Is it time to shorten Nascar Sprint Cup races?

Everyone is trying to find an answer to Nascar’s declining television ratings. Some point to a dull Chase format, some to boring races and some to bad television production of Nascar races.

One idea that I like has actually been suggested by Fox Sports Chairman David Hill. (Here’s the story) His idea? Shorten all Sprint Cup races to fit into a 3 hour window with another one hour set aside for pre-race and post-race combined.

California finally caught on that 500 miles was too long there and shortened their race to 400 miles.  It turned into a better race.

Do we really need 500 miles twice at Pocono? 500 laps at a Bristol?

I would keep Daytona obviously at 500 miles, the 600 at Charlotte but everything else would be negotiable.

A NFL football game runs approximately 3 hours, a college football game about the same.  NBA game?  A little over two hours.  NHL? Two-and-a-half hours.

America’s attention span keeps getting shorter and shorter and maybe it’s time to fit the product to the audience.

One idea I’m not in favor of that Hill suggested is that many of the races move to Saturday night to stay away from going up against the NFL.

To me that forgets the person who is paying their hard earned money to attend the race as opposed to someone sitting in their La-Z-Boy at home.

Would I really want fans driving hours to go back home after a race ended at 10:30 at night? No matter what, fans that buy tickets must come first in any decision. They have earned that right by giving up not only money but their time to attend a race in person.

As I’ve said before, Nascar and its television partners can market the hell out of the racing but it still comes down to the product every week on the race track. Come up with a great solution to that and all will be well.

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Two-wide restarts for IndyCar on ovals? What a joke!

IndyCar right now is looking for anything to generate a scintilla of excitement around a series which has lost much of its luster.  One new change that follows Nascar’s lead is for double-file restarts on oval tracks.

On paper, this sounds like a good idea.  However, paper is not reality.

Let’s look at what has gone on for at least 10 years under the “brilliant” leadership of Brian Barnhart, President of Competition and Racing Operations of the series shall we?

IndyCarThe Indianapolis 500 was always known for it’s three-wide, 11 rows of three “Flying Start.” All the rows would come off turn 4, perfectly lined up, and the green flag would fly. That tradition ended under Barnhart who has let the field start stringing out in TURN 3 BEFORE THE GREEN FLAG and be almost single file to start the race!

If these are the best drivers in the world, then let them come to the start of the race the way the great names in racing did! I guess Barnhart doesn’t’ have much faith in them.

This starting in turn 3 also took place at every other oval on the IndyCar Series schedule and also on every restart.

IndyCar says it is addressing that “situation” in its press release on the two-wide restarts.

When the field hears “green next time by,” the restart zone will be closer to the start/finish line and be identified according to each venue’s characteristics. On ovals, the restart area had been between Turns 3 and 4.

“It’s a fan’s expectation that it’s where the restart should take place. It should be an exciting change,” Barnhart said.”

You mean the fans actually expect the field to be on the main straightaway where they at least can see the start/finish line before restarting?  How novel an idea!

As I’ve said before, I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing, but the problem isn’t tricks and marketing, it’s the racing..and gimmicks won’t cure the problem.

Déjà vu all over again?

By now you know that I worked with Championship Auto Racing Teams as a radio announcer during that series glory years of the late 80’s and through the 90’s.  I was there to see many of the mistakes that were made that ultimately led to the demise of a series that once provided the best racing in the world. IndyCar, far from providing that same level of competition, is beginning to follow the same path.

A few days ago I received a news release from IndyCar. It read: “INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will open an office in Santa Monica, Calif., to make further inroads into the media and entertainment industries.”

It went on to say “INDYCAR is in a unique position for growth that makes opportunities for integration into film, television, music and emerging media properties exciting. “

Excuse me? Anyone remember the God awful movie “Driven?” (BTW, you can hear me in that movie and I still say it should be banned from anyone viewing it again!”

Here we go thinking that the series is somehow full of “stars” that the entertainment world just wants to hear more about. The only reason anyone in Hollywood might even know IndyCar exists is because Ashley Judd is married to Dario Franchitti.

IndyCar’s problem is product and very poor officiating. Put rouge on a pig, you still have a pig.

CART thought they were the “elite” of the world and kept moving into the “wine and cheese” lifestyle presentation.  If IndyCar heads down that path they too will be doomed.

It’s not as much about putting butts in the seats every week these days as it is TV ratings where the big money is to be made. You can attract people to the “party” such as at Long Beach and Toronto, but can you get them to become real fans? An outreach to the Hollywood community isn’t going to do a thing to change that.

As I said, I’ve seen this road taken before and it leads to a  hubris that can only spell trouble.  Think you are bigger and better than you are and not work on improving the reality of the situation and you are doomed to failure.

What will 2011 bring?

Unfortunately I do not have a crystal ball nor can I read the future.  If I could, I’d be on a beach sipping those umbrella drinks after hitting the lottery. I do have some questions though as the 2011 racing season is about to get underway.

The top question, as it has been now for five years, can anyone dethrone Jimmie Johnson as the Nascar Sprint Cup Champion? The answer of course is yes they can but the second question is WILL they!

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle would have to be my top four choices to have the best chance to do what seems impossible anymore. There are several others that could also come through.

Next, will the changes at Hendrick payoff in Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally being competitive every week and break his two plus year victory drought? Don’t have a clue.

Over in IndyCar, will someone other than Penske and Ganassi battle for the series title?  The other teams are improving but have yet to prove they are in the league of the Big Two.

Speaking of Ganassi, does he dominate the Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype class again? Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas were almost untouchable in 2010 and testing at Daytona for the Rolex 24 is showing they are just as strong right now.

Over in ALMS, I’m just having trouble keeping track of all the classes. Will it be Patron Highcroft for a third straight year taking the LMP crown?

The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series had two great stories in 2010.  60 plus year old John Force coming from behind to claim his 15th Funny Car title and rookie L.E. Tonglet going from almost done for the season to taking the Pro Bike title. 

NHRA also had three tragic stories with the death of a fan and two drivers.

I have no clue who is going to claim the title in any of the 4 pro divisions but hopefully all four will be as competitive as Funny Car has been.

I am looking forward to kicking off the season taking in all the action at Daytona from the Rolex 24 through the Daytona 500 as I’m privileged to be part of the PA crew there.

Let’s just all hope that each and every racing series that we enjoy keeps us on the edge of our seats until the final checkered flag falls.