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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Odds and Ends Around the Track: World 600

Forgive me, but this is one of the weeks during the NASCAR schedule when us “old-school” NASCAR fans reminisce about bygone names for classic races. The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway started as the “World 600,” and just like the old Fire Cracker 400, it’s almost impossible for me not to slip when talking about this race and use the classic name. This race was made 100 miles longer to impress everyone that the then junior race on the Memorial Day Weekend schedule was pretty important, too. Of course nothing will overshadow the Greatest Spectacle in Auto Racing, the Indianapolis 500, but a 600-mile test sure was impressive for man and machine back in the day.

Shorter Races Would Cure Nothing

Denny Hamlin was very vocal that there is no need for a 600-mile race or even a 500-mile race nowadays and that TV viewership would actually increase for a shorter race. While I took it as a mercy killing for us fans when the Dover International Speedway and Pocono Raceway races were shortened to 400 miles, the classic races need to stay at their original length.

Could you imagine the revolt if the Indianapolis 500 folks said that next year the race will be only 300 miles to appeal to the attention fan of the younger audiences they want? Fans from all 92 counties in the state of Indiana would show up with torches and pitchforks to protest.

But why do we need 500 miles or even a 600-mile race like we have this weekend? Tradition.

That might be a dumb reason in any other sport but think about all of the old-fashioned traditions that still exist in NASCAR today. Pocono changed the length of their races, and their television ratings didn’t go up. Dover switched from an all-day marathon of 500 laps to 400 laps, and their television ratings didn’t go up.

I have never heard one fan attending a race complain that that race was too long. Ever. Faster cars have made the need to shorten up the 600-mile Memorial Day Weekend race unimportant too. Joe Lee Johnson won the first 600-mile race in five hours and 34 minutes with only eight caution flags. Last year, Kyle Busch won in just four hours and 23 minutes with 11 caution flags. Shorter races might make the workday easier for NASCAR drivers, but history shows it wouldn’t help the ratings or the competitiveness of the race. Shorter races would cure nothing that a better rule package to give us more exciting racing from flag to flag could fix.

Remembering Roots

This week on social media, I noticed a unique tribute car paint scheme in the works for the upcoming Labor Day race during the Southern 500 weekend (If you ever try to shorten that race to 300 miles, there is going to be another Civil War, Denny). Chase Briscoe posted a list of sprint car racers from history and asked the NASCAR fans and dirt racing fans if anyone was missing.

NASCAR tracks seem to favor honoring some actor or actress with no knowledge of NASCAR or racing, but, here, Mitchell, Indiana’s Briscoe of the NASCAR Xfinity Series is remembering the sport’s roots. Many of the names like Gary Bettenhausen, Pancho Carter, Parnelli Jones, Jack Hewitt, AJ Foyt and Roger McCluskey were long gone before this young man was born in 1994, yet he is remembering them at Darlington Raceway.

Some of the names on Briscoe’s list went on to fame and fortune in IndyCar or NASCAR, but some, like the People’s Champ Dave Darland, continue to run sprint and midget cars today. Briscoe even made room on the list for guys like Ken Schrader, whose love of racing is what this sport is all about. Way to go, Briscoe, for remembering the roots of this great sport.

World 600 Fantasy Insight

Looking Back at Last Week

Win: Chase Elliott-Finished 14th

Place: Kevin Harvick-Finished second

Show: Brad Keselowski-Finished 11th

Long Shot: Jimmie Johnson-Finished 15th

In years past, the Winston used to give us a hint of what to expect in the World 600 the next week. But the last couple of years, NASCAR has wisely used the Monster Energy All-Star Race as a test session for possible changes to the aero package. While I will continue to scream about the need to get rid of the front splitter and side skirts, I have to admit the new front splitter piece and those little hood air things did seem to bring us the best Charlotte racing in a few years.

But that leaves us with the other package for the 600 and back to the stats. Martin Truex Jr. failed to lead the All-Star Race and finished 10th, but he comes in at the top of the Fantasy Insight Points with 184.4 out of a possible 200. Only Truex, Kurt Busch and Johnson top the 180-point mark, with Keselowski, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Kevin Harvick all over the 175-point mark, which has been the key figure for all race winners in 2019.

Win: Truex- Super consistent and will be in contention going into the final 100 miles

Place: Hamlin-Best average finish of any driver with more than five starts, but win-less at Charlotte

Show: Harvick-Should be in the hunt, but will team beat themselves again this week

Long Shot: Kurt Busch (25-to-1 odds) Super consistent and excellent at Charlotte, too

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About Dennis Michelsen

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Dennis a.k.a. DMIC has been covering NASCAR racing since 1998. After spending 23 years as a professional weather forecaster, Dennis still didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up, so he started covering auto racing full time. He is the moderator of the Race Track Business Conference - an all-day educational seminar covering the business of speed - and is the owner of DMIC Media & Marketing where he spends his time mouthing off about all kinds of sports. He is also the play-by-play voice for the professional Ultimate Disc team the Chicago Wildfire of the American Ultimate Disc League. Dennis can be heard every Saturday on The Final Inspection on 105.7FM The Fan in Milwaukee, Wis. talking NASCAR, and you can listen on the Radio.com app.

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10 comments

  1. Avatar

    “The average fan drives 90 minutes”? I don’t think so.
    I’d bet the average travel time for all people attending a race is more like 3+ hours. Think about a place like Bristol or Martinsville that is in the middle of nowhere. If they want to sell most their tickets they must attract fans from more than 6 hours away.

    • Avatar

      And thats the crux of their problem, other than the race day issues we’ve beaten to death. Unlike the stick and ball sports they can’t depend on the local crowd. Shorten the race and it gets to a point of diminishing returns. Leave them where they are and TV and the sponsors aren’t happy.
      Good luck finding a happy medium.

  2. Avatar

    If I drive 12 hours to Bristol for a race, I wan’t my money’s worth of racing. At the price of gas, food, and accommodations, I want to see every lap of a 500 mile race.

    • Avatar

      I agree 100%. Unless they want to totally kill attendance at the track for the sake of television viewers then shortening race is not a good idea. No way I would drive more than 2 hours for a race that only lasted 90 minutes. As a comparison I’ve been to a lot of rock concerts (which rarely last more than 2 hours) but I’ve never been willing to drive more than about 90 minutes. If they don’t come to a venue near me I don’t go. It just isn’t worth it.

      • Avatar

        I guess you haven’t been to a Springsteen concert.

        • Avatar

          And with the concert you’re going to get a proven product every time, no silliness. Heck even your local bands play for two hours with maybe one break, for small money. So wheres the value?

        • Avatar

          No I have not even though I have almost every album he’s put out and consider myself a fan. I know he regularly played 3 hours (obviously the “2 hour” concert time frame I used was an average… and I stand by that) so he is obviously the exception. Given all that, I still wouldn’t drive more than 2 hours to see him. There are only two bands that I would travel to see… The Beatles and Hendrix which, as you know, can’t possibly happen.

  3. Avatar

    I am kind of torn on this. On one hand, long races puts more emphasis on a team performance over a drivers (current). However, when I talk to fans who don’t watch NASCAR or are a casual fan I will always here something of the same thing, no need to tune in till the last 50-100 laps when the real racing begins.

    So I will take the counter argument and propose shorter races for fun.

    Races are currently too long, 500 miles use to be about team/manufacturer endurance. Now a-days with precise engineering we rarely see mechanical failures and with the lucky dog a driver can come back from a team error more easily than the traditional method (race your way back onto the lead lap). Shortening the races will put more pressure on the drivers and crews to perform. You will have more emphasis on race trim vs qualifying trim, do you risk starting mid pack with a good handling car, or go for track position? Shorter races will also allow for more teams to compete, meaning more cars at the track. Why?, well reduction of cost as teams won’t need as many fuel and tires on race day. Maybe shorter races open up an opportunity for weekday races? If a race only last 90 minutes, maybe it is more realistic to run a race on a Wednesday at some short tracks. Currently a race during the week would be difficult due to due to a typical race lasting over 180 minutes. Cities have noise restrictions making it difficult to run a race event for such a long period of time on a weeknight. Also this would leave the average fan with a 60 min drive not getting home till 9-10 in the afternoon, that is a steep ask for a weeknight. A shorter race would allow fans to be home around 8-9 pm which may be slightly more appealing.

    Impossible to say whether short races would create a better on track product. However, I would agree. Focus on getting the car right before worrying about anything else. NASCAR must get this next gen car right before worrying about the length of the races. I would also like to see more drivers do what Bubba did in the all-star open. My largest complaint with most the drivers today is that they would rather race someone clean than do what they need to win. We saw some aggression out of some of these drivers in the open, I can only hope we continue to see that. That’s all I got for devils advocate this morning, time for work 🙂

    • Avatar

      “The average fan drives 90 minutes”? I don’t think so.
      I’d bet the average travel time for all people attending a race is more like 3+ hours. Think about a place like Bristol or Martinsville that is in the middle of nowhere. If they want to sell most their tickets they must attract fans from more than 6 hours away.

      • Avatar

        I actually said 60 min to make it worse. 3+ hours is crazy. I know its 2h to get to my home track MI. Then add in a couple more hours to sit in traffic and yea you are up to 5+ hours. Just makes a weekday race that much more difficult to put on then. Would like to see some mid-week racing but logistically I am not sure how or if it will ever work 🙁