Views from the Grandstands

Kay Bell | April 01, 2011

Better, Not Shorter

Attention-challenged fans, TV execs and even some drivers say NASCAR’s problem is too-long races, but they are wrong

Did you watch the last ­NASCAR race from green flag to checkers? Didn’t think so. Television viewership is down. And seats remain available at most tracks. A TV executive says the problem is that the races are too long. NASCAR’s favorite driver agrees.

I don’t.

Before the season, Fox Sports Chairman David Hill suggested that the run time of some races be shortened. “I think the racing is far too long,” he said during Charlotte Motor Speedway’s pre-season media tour. “There is more diversion, more opportunities for stuff than any other time in man’s history.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. brings the drivers’ perspective to the discussion. A lot of fans, surmised Earnhardt, “just don’t feel they need to watch the first 200 miles. They’re skipping that on purpose. That’s what I think.”

Sorry, guys, you’re off the mark.

True, we live in an age of ever-shorter attention spans. But people aren’t skipping NASCAR events because the races are too long — it’s because they’re too boring. NASCAR has become that sad parody of drivers just going in circles.

Shortening races wouldn’t do a thing to fix the tedium. A boring 300-mile race is just as mind-numbing as a boring 500-mile race.

Much of the blame lies with the tracks. Too many venues are almost identical, and that means the races start looking alike. So NASCAR needs to do away with duplicate races at those boring tracks and look for facilities with true variety. And when they’re stuck at those cookie-cutter D-shaped ovals, NASCAR needs to stop making their problems worse.

First, get rid of those manufactured cautions. I swear, when a race settles into monotonous circling (or Junior is about to be lapped), debris suddenly appears on the track. And of course the length of time it takes the clean-up crews to find the shard of rubber is interminable.

Don’t get me wrong. Safety can’t be sacrificed. But applying flag decisions judiciously and consistently throughout a race would speed things along.

Then there’s the other flag issue, the green-white-checker finish. This was supposed to make fans happy, giving them a “real” result. But all it’s done is cause more wrecks, thereby delaying the ending. Worse, it signals fans that nothing before the last few minutes is worth watching. When too many races come down to the last two laps, that’s all the casual fan will tune in to see.

Plus, nothing is as boring — or adds more minutes to a race’s time — as when a race is red-flagged so NASCAR can have its dramatic two-lap finish.

Please, just let the races play out. Sometimes a driver gets a trophy under yellow; a couple of times I was dang glad to see my favorite driver cross the line with the yellow and checkers flying simultaneously. Races also are won when rain shortens an event. There’s no waiting around for a green-flag finish then. Sometimes that happens. Deal with it.

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