Texas Cup Marathon Brings NASCAR Race Lengths Into Question

Charlotte, NC

How much is too much?

That has to be the question of the minds of countless fans this morning after watching another NASCAR Nextel Cup race drone on for almost four hours Sunday. The 3 hour, 49 minute event from Texas Motor Speedway was punctuated by a patented thrilling NASCAR finish, but provided little else on a Sunday afternoon when NFL football, raking leaves, or any other activity beckoned.

The length of NASCAR races has long been a topic for discussion. While other sports have tinkered with shortening the timeframe of their contests, NASCAR has held firm with many events sticking to the 500-mile formula. Sunday?s Dickies 500 could have easily been 400 or even 300 miles and still have been just as entertaining.

While you can argue that a shorter event might not have produced the splendid late-race battle between winner Jimmie Johnson and runner-up Matt Kenseth, it would have produced a better race. Frankly, there is just way too much ?riding time? in most NASCAR Nextel Cup 500-mile events. Once the green flag is dropped, teams jockey for early position and then settle into a groove, clicking off laps, riding around waiting until the final 100 miles to race.

The result is long periods of no action, occasionally punctuated by caution periods (15 for 52 laps Sunday) and multiple pit stops. The only real racing comes in the final laps ? as we saw Sunday. The rest, at times, seems dull and strained, almost manufactured.

Meanwhile, Nextel Cup?s cousins ? the NASCAR Busch and Craftsman Truck Series ? run shorter, more competitive events. Friday?s Truck Series race at Texas was nearly 200 laps shorter than Sunday?s Cup snoozefest (147 to 334). It took just 1 hour, 42 minutes to complete the ?350K? event (approximately 220 miles).

On Saturday, the NBS 300-mile clash at Texas was completed in just a tick over two hours. Both events were crisp, featured plenty of action, and were completed in a time frame where you weren?t looking for the remote, a rake, or a pillow to take a mid-afternoon nap.

Neither featured multiple pit stops where teams could tinker with their cars. In both the Busch and Truck Series, pit stops are limited to as few as one and rarely more than three. The result is the driver and the vehicle determines the race, not the pit crews as we heard Johnson?s crew exult on the team radio after Sunday?s race.

Suggesting NASCAR Cup races should be shortened to produce more racing action and less riding time is a slippery slope. Many fans aren?t about to support such a move without a reduction in ticket prices, and we know that?s not going to happen. Meanwhile, television – the real grease of the NASCAR financial wheel ? might want events to fit into a more compressed timeframe, but is probably unwilling to part with the 152 commercials they squeezed into 61 minutes of Sunday?s Texas race telecast.

When you can watch the final half of one NFL football game and an entire second contest ? both replete with continuous action, hard hitting and close finishes ? during the span it takes to complete a Cup race, much of it producing no action and featuring seemingly little more than continuous product endorsements and announcer psychobabble, it?s time for a change.

Adjusting the length of Cup races will make them better events, more interesting, and ultimately, a better time slot fit for the NASCAR money machine that is television. It will be a painful adjustment for many at first, but a win-win for everyone in the long run.

Weekend Race Notes ?

Johnson On A Streak ? Jimmie Johnson?s win gave him three victories in a row ? Martinsville, Atlanta, and now, Texas. It marked the 21st time since the dawn of NASCAR?s ?Modern Era? in 1972 that a driver has won three times in a row in a single season. The last to do it ? Johnson in 2004 (Charlotte, Martinsville, Atlanta).

By the way, just for the record ? the most wins in a row by a NASCAR driver ? is held by Richard Petty.

Petty scored 10 wins in a row en route to a 27-victory season in 1967.

Johnson?s 2007 trifecta also pushed him into the lead by 30 markers in the Chase For The Championship over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon. Johnson, the 2006 Cup champion, has two more races to win the title and make himself the first driver since Gordon to win back-to-back championships (1997-1998).

Dale Earnhardt (1993-1994, 1991-1992, 1986-1987)), Darrell Waltrip (1981-1982), Cale Yarborough (1976-1978), Petty (1974-1975, 1971-1972) Joe Weatherly (1962-1963), Lee Petty (1958-1959), and Buck Baker (1956-1957) are the only other drivers to win back-to-back Cup titles.

Harvick Whacks ?Buschers? Again ? Cup driver Kevin Harvick ?Buschwhacked? that series regulars again scoring his sixth NBS victory of the season Saturday at Texas. Harvick now has 32 career Busch Series wins, second all-time behind Mark Martin?s 47 career NBS victories.

Meanwhile, Carl ?The Crusher? Edwards ? another Cup regular – finally clinched the Busch Series title Saturday. Five of the current Top-10 drivers in the NBS standings are Cup regulars and Cup drivers have won all but three of the 33 Busch Series events this season.

Beatin? and Bangin? ? Friday?s Truck Series race at Texas produced a pair of late-race accidents involving a number of veteran drivers.

Aggressive racing by Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Jack Sprague sparked a pair of grinding wrecks that not only derailed their own chances of winning the Silverado 350K, but also wrecked a number of other trucks in the process.

In a division that pays as little as $10,000 for a Top-10 finish at many events, taking home a mangled racer is a double whammy for many race teams. Friday, a lot of them got to experience both.

Finally, In Case You Missed It ? The biggest off-track news at Texas wasn?t even about Texas, but rather about the purchase of New Hampshire International Speedway by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and Bruton Smith.

SMI paid a tidy $340 million for the one-mile NHIS oval, an amount rumored to be a full $50 million offered by NASCAR parent company International Speedway Corporation.

While Smith wouldn?t confirm what he would do with the track, additional rumors had him moving the fall NHIS date to Las Vegas in 2009 (the 2008 schedule has already been set) and making it the opening date of the Chase for the Championship.

Kudos to Smith, who has never been afraid to put his money where his mouth is. Because of that, recent renovations to Las Vegas have now made it the premiere fan experience in all of NASCAR and the Chase might have an over-the-top Vegas blast off in 2009.

Meanwhile, congrats to Bob Bahre and his family at New Hampshire for bringing NASCAR racing to the Northeast and all the accomplishments that have come with it. Hopefully, the traditions they have established with their spring NASCAR event will continue for decades to come.

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