News & Media

Junior says time has come to shorten races

January 26, 2011, Joe Menzer,

France says some races have been shortened; nothing drastic imminent

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Wednesday that he applauds the changes that are coming to the Sprint Cup Series point standings, but that NASCAR has another adjustment it needs to make.

Speaking during a Sprint Media Tour stop at Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt called again for a shortening of most of the Cup races. Hitting on a theme others have addressed previously, he said he particularly would like to see the season's two 500-mile events at Pocono Raceway shortened.

" It's like this huge, pink elephant that nobody wants to talk about."


"I think it's a great idea, especially at certain events. The Pocono races are entirely too long," Earnhardt said. "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. But it can't be done at all times. I understand. I think you've got to have races like the 600-miler [Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte] and the Daytona 500 and things like that -- but there are certain events [that should be shortened]."

He added that he believes NASCAR made a mistake when it added distance to last year's spring race at Phoenix -- taking it from 312 laps to 378. The fall Phoenix race remained a 312-lap event.

"For example, Phoenix was a good race. Adding that little bit to it didn't make it better. It only made it longer; it only made it tougher to watch, tougher to witness," Earnhardt said. "It was a good distance [prior to last year's change], and the 300 laps at New Hampshire is the perfect distance.

"Then you go to Pocono, and it's entirely too long, obviously. It's an obvious, glaring issue with everyone that's there -- but it's like this huge, pink elephant that nobody wants to talk about. Maybe there was some kind of a guarantee or promise made in the deal years ago, and it's something they won't change. We'll see how it goes."

Later Wednesday evening, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France responded to Earnhardt's comments. He contended that several races have been shortened already, including events that have shifted within the schedule. He also said the governing body will be open to considering more such changes in the future -- but only to a point.

"We've done that over the last several years. I think you see with Atlanta being a 500-mile race, going to Kentucky, that's a 400-mile race. California going to Kansas, you're seeing that's a 400-mile race," France said. "We awarded the second one in California. That is a 400-mile [race]. ...

"So there will be alterations as we go down the road to shorten them up by a little bit. [There are] no expectations from us to make any drastic changes -- but 100 miles changes a complexion of a race, depending where you are, for sure. And we're going to continue to look at that. And we'll look at the Nationwide [Series] events where we want to have good separation between a Sunday and Saturday show. ... [We] will be looking at the length of Nationwide events as we go down the road."

Earnhardt said he wanted to make it clear that he was not bashing the sport he said he loves. He just thinks NASCAR officials need to be realistic about what most fans' attention spans are in today's crowded televised sports markets.

"I enjoy our sport. I enjoy watching races," Earnhardt said. "I was having a discussion with this guy the other day, and we were talking about how they think the 1 o'clock starts are OK, but they think the 3 o'clock starts might be better.

"Well, they think that people are tuning in because they're available at 3. It's not that they miss the 1 o'clock [start]; it's just that they don't feel they need to watch the first 200 miles. They're skipping that on purpose. That's what I think."

Earnhardt said he knows others have weighed in on the subject. That would include Fox Sports chairman David Hill and Earnhardt's team owner, Rick Hendrick. Speaking earlier in the week on the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hill also called for NASCAR to look into shortening races to help spark interest and improve sagging television ratings.

"I think the racing is far too long," Hill said. "There is more diversion, more opportunities for stuff than any other time in man's history. I think that a lot of the races are too long. I think probably three hours would be ideal."

Hendrick agreed with Hill and his driver, calling not only for shorter races but also for a shorter season. The Cup season currently includes 36 points races and two non-points races, and stretches from mid-February to nearly Thanksgiving each year.

"I absolutely think the races ought to be shorter, and I think the season ought to be shorter. It's just so long," Hendrick said. "We've got so much to look at -- we've got baseball, basketball, football all going on at one time, and then [there is] our season.

"Football players, I've got some friends, and they get to take months off. We get back from [Las] Vegas [and the banquet to cap off the season], we start testing, and we're working harder in the offseason than in the regular season. If we had three more months off, I think the fans would be eager to watch it again. But I don't know."

Earnhardt added that he has no problem with the length of the season, and doubts that it can or will be changed. Even Hendrick admitted as much.

"I think the financial rewards from having the season as it is are too great," said Earnhardt, who has been voted NASCAR's most popular driver by fans eight years running. "It's almost as if each race is a limb that you can't amputate. It's too big a deal to shorten the season. It's not a simple task to say, 'All right, this guy is losing a date. Is everybody cool with that?'

"It's so challenging. There are tons of money involved and tons of livelihoods involved -- and people's careers and opportunities are involved. So I don't believe we'll ever see a shorter season. But I do believe that in my lifetime I will see the shorter races across the board at 80, 75 percent of the events."

Hendrick agreed shortening the length of the season is a real long shot, even in the long run.

"I think they've got so many people involved ... who are you going to eliminate? What tracks are you going to eliminate?" Hendrick said. "Everybody's got a huge investment. I don't know how you unwind what you've done."

Earnhardt said he approved of the changes to the points system that NASCAR announced Wednesday evening. Drivers will now be awarded points in single-point increments from first through 43rd, depending on where they finish in a race, with three bonus points for a win, one bonus point for a lap led and another bonus point for the most laps led in a race.

France said the goal was to simplify a system that too many fans -- and even competitors -- found confusing.

Times of last year's races

TrackMiles*Time TrackMiles*Time TrackMiles*Time
Fontana5003:31:24 Pocono5003:44:30  Richmond3002:52:55
Las Vegas400.52:49:53 Michigan4002:33:28 Loudon317.42:58:22
Atlanta500.53:59:59 Sonoma218.92:56:38 Dover4003:02:27
Bristol266.53:20:50 Loudon318.52:48:38 Kansas400.52:54:02
Martinsville2633:39:05 Daytona4003:03:28 Fontana4003:01:53
Phoenix3753:48:14  Chicago400.52:45:34 Charlotte5013:34:07
Texas5013:25:34 Indianapolis4002:56:24  Martinsville2633:40:20
Talladega500.13:31:58 Pocono5003:46:51 Talladega500.13:03:23
Richmond3003:00:47 Watkins Glen220.52:23:52 Texas5013:34:01
Dover4003:06:21 Bristol266.52:41:24 Homestead400.53:09:50

"I think it's a good choice to make it a little simpler," Earnhardt said. "It was challenging, and it's a good idea to simple it up a little bit. There is no reason why it couldn't be simpler. I don't believe it jumbles things up entirely. If you had this new system before, a few positions swap, but nothing major. But I think how we're able to read it will be simpler, and that's all they're trying to do."