The success of Pocono shortening its races should be inspiration to other tracks (Getty Images Photo)
Somewhat lost in the blitz of NASCAR news in recent days were comments made by NASCAR CEO Brian France during his mid-season “State of the Sport” address in Daytona.
Among some of the more interesting France remarks was his view on shortening Sprint Cup Series races and that the sanctioning body is considering trimming more events as early as next season.
“We are,” said France. “I think you have to acknowledge that's real. Any information shows that people have more to do, more devices to play with and get information from, and as a result, their attention span is shorter. We've shortened events. It's generally worked well. At Pocono it worked well, California worked well, Dover has worked well. Some of the events that we've done. We'll look at that.”
One of the things France cited in the potential to slice some distance off races and tighten up the length of the event relates to technology. Now while the NASCAR head honcho received his share of eye rolling over the concept of “glass dashboards” which he envisions happening down the road, fan tech talk is very much an issue impacting all sports.
The days of fans either simply buying a ticket and sitting in their seat to watch a race or parking themselves on the family room sofa in front of a television set are numbered. Today devices and technology both large and small are available to enhance a fan's experience or in some instances actually take their attention away from the product.
The availability of Twitter, digital video and statistics, satellite radio and television and other online components that provide a much deeper context of a race give fans a wider range of options than ever before. However the advancing technology can also have an adverse effect and siphon focus away from the matter at hand.
In any scenario, France believes more compressed events would be beneficial and are necessary to engage and invest fan interest.
“They're all designed as people are watching, and maybe this convergence which has already happened a fair amount, where people -- and I was talking to somebody today -- they don't watch the event without having their computer on to interact digitally in some way,” said France. “All those things are on the table.
“That's why you have to have a plan to deal with those things. You have to have a plan to look down the road, and you have to have great people that can figure outcome indicated issues to make the sport better.”
A few more shorter races would definitely make the sport better.
No sporting event should take 4 to 4-1/2 hours like some NASCAR races do and it is near impossible in this day and age to keep anyone's attention for that long.
As France pointed out, Fontana and most recently Pocono both shaved mileage from their Sprint Cup races with tremendous success. Last month's 400 mile race in Pocono was one of the best races of the season at any track.
The day clocked in just inside three and a half hours from green flag to checkered with hard competition, intensity, immediacy and new strategies all adding up to an enjoyable afternoon of racing.
It's time a few more tracks follow suit and sacrifice miles and laps for the betterment of the product.
I'm certainly not advocating all races be clipped. Sprint Cup Series racing should always have some traditional 500-mile affairs like the Daytona 500 and Southern 500
But there's no need for too many more.
Texas, Charlotte, Atlanta and even Talladega should all re-think the 500-mile distances currently held at those tracks.
Sitting in the stands or in front of a television set for more than four hours is simply overkill. Shorter events ramp up the excitement level and create an environment for better racing, which should be the bottom line for the sport.
Even drivers admit the middle portion of races like this past April's event in Texas or May's run at Talladega drone on without any real purpose, except staying in one piece to be there at the end when it matters.
"I think NASCAR should shoot for a three-hour or three-hour and 15-minute televised event, and try to fit into that sort of time frame," Dale Earhardt Jr. has said before when asked about the subject.
Many fans are also in agreement on the topic of shorter races. Our recent “Poll Position” feature on the subject saw a large majority vote for more events to be reduced.
One of the benefits of the current trend of limited cautions has been most races this season being completed at a snappy pace. This weekend's 301-lap race at New Hampshire has always been nearly the perfect length in terms of distance and time with the on track action also enhanced up because of it.
It's time for more tracks to get in linet and NASCAR to push the issue if necessary for the overall improvement of the sport.