Less time, more action: NASCAR considers shorter races

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France offers his opinion.

Less time, more action: NASCAR considers shorter races
Brian France, CEO and chairman of NASCAR
Talladega atmosphere
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet
Todd Bodine and Ricky Rudd lead the field round to the green flag for the first of 200 laps around Pocono
Michigan International Speedway scoreboard
Michigan International Speedway
The view of Charlotte Motor Speedway from Kurt Busch's helicopter
Carl Edwards on the set of Fox Sports during the rain delay
Turn 4 Dover 2010
Brian France

Could shorter races be on the horizon for NASCAR?

Reducing the length of races is on the radar of NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. On Wednesday, he discussed the topic on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. 

We like the little bit shorter event, just because we think it tightens up the action a little bit.

Brian France 

“We’ve been reducing races for the last 10 years in one form or another,” France said. “Any new event that had come on or move of an event, got to 400 miles. The reason for that is generally speaking — and there’s always exceptions — we like the little bit shorter event, just because we think it tightens up the action a little bit. That little lull you might get in a 500 mile race, there’s no time for that. 

“So look no further than the finale that we run in Homestead. That’s 400 miles and that decides the championship. We’re going to take a careful look at it and we’ll make a decision what events need to be what length.”

Going the distance

When Michigan International Speedway opened in 1969, the June race was 500 miles. The Yankee 600 in August was intended to be a 600-miler but rain shortened the event. The following year, both MIS races were chopped to 400 miles. Dover also debuted in 1969, but it was an economic 300 miles. By the third season, the race was lengthened to 500 before promoters came to their senses in 1997 and reduced the distance to 400 miles. Until 2012, both Pocono races were 500 miles — and some believe the events could be shorter than the 400 advertised miles.

The Coca-Cola 600 is unique -- and shouldn't change. Ditto for the Southern 500 - Darlington's one-and-only Cup race. The only 500 mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway should be the Indy 500. But in the case of the 500-mile contests at Talladega Superspeedway, where competitors have been known to ride around until go-time, the race would flow better if it didn't take so long to get to the finish. 

Putting the best product on the track

While the fans in the stands would likely prefer the party to go on as long as possible, NASCAR has become a made for TV sport. NBC and FOX made significant investment — and 10-year commitments to the sanctioning body to ensure programming would fill their sports networks for the next decade.

However, that’s a competitive arena as well. How long will viewers watch before flipping channels to the next option? With attention spans becoming shorter and the list of alternative programming growing by the day, NASCAR’s greatest challenge is providing entertaining content on a weekly basis. And it's only a matter of time before the broadcast partners insist that Sprint Cup races are packaged in a neat three-hour window similar to the NFL.

“Everybody has that issue,” France said. “Baseball is doing things to try to speed the game up The NFL is trying some things. Everybody is mindful that attention spans with fans are, generally speaking, lower. There are some fans that the more the better — and everything else. 

“But we are also the only sport that has non-stop action (except for) the cautions. We don’t have timeouts and big lulls in that respect. It is non-stop. So whether it’s 400 mile or 500 miles, we’re going to deliver plenty of action. That’s what we’re going to have to do.”

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