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

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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.”