If there’s one thing that NASCAR’s long, subpar Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway proved, it’s that the track could serve itself and its fans well by shortening the spring race and placing it during the day.
Saturday’s Duck Commander 500 wasn’t as bad as some fans – presumably Kyle Busch haters – are making it out to be. The event had fewer cautions than either race in 2015, and the race’s 17 lead changes were two more than last fall’s Chase race.
If Saturday’s rain-delayed race at Texas was guilty of anything, it was being merely average in what’s been an incredible beginning to the 2016 season. Had rain not pushed the elder NASCAR fan base to stay up until the wee hours of the morning, or had 13-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., worked his way around the oft-vilified Busch to take the victory, opinions on the race might be more optimistic.
Still, the race’s criticisms aren’t all unmerited.
As I sat in a bar late on Saturday, watching Truex leading the way, I glanced over at a nearby clock. The time had just passed midnight, and the race was just entering its final 70 laps.
At that moment, a thought entered my head, an inescapable question that I feel needs to be asked.
Wouldn’t this race be better off if they cut 100 miles off of the scheduled distance?
Since NASCAR first flocked to Fort Worth, Texas for the 1997 Interstate Batteries 500, every race held at TMS has been scheduled for 500 miles. For many of the track’s 31 races, the length has been justified by great racing. However, in recent years, the extra 100 miles has often left the race feeling stale and at times, sleep inducing.
Over the past few years, a few tracks – most notably Pocono Raceway – have chosen to alter former 500-mile barn-burners to 400-mile features. The results have been more bearable races, with the shortened length leading to a greater sense of urgency and differing strategies among teams.
Not all races need to be shortened. The Daytona 500 wouldn’t be the same with any other distance, nor should the Coca-Cola 600. However, TMS would serve itself and its fans well to cut 100 miles off one of the track’s two annual races, if not both.
The best candidate for a distance reduction is the spring race. Coming in April, just as the weather is beginning to turn, the spring race at TMS is often vulnerable to weather issues, even in the largely-dry state of Texas. Such was the issue on Saturday, as the Air Titans led the way for much of the evening.
By cutting 100 miles off of the spring night race, TMS could increase its chances of getting the event in, while also allowing it to end earlier for fans pulling a late night to support the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
If watching 500 miles of racing is a hard sell to the casual fan at any time of day, then watching 500 miles of racing late into the night is infinitely worse. A few traditional events can manage the feat due to the hype surrounding the races. Darlington Raceway’s Southern 500 can run into the night with no issue, as can Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Coca-Cola 600. However, the same can’t necessarily be said for TMS, a track with less than 20 years of NSCS history.
Along the same vein, TMS could also do itself a favor by moving the spring event to the daytime.
Not only would the mid-April race be an easier sell to fans during the heat of day, but the racing product would likely improve on-track.
The premise of day racing delivering a better product than night racing is simple. During the day, as the sun shines and the temperatures rise, tracks tend to be hotter, resulting in less grip and more handling issues for drivers. With poor handling comes increased opportunity to make gains, and, in theory, more passing.
While a day race couldn’t be guaranteed to deliver improved racing, the odds of it doing just that are great, and arguably enough to justify a move to the daytime on Sunday for TMS’ first race.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with the two events TMS currently has on the NSCS schedule. However, there’s noticeable room for improvement. The track’s current events both run for 500 miles, well into the night, and things are probably going to stay that way in the coming years.
Still, we can hope that the track considers dropping a race to 400 miles or running during the day. After all, as Pocono has proven, less can sometimes be more, and having lights doesn’t mean a track should always use them.
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