NASCAR ponders shorter races: 100-meter dash or marathon, what’s more popular?

5 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With an overhaul of the 2020 schedule apparently in the works, there’s been much conjecture that the 10-month season could be reduced.

There also has been talk that NASCAR might shorten the length of its races.

Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be the first of seven events that are at least 500 miles in length. Moves in the past six years by Pocono Raceway and Auto Club Speedway to cut 100 miles off their races have been well received, often resulting in heightened tension.

Denny Hamlin said it’s an idea that has merit as NASCAR seeks to broaden its youth audience in an era of shorter attention spans.

“I don’t know really the analytics of it (and) what fans want to see,” Hamlin said Wednesday at Daytona 500 Media Day. “But I know that when you tune into the Olympics, the most popular event is the 100-meter dash. It’s not the 25-mile marathon. Maybe there’s something to be said about that.”

Hamlin, a former member of the NASCAR Drivers Council who has the ear of many executives, said even if races aren’t compacted, he’s fairly certain the season will end earlier than the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

“I think that certainly it could be shorter,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. “I don’t know that it’s shorter as in races, but the length in time in the calendar year, it could be shortened up for sure. It’s not as easy making those changes as what we would all like for it to be because of all the stakeholders and what not. I think in the next few years, you’ll probably see some of that.

“You always feel it about September or October that this is a very long season.”

It’s an issue that likely would be discussed by the Drivers Council, whose future seems uncertain entering its fifth year. Drivers typically have voted to determine who sits on the panel by Speedweeks, but Hamlin said nothing has been announced, and he’s “indifferent on it, to be honest with you” because he is in regular communication with NASCAR leadership.

“I think there’s value to (the Drivers Council),” said Hamlin, who played a major role in its formation. “Driver feedback is very crucial to putting on good racing.

“I do think with the changing of the guard as far as management with Jim France, you’re likely to see him listen to the drivers more so then what’s been in the past even though you had the meetings and had the agenda. Sometimes it just kinds of fall on deaf ears.

“Are they really going to make that change or is their mind already made up on it? The owners have seen that changes are coming, and changes have been made in the last year or so quicker than what has in the past. Certainly, if there is any time for the Drivers Council, this is will be the right time because you have the right people to listen.”

The atmosphere definitely has changed since nearly six years ago when Hamlin was fined $25,000 for “criticizing” the Gen 6 car in comments that were innocuous.

“I should get my money back,” Hamlin said Wednesday with a laugh. “That’s BS. I didn’t hardly say anything other than, ‘This car doesn’t drive like the other car.’ Anyway, as I digress, they owe me a beer or two.

“I would say it is tough. I think (NASCAR executives) appreciate the one-on-one conversations if you do have something negative to say. They do not like it in the media because they think that ultimately anything we say the bulk of fans will agree with regardless of it has any basis or not. They feel like it puts a little bit behind any time you’re out there, and you’re being openly negative about it. Instead, let it shake out on the race track and let the fans decide for themselves.”

Cup starting lineup at New Hampshire has Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch on front row

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Rivals Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch will share the front row for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Keselowski won his 15th career pole – and first since August 2017 – on Friday. He will have Busch start next to him.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The rivals have had numerous run-ins throughout the their career.

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, qualified third and is followed by Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Three drivers will start at the rear: Denny Hamlin (backup), Alex Bowman (backup) and Ryan Newman (backup).

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at New Hampshire

Leave a comment

Brad Keselowski scored his first Cup pole since 2017, taking the top spot Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski topped the field with a lap of 136.384 mph. This is Keselowski’s 15th career Cup pole and first since Michigan in August 2017, a span of 68 races.

Keselowski’s run denied Toyota its first pole of the season. Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (136.311 mph).

MORE: Cup qualifying results

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, will start third after a lap of 136.238 mph. Erik Jones qualified fourth with a lap of 136.189 mph.

Jones’ performance is part of a promising week for him. He stated Friday that he is “close” to signing an extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones’ contract expires after this season.

Ryan Blaney completed the top five with a lap of 136.116 mph. Martin Truex Jr. qualified sixth at 136.082 mph, and Matt DiBenedetto qualified a career-best seventh at 135.990 mph. DiBenedetto’s previous best Cup start was ninth in this year’s Daytona 500.

Alex Bowman had a driveshaft failure on his qualifying run and did not complete a lap. He will start at the rear of the field.

“Just a big boom going down the front straightaway and smoke and oil everywhere,” Bowman told NBCSN.

Bowman will go to a backup car.

Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman also will start at the rear of the field because they both went to backup cars after separate incidents late in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

Andy Seuss (qualified 35th) and Austin Theriault (36th) both will be making their Cup debut Sunday.

Daniel Hemric qualified 19th. HIs car failed inspection twice before qualifying and a crew member was ejected.

 

Erik Jones ‘close’ to re-signing after meeting with Joe Gibbs this week

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOUDON, N.H. – After meeting with team owner Joe Gibbs this week, Erik Jones believes he finally is “close” to signing an extension with the team after a few months of negotiations.

“We’ve had some good meetings, positive meetings, so we’re moving in the right direction,” Jones said during Friday afternoon’s qualifying session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I’d love to get it done here soon. We’ve had good meetings between my guys and JGR. I’ve had good meetings with Coach talking about it and moving forward. I know I keep saying it, but I feel like we’re pretty close to getting it done.”

The uncertainty for the 2020 season seemingly has been no distraction in 2019 for Jones, who believes he is close to ending a yearlong winless streak. He has notched six top 10s in the past nine races to move into the 16th and final provisional spot for the playoffs with seven races remaining in the regular season.

The Byron, Michigan, native said he told Gibbs “I want to get (the extension) done. We both want to get it done and move forward and stop worrying about it and stop focusing on it, but we’re close. Hopefully here soon.”

An extension for Jones would mean JGR has a full lineup of four drivers signed for 2020 and shift the focus to what is next for Xfinity driver Christopher Bell, who is under contract to JGR next season.

“I think you know as much as I do,” Bell said Friday morning when asked about what series he will race next year. “Actually, you probably know a little bit more than I do. Ultimately, it’s not up to me. I can’t make the decisions, so I’m just along for the ride.”

Bell indicated his desire to move to Cup last season, and a Leavine Family Racing Toyota could be an option if JGR wants to farm him out for 2020 in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I learned early on in my career that a race car driver is only as good as the equipment,” Bell said. “I definitely want to make sure that I’m in equipment that can win.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt releases his remaining races for 2019

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jeffrey Earnhardt announced his schedule for the rest of the season Friday.

He is scheduled to run six Xfinity races and one Cup race the rest of this season.

His Xfinity races will be Mid-Ohio (Aug. 10), Bristol (Aug. 16), Road America (Aug. 24), Darlington (Aug. 31), ISM Raceway (Nov. 9) and Miami (Nov. 16). He’ll drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity car at Mid-Ohio, Road America, ISM Raceway and Miami. He’ll drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing car at Bristol and Darlington.

He’ll also drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing Cup car at Talladega on Oct. 13.