Hot Laps

DOVER, Del. - There was lots of talk this weekend in Dover about next year's Sprint Cup Series schedule. Not the dates and places but the times when the green flag flies.

It appears we're getting very close to NASCAR being able to put in place the "standardized" starting times so many fans (and media members) have been clamoring for over the last few seasons.

From a business sense it makes perfect sense. Television ratings have been slipping and much of the reason is the increasingly late start times for Cup races.

Television network executives have stood by the need to give west coast viewers a decent shot at watching a race as one of the criteria for pushing back green flags. A 3 p.m. ET start is Noon out west and the belief was those fans would watch in larger numbers because of it, rather than sitting in their pajamas on a Sunday morning.

But NFL fans on the left coast seem to have no problem getting up to watch the Raiders, Chargers, 49ers and Seahawks play.

Then there's the television ploy of trying to bleed the NASCAR audience into its prime time programming, which is done with the NFL, Major League baseball and college football.

But even that logic is flawed because those numbers don't seem to justify dragging feet on starting engines.

Look for the 1 p.m. ET start at most races next year. And if you want to watch any network's pre-race coverage, back up about an hour or ninety minutes from that time. The bait and switch of "coverage begins at...." is a pet peeve of mine when promos do their best to get people to come to the telecast for what they think is the start of the event but is really the build-up programming.

The decision will no doubt generate much goodwill with NASCAR fans as much as it will generate better results on the ratings front. Moving things back to amore regular start schedule will demonstrate that NASCAR does listen to fans and indeed will make a change if there's enough public outcry.

Shorter weekend schedules and maybe even a wise decision to make a tweak or two to the event calendar may be warming up in the bullpen.

All of which are in the long run what fans have been asking for.

  • Joey Logano's scary-looking crash was just another reminder of what the COT has meant to NASCAR. Like Michael McDowell's Texas qualifying accident a year ago, Logano rolled nearly ten times before coming to a halt and hopped out of the car unscathed, a great testimony to the new car's safety design.

  • We cut 100 laps out of Dover's races a few years ago and quote frankly I'd like to see it go down to 300 miles and stay with the length used in New Hampshire last week. You can't tell me that would ramp up the excitement level and stop drivers - who readily admitted after the race their strategy - of simply making laps to be in position to run to the checkered flag.

  • Kyle Busch's start to the Chase portion of the schedule and a chance to be a spoiler hasn't been stellar. His fifth place finish last week in New Hampshire was overshadowed by penalties for being too low in post-race inspection. Sunday's performance in Dover featured a trip into the wall and a very upset driver coming down pit road with his gloves off before the car even came to a halt.

  • Matt Kenseth gave Roush Fenway Racing something to cheer about with his run in Dover on Sunday. But it was a far cry from last September's thrilling three-car duel between three Roush cars. The mystery of why the team can't be as dominate as a year ago continues.
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    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2009

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