Seen from the outside by the uninitiated, NASCAR seems like nothing more than cars racing endlessly around an oval track with very little excitement. We know that nothing could be further from the truth. NASCAR events are wonderful family experiences when Dad, Mom, and the children can spend time together and watch trackside views of the bravest and most skillful drivers’ piloting some of the fastest racing cars in the world.
The longest NASCAR race is not defined by the track length but rather the distance traveled, and time it takes to complete the race. At 4,048 miles, the Road America track is the longest NASCAR circuit; however, racing for 400 laps around the 1.5km Charlotte Speedway makes the Coca-Cola 600 the longest race.
Whether arranging the longest or shortest event, on asphalt or dirt, NASCAR is making bold attempts to get spectators back into stadiums and increase viewership numbers. The longest race ever run by NASCAR ended with a nail-biting finish, while the shortest race was the dirtiest in 50 years by every measure.
The Coca-Cola 600 Race
The longest race in NASCAR history was the 2021 Coca-Cola 600 held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Plymouth, Wisconsin, running over 607.5 miles. The length was increased because, on the 398th lap, with only two laps to go, William Byron spun out with a flat tire.
Racing commenced when the green flag was shown when Keselowski was on lap 404, making it a 405-lap race compared to the 400 laps which were initially scheduled. Having not pitted and stayed out on the track, Brad Keselowski held on to the lead until the flag signaled the end at lap 405.
Elliot came out of the pits in 11th place, and he powered through the grid to achieve third place. This position was elevated when the actual second-place winner, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson’s car, was disqualified after failing the post-race inspection.
Keselowski Ran for 405 laps and covered a total distance of 607.5 miles; in doing so, he set a new NASCAR record by winning the longest NASCAR race of all time.
The 2021 race was the 61st time The Coca-Cola 600 was run. Before 2021 it had run for exactly 600 miles (hence its name) in 56 races. There was one exception when, in 2011, Kevin Harvick won in 402 laps, which equated to a distance of 603-miles.
Before it became to Coca-Cola 600, it was called the World 600, and not only was the first race held in 1960, but NASCAR was the first race of any discipline to be run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Five Crowns Jewels of NASCAR
While the Coca-Cola 600 maybe the longest ever race in NASCAR, it isn’t it most famous. That distinction goes to the Daytona 500 opening to the NASCAR cup season in February each year. However the 600 mile race at Charlotte is one of the five crown jewels of NASCAR.
These are the most prestigious races of the season, like the Grand Slams in Tennis, or the Masters and Open events in golf. In NASCAR these are called the crown Jewels and include Daytona 500, the Coca Cola 600, Talladega, The Southern 500 at Darlington and the Race at Indianapolis.
The Coca-Cola 600 is also part of the Double Duty / Memorial Day Challenge where Drivers from NASCAR try to complete both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Which actually if achieved makes 1100 miles of racing in one day and surely should be counted as the longest race in racing!!! So far only one driver has achieved this Tony Stewart in 2001. you can read more about this challenge here.
The Shortest Current track in NASCAR
The title of shortest track in NASCAR Cup series goes to Martinsville Speedway at 0.526 miles long from start to finish. It is also the only remaining speedway or race track that was in operation from the beginning of NASCAR to the present day.
It isn’t however the shortest ever racetrack to be used. Despite the unease on using the Los Angeles Coliseum quarter mile (0.25) track for the Exhibition Clash even on February the 6th 2022, it is not the first time a short track of less than 0.33 of a mile has been used in NASCAR. The number of times may surprise you.
We have a whole article on Short NASCAR tracks here to check out.
The Bristol Motor Speedway Was The Shortest NASCAR Race
In 2021, the first NASCAR dirt race for over fifty years was held at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Northeast Tennessee. It turned out the be the shortest race in the last 30 years of NASCAR. It is also one of the shortest tracks used.
The race, which was first postponed by repeated rain, was eventually run over two hours, 43 minutes, and 53 seconds.
Racing on dirt tracks takes NASCAR racing back to the history of stock car racing. During Prohibition, moonshiners would use heated-up cars to run from the law during the weekend and use those same cars to race against each other at local fairs and racetracks.
Compared to the heydays in 2005 when Time Magazine declared NASCAR to be America’s most loved sport, the reduced viewership numbers in recent years demonstrating an actual decline in popularity.
There is a controversial opinion that believes the increased safety measures employed by current-day NASCAR have reduced the sport’s appeal and that some of the excitement and attraction of the sport has been removed.
To counter this and find out what the public wanted, NASCAR approached their fans, who overwhelmingly voted for a dirt race to raise the excitement levels of the race.
The last time a race was run on dirt was in 1970; since then, asphalt tracks have become the standard.
The Preparations For The First Dirt Race Were Epic
The first race in this format was set for Sunday, March 28, 2021. Preparing for the first dirt race in 50 years was a tall ask. It took 2,300 truckloads of specially selected dirt (which had a low silt and sand content so that it packed well but also retained some water.)
Maintaining the surface on the dirt track was a very involved process. The dirt needed to be “packed” by having heavy cars run around the track to compact the soil.
The dirt then needed to be tilled to not end up as too hard a surface. Finally, water trucks were regularly run over to moisten the soil during cautions and stage breaks.
New regulations had to be introduced to the cars to run on dirt. Teams were allowed to install deflectors to stop mud from getting over the car. Bigger Spoiler sizes were permitted to increase the downforce of the rear end.
Apart from these minor modifications, the final race car was essentially stock – if that is ever a description that can be made about NASCAR! The downside was that the car’s suspensions were not set up to allow drifting or sliding into corners.
Drivers needed to exercise all their skills, as most reported it was like driving on ice.
The event was a great success, with exciting racing and no significant incidents.
Did The Fans Enjoy It?
The whole intent of the dirt race was to inject much-needed excitement for the crowd.
In these pandemic times, the attendance number of 22,000 spectators was considered a success. The after-event interviews with the spectators were very positive, and although most spectators got covered in mud, the general impression was that it was a great event and it should be held again.
So, there you have it, the longest race and NASCAR’s history was held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Plymouth, Wisconsin, in 2021. The shortest event was an innovative trial of a NASCAR dirt track at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Northeast Tennessee.
However if you count the 1100 mile successful attempt at the Double Duty by Tony Stewart in 2001, then maybe that is the longest race in NASCAR and indy!
Either way both point to the future of NASCAR trying to bring the crowds back and bring the excitement back into this fantastic sport.