NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan and Dustin Long are back for another edition of Forward Bite where they debate various NASCAR topics and share their unvarnished (and sometimes unpopular) opinions.
Here’s their take this week … what’s your take?
Since shortening its race lengths from 500 to 400 miles three years ago, Pocono has enjoyed several memorable finishes. Should NASCAR look to shorten more events?
Nate: Pocono and Dover International Speedway are great examples of the benefits derived from tightening up the window of a Sprint Cup event. While some fans will make the argument that slicing laps decreases the value of their tickets, Pocono has shown that it actually can enhance the action by ratcheting up the sense of urgency. In today’s era of short-attention spans, it’s worth asking whether holding events that regularly exceed three hours makes sense – particularly with NASCAR laser-focused on trying to appeal to a younger demographic.
At the risk of raising the ire of Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, who will say that the push for shorter races emanates from a section of the racing industry that prefers to work less, limiting the number of 500-mile races on the schedule is for the greater good. Beyond the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and perhaps the 500-milers at Talladega, the goal should be distances that limit races to a window of less than three hours – and if NASCAR really wants to get creative, it might be worth experimenting with new formats inspired by Eldora’s hugely successful Mudsummer Classic race in the Camping World Truck Series. It wouldn’t be conducive to trying in necessarily every race (or during the Chase), but it would be a way to spice up the regular season.
Dustin: Fine, shorten a bunch more, but if you do, what is the optimal time for a race? Ten of the first 13 races this season needed more than three hours to finish – including races that were either 400 miles (Auto Club, Kansas and Dover) or less (Richmond, Bristol and Martinsville). Should a race be 2 hours, 30 minutes? Two hours? Where’s the line? What happens when some people say the races are still too long?
Shortening the races isn’t the only thing that should be considered. I think there should be a halftime break. Make it 10 minutes, give networks some time to air a few commercials but also set up another restart – since those are often some of the most exciting moments in a race.
And, if you just want to get truly radical, call a caution with about 10-15 percent of the race left and let teams decide if they want to pit then or not. I’ll admit I’m not sold on this one, but, hey, if you’re going to shorten races, and alter them in other ways, what’s to keep series officials from considering other ideas?
Nate: The halftime break might be a concept whose time has arrived, particularly if it could solve the problem of delivering commercial time without detracting from action. A key would be ensuring the break has plenty of access to drivers and crew chiefs to ensure the audience stays captivated.
The mandatory caution is less appealing, but you make the case, Dustin: If the natural flow and rhythm of the event already is being altered or interrupted, it could be taken to some extremes within the bounds of logic.
Dustin: It’s not like other sports don’t change. College basketball seems intent on lowering its shot clock for the upcoming season, among other changes. The NFL will experiment with longer extra-point kicks in the preseason. Major League Baseball came up with rules this season to speed the pace of the game. Change is all around. More is on the way. Don’t like it, then you can always go to YouTube and watch events from back in the day.