Longer races aren’t always the most exciting. Sometimes, they’re, well, too long.
During a Q&A session with the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) last week, NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France says the sanctioning body may be looking at cutting the length of some races in the future.
Most likely to be cut are some 500-mile events.
“I think generally speaking, we want to see shorter events … (but) not in every circumstance,” France said. “It’s no secret that attention spans, especially with the millennial fans, are changing, and we all know that.
“But what we like about it from our standpoint is it makes the actual racing event better because there’s no lull in between the beginning and the end, or there’s a lot smaller lull, so teams have to compete.”
Dover International Speedway began the modern day trend of cutting race lengths back in fall 1997 and spring 1998, when it chopped its two annual races from 500 to 400 miles.
More recently, Auto Club Speedway went from 500 to 400 miles in 2010, while both annual races at Pocono Raceway went from 500 to 400 miles in 2012.
In addition, when it lost one of its two annual races, one of Auto Club Speedway’s 500-milers was moved to Kansas Speedway and became a 400-mile race. Likewise for when Atlanta lost one of its two annual 500-mile races, which was moved to Kentucky Speedway to become a 400-mile event .
By doing so, all five tracks put their race time in a window of between 3 hours and 3 hours 30 minutes, which is more TV-friendly and more fan attention-span-friendly.
“A 400‑mile race will give us, most of the time, a better racing competition,” France said. “And that’s in addition to the time spans and attention spans of millennial fans; those two go together for us to shorten it up somehow.”
There are currently eight 500-mile races on the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule: Daytona 500, Fields of Honor QuikTrip 500 (Atlanta), Duck Commander 500 (Texas), Geico 500 (Talladega), Bojangles Southern 500 (Darlington), Bank of America 500 (Charlotte), Alabama 500 (Talladega) and AAA Texas 500 (Texas).
Plus, there’s NASCAR’s longest and most grueling event every season, next month’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Because of its unique history as the longest race in major U.S. motorsports, providing the so-called ultimate test of man and machine, it’s unlikely that race will be shortened any time soon.
Between Charlotte’s 600-miler and the eight 500-milers, that means that one-quarter of this season’s races are 500 or more miles.
If a race is shortened, it typically prompts drivers to be more hard-pressed to work their way to the front sooner, France said.
“We tend to get better (quality of races), and we measure that by lead changes and how close the winning margins (are) and a lot of different metrics that we use,” he said.