check on the race” at more convenient moments. It’s just the reality in a 2018 world where iPhones and thousands of entertainment options provide constant distractions.
So, which races should be chopped down? For starters, both Texas shows should be 400 miles. Both Talladega events and the race at Atlanta would be better off as 400 milers, too. I would have thrown the Fall visit to Charlotte in there as well but now we’ve got the whole “Roval” thing going on. Perhaps it’s best to see how that goes before we clamor for NASCAR to start making adjustments.
One of the biggest concerns for fans with shorter races is getting enough bang for their buck. In a day and age when traveling to a NASCAR race costs more than a household’s monthly income, there’s an obligation for this sport to give them what they pay for. But I think we have a way in the future for shorter Cup races to benefit that crowd: doubleheaders.
What if it were possible to run both a Cup and an XFINITY/Truck race on the same day? One ticket gets fans into both events and possibly shortens the duration of an excruciatingly expensive hotel stay.
Track owners aren’t going to be proponents of the concept. Of course, shorter races equate to less concession and souvenir sales. However, the fans would be the winners with such a change and it’s high time that fans start coming out on top in these scenarios.
Otherwise, there won’t be any of them left to sell anything to. -Frank Velat
What’s the Hurry?
NASCAR has plenty of problems right now, but race distances are not one of them.
In 2017, there were nine races on the schedule that were 500 or more miles. Six of those races took around three-and-half hours to complete. The other three took longer than that, but they consisted of the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500 and the Alabama 500. That’s two crown jewel races and a race at Talladega Superspeedway. All three are big events that the average sports fan tunes in for. They should take longer than the others.
Parsing through the entire schedule, the 600-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the only one to break the four-hour barrier. That’s to be expected; it is the longest race on the schedule.
Crunching the numbers, on average the typical NASCAR race lasts a little over three hours. That is no different than other sports. In the NFL’s regular season, kickoff for the first set of games is usually just after 1 p.m. ET. The games last well past 4 p.m., when the next set of games start. Now I’m no math expert, but I know that is more than three hours. And if a game goes into overtime, then it lasts even longer than that.
Do we hear fans complaining about how long NFL games are, begging the league to shorten quarters? To the contrary, football fans got excited two years ago when the Super Bowl went into overtime for the first time ever.
I know plenty of people that spend entire Sundays in the fall watching all the football games. They watch three-plus hours of it and then want to watch even more.
And while NASCAR had one race last longer than four hours, MLB had two games in just the World Series alone last longer than that. In fact, one even went more than five hours. Were baseball fans complaining about how long the games were? It looked to me like there was some excitement going on, and the fans loved the extra innings.
And don’t even get me started on basketball. Fouls make the last two minutes of a game feel longer than the entire rest of the game itself. But the fans love it, and an overtime game is just as exciting in the NBA as other sports.
So it seems that fans of other sports can’t get enough of their product. Meanwhile, people in NASCAR want to shorten races. This tells me people really do have the attention span to sit down and watch a 500-mile race.
They don’t because it is not entertaining.
NASCAR has had 500-mile races since the early days of the sport and it was never an issue because the racing was thrilling. Then, NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow in the mid-2000s. While that has since been replaced, the sport insisted on keeping a similar horrific aero package.
Since then, we’ve been stuck with racing where cars cannot pass each other. If one car gets into clean air, it becomes light years faster than anything else on the track. This aero package has turned NASCAR from the greatest show on the planet to a product resembling the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Brad Keselowski, after he crashed out of the race at Texas Motor Speedway this past Sunday, said you can’t even race side-by-side at that track. The same is true at so many others with this current package. It means NASCAR has become an oxymoron: a race where people can’t actually race each other.
People aren’t bored because races are lasting too long. They are bored because they just spent their Sunday afternoon watching a bunch of cars go around a circle single file while absolutely nothing happened.
So before we go around chopping into NASCAR’s quantity, why don’t we try to fix the quality? If NASCAR can produce an aero package that allows for great racing, 500 miles will go by in a flash.
NASCAR isn’t supposed to be a sprint race; it’s about endurance. It’s about racing hard but also taking care of your equipment enough to make it to the end. It is this kind of competition that grew NASCAR into the giant it is. Producing this type of high-end racing product will continue it on for years to come.
Shortening the races removes that aspect of the sport. Instead, it becomes about the fastest car going all out the whole race with no fear of using up equipment.
Where is the fun in that?
If I want to watch a short race where the fastest car gaps the field and faces no adversity, then I’ll just watch Formula One. Don’t tamper with the DNA of NASCAR; leave the race lengths alone. -Michael Massie
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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