As is quite well known, the number element of a major NASCAR event indicates the number of miles that is required to complete the race. So, the Daytona 500 is 500 miles, and the Coca-Cola 600 is 600 miles, and so on. But to look at these numbers, it’s a wonder anyone is still interested in watching, no? SIX HUNDRED miles? It’s roughly the equivalent of watching 40 people drive from New York to Boston, back to New York, and then back to Boston again.
Traditionally NASCAR races have had plenty of laps. Originating from the prohibition era, 500 miles was the benchmark to test both the drivers and their cars. However with a larger choice of motorsports and arguably a waning of fans attention the number of Laps and length of NASCAR races may need to be adjusted.
Sports like Formula 1 have much shorter races, with all apart from the Monaco Grand Prix covering 305km (189 miles). Monaco is only 206.5km in length (128 miles). That normally translates to about 50-70 laps (again, Monaco is 78), but NASCAR races usually run for 200+ laps.
What is this all about? Why does the sport of NASCAR involve so many laps? Why are the races so much longer? In this article we’ll be striving to explain in more detail.
NASCAR has requirements that have to be met for its Cup Series events. First of all, the race has to be at least 120 laps, or 300 miles in length. Only when this condition is met can any race result be declared as official. Given the fact that most NASCAR courses are 2.5 miles or less per circuit, with the longest road courses running to around 4 miles. If you do the math, you can start to see why so many laps are required to meet NASCAR’s basic requirements.
At the heart of everything that NASCAR tries to arrange for each race is the creation of a positive and memorable fan experience. They want the races to have thrills, spills, and endless cheers and smiles from the crowds both at the event in person and those watching on TV around the country.
NASCAR events are held all over the country, meaning that the most dedicated fans travel far and wide to watch events in person. They’re entitled to a good show.
While some argue for shortening the races to make them more engaging to fans (see further below for more on that), NASCAR is playing a fine balancing act of interests here. It’s easy to say “just shorten the race,” and that would make it all more interesting for TV viewers, but that means that a day at the racetrack for example is less value for money. If you’ve spent up to $120 on your ticket to race day, then you will want all the value you can get.
Finally, the other reason for more laps is the high status of the Cup Series races when compared to other NASCAR events such as the Xfinity series. The Xfinity races have cheaper tickets, shorter races, and overall they have less prestige. There’s certainly less prize money up for grabs when compared to the Cup Series.
Since people expect more endurance, skill, and stamina from the Cup Series drivers, longer races are designed in part to put drivers through the mill and really test their mettle.
Yes, it has been known for NASCAR to shorten some races where they have received feedback from fans and others that a race is likely to become boring to watch. As we explained above, creating a memorable and exciting experience for fans who take the time and trouble to go to the speedways to watch races in person — not to mention the 2.9 million-strong TV audience — and that means listening to this kind of feedback.
A good example of this happened at the Pocono Raceway, which usually held two races each season, each one comprising 200 laps. It got to the point where fans and media commentators were saying that the length of the race was too often causing the cars to get strung out, thus making the race a lot smoother and less action-packed.
It’s not that Pocono Raceway goers wanted to see death and destruction on the track, but they mostly just wanted a bit more tension.
NASCAR responded by shortening the Pocono Raceway to 140 laps. This is a principle that works in many long-game sports. For example, it didn’t take England long to work out that shortening one of their national sports, cricket, from 5 days to shorter games that ended within a day would be a smart move.
It rejuvenated interest in the sport around the world. NASCAR shortening the Pocono race was a move to make it tighter, tenser, and more exciting.
NASCAR is playing a fine balancing act all the time when they make changes to the races. Statistics show that while NASCAR is still averaging a TV viewership of about 2.9 million, there are as few as 500,000 or more under the age of 50. That doesn’t bode well for the long-term future of the sport.
NASCAR should take a leaf out of England cricket’s book and look at ways to make the sport more exciting and engaging for younger people.
There are many ways to do that, of course, but featuring shorter, more dynamic races packed with tension seems a smart move to make when appealing to a generation with probably the shortest attention span in human history.
In fairness, NASCAR has already taken steps to reform the sport. We already mentioned the shortening of races, but another step taken has been to divide the races into stages and use the so-called “Checkpoint System” for scoring.
This was first introduced in 2017, and it means races are divided into 2-4 stages, with a certain number of the lap total completed in each stage.
Drivers are awarded points for each stage, which means each race can see a different winner at each stage, as well as several separate starts and finishes, all of which works to compartmentalize the race, allow more variety in action and winners, and prevent the potential boredom that sets in when the same drivers are in the same positions seemingly endlessly for hundreds of laps.
The next question will be what else NASCAR can do to combat declining viewership and to keep its sport alive and well for the next generation and even the one after that.
Stage racing has certainly added a different dynamic to NASCAR racing in recent years. However there is no question that NASCAR races are long, much longer than any other motor sport. However, it can also be said you get your monies worth from it.
Race days at the trackside at least, are a full day affair with concerts, shows, driver meets, and much more. While this doesn’t translate to a TV audience it makes for a great day out if attending a NASCAR race.
Television audiences are where the money is though, for all motorsports, and NASCAR needs to look at whether race length adjustments are something that may bringing new fans to the sport.