NASCAR races are long, and they have been for decades. There’s no disguising that fact. The sanctioning body has tried to implement changes to at least make those races more exciting—competition cautions, stages, playoffs, etc.—but there’s very little you can do to remedy the fact that a lunchtime start might drag on through dinner. And driver Kevin Harvick agrees; there’s no need for 500 mile races outside of NASCAR’s crown jewel events.
“There’s no reason that any race outside of a ‘crown jewel’ race is longer than 500 miles,” Harvick said during a Zoom press conference on Thursday. “It’s not something that is really even necessary in today’s day and age.”
In NASCAR, a “crown jewel is a race that generally means something more to the sport than just a one-off event. It’s kind of like how the Indy 500 is a crown jewel for IndyCar, or how the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes are the crown jewels of horse racing. They’re the events with history and importance, the ones that draw the big crowds and mean something more than just taking home a win at, say, Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR’s crown jewels depend on who you talk to, but most folks would agree that they’d consist of the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500, and the Brickyard 400. And, in a lot of ways, a race should reflect its importance in both effort and distance. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to make every race last 500 miles when you want the Daytona 500 to mean something.
Harvick put it most succinctly:
Five hundred miles at Texas… it takes forever to run that race and do the things that we do there... The fans and the sponsors even look at it like, “Man, it just seems more intense when the races are a little shorter.”
But you look at the Daytona 500 and you look at the Coke 600 and the Southern 500—those races obviously have a different type of meaning to our sport than some of the other races that have been added through the years.
NASCAR goes big in a lot of ways. Whether it’s a jam-packed race schedule or a long event, the series tries its best to go a little over-the-top.
It’s pretty overplayed to blame a fan’s desire for shorter races on attention spans shortened by social media, but the fact of the matter is, we just have more options now. People with the internet have just about every racing series in the world at their fingertips. There are hundreds of other channels to watch in a cable package, and you can flip on Netflix if you’re really not feeling it. I make an effort to watch NASCAR, but I also work weekends and have about 1000 other things I need to be doing in that four-hour time frame.
Harvick makes a good point that those races of lesser importance should be shortened. When fans see a 500 mile race at Texas Motor Speedway coming up—a race whose length is compounded by the fact that very little happens—many either tune in for the start and finish, or they don’t even bother to tune in at all.
Part of gaining new fans comes from changing a sport to reflect the current era, and long races just aren’t the kind of thing fans want. I’m not saying every NASCAR race should be a mere hour-and-a-half long affair, but a shorter race that allows drivers to battle hard the entire time would be a solid idea.