Debate On Race Lengths Goes Distance

NASCAR

Carl Edwards says he does not want shorter NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Ryan Newman disagrees. (Photo: Getty Images)

FONTANA, Calif. - What does a 500-mile race mean to you?

Is it a test of drivers and teams or merely a distance too long?

Questions about shortening NASCAR Sprint Cup races returned this weekend to Auto Club Speedway, a track that once hosted 500-mile events but now has a 400-mile Cup race. 

The topic stirs passionate debate among fans. Some say don’t change the distances because they enjoy the full experience at the track. Others want a smaller TV viewing window.

Even as some races have been shortened in recent years, a quarter of the Cup schedule features races that are 500 miles (or more). 

It would seem unlikely that the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and Coca-Cola 600 would be shortened because of those race’s traditional values. So that would leave only six races at 500 miles - both Texas and Talladega races, Atlanta and the fall Charlotte race.

In essence, is that what the debate is about? Is it just six out of 36 points races that has some furiously defending those races and others pleading for them to be reduced? Or do people suggest that 400-mile races need to be shortened as well? If so, when do the races become too short?

For those who have questioned the length of races, the sport has responded. Auto Club Speedway cut its 500-mile race to 400 miles in 2010. Phoenix International Raceway reduced its spring race from 600 kilometers to 500 in 2011. That same year a 400-mile race at Kentucky replaced a 500-mile race at Atlanta, and a 400-mile race at Kansas Speedway replaced a 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway. Pocono cut both its Cup races from 500 to 400 miles in 2012.

The merits of a race, though, often aren’t judged by its length but by what happens. The back-and-forth action and dramatic action at the end of last year’s race at Auto Club Speedway put that race on multiple list of best races of 2013. Other lists included the spring Talladega race and the Daytona 500 as among the best races of last  year - both 500-mile events.

This year’s Daytona 500 might be on such a list at the end of this season. Drivers talked about the intensity on the track after the rain delay and it provided fans with action that proved thrilling.

“That has to be the hardest raced 500 ever as far as I am concerned and probably one of the best,’’ said Brad Keselowski, who finished third.

A driver not winning saying the race was one of the best? How often does that happen?

Go back and look at history and some might consider among the sport’s greatest races the Southern 500 Ricky Craven won in 2003 with his breathtaking battle with Kurt Busch coming to the checkered flag. That finish might not have happened had it been a shorter race. 

Want something more recent? Jimmie Johnson and Keselowski engaged in a thrilling duel late in the Texas Chase race in 2012 that also had title implications.  

Still, the debate rages. Some drivers were asked their feelings on the matter.

“Shortening the length of our races would be great for our sport and great for the fans,’’ Ryan Newman said. “It would build the excitement sooner. And I don’t think it would necessarily change the outcome, I think it would just intensify our sport.”

Carl Edwards doesn’t see it that way. His response is immediate and emphatic to if races should be shorter.

“No,’’ he said. “Longer is better. It is supposed to be a test of man and machine. People pay good money for the tickets and ought to make an afternoon out of it. To me, I don’t know, I guess some people might be jaded that come to the racetrack every week and only think about going home but for me racing, to finish a 500-miler somewhere that is special. That is what NASCAR is about to me. It is supposed to take a whole afternoon.”

So, what do you say? 

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