Do NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races need to be shorter, or are race lengths fine the way they are? And are race lengths to blame for a steady decline in television ratings and race attendance?
The reason I ask these questions is because Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., the site of this weekend’s Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup race has sent out a press release boasting a sellout for the race. Said press release, sent out on Saturday, reads, “Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker announced today (Saturday) that grandstand tickets for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 have been sold out.”
I realize that one of the primary taskes of a public relations representative is to put a positive spin on things for his/her client or employer. But this statement is kind of misleading, if you asked me.
No, I’m not accusing the folks at ACS of lying; they did sell all the grandstand tickets for Sunday’s race. But the fact that is left out is that track officials removed 26 percent of its available grandstand seating for this year’s race. Auto Club Speedway used to have a grandstand seating capacity of 92,000. Now that figure is more in the ballpark of 68,000.
According to estimates, last year’s race attracted a higher attendance than this year’s capacity. The 2013 race drew an estimated 85,000 fans. That figure was the highest for the track in over 10 years. So is selling out 68,000 seats something to brag about? But I digress.
What, exactly, got the sport to the point that tracks are somewhat skewing facts to make lower attendance figures sound good? I’m sure it’s a number of things. But does race length have anything to do with it? Are a lot of races, simply, too long? After all, ACS was one of those tracks that had its race shortened from 500 to 400 miles, and last year, the facility boasted its highest attendance in more than a decade.
If you aske me, that’s the number the track should be boasting, not this weekend’s misleading “sellout.” But that’s not the point, here.
Anywhere, there are other factors that could have led to Auto Club Speedway’s attendance boost. For one, the track lost one of its races a few years ago. Sprint Cup teams used to race twice in Fontana. Recently, though, the track lost one of its dates and only hosts one race a year. Were two races a year too much for the fans at Auto Club Speedway? With ticket prices as high as they are, maybe a lot of area NASCAR fans simply decided to limit their attendance to one of the races.
Another reason could be better racing. While, as a whole, NASCAR fans have been complaining that racing hasn’t been as good recently as it used to be. They’re pretty vocal about it on social media after it seems like almost every race anymore. But racing at ACS seems to be getting better. Saturday’s Nationwide Series race was proof-positive of that. After that race, many fans took to social media to call it the best race in quite some time. Heck, for many, it was so exciting that many of that series’ fans that complain about Sprint Cup drivers winning all the Nationwide races seemed to forget that race winner Kyle Larson is one of those Sprint Cuppers.
The issue of race length was explored by the media earlier in the Auto Club Speedway race weekend, I guess because of this “sellout” of ACS and one of the factors possibly being race length, with the track having its yearly race shortened by 100 miles.
In case you’re wondering, Carl Edwards is in the “current race lengths are fine” camp, while fellow-competitor Ryan Newman thinks at least some races should be shorter. Here’s what they said about it:
“No, longer is better. It is supposed to be a test of man and machine. People pay good money for the tickets and ought to make an afternoon out of it. To me, I don’t know, I guess some people might be jaded that come to the racetrack every week and only think about going home but for me racing, to finish a 500-miler somewhere that is special. That is what NASCAR is about to me. It is supposed to take a whole afternoon.” — Carl Edwards
“Shortening the length of our races would be great for our sport and great for the fans. It would build the excitement sooner. And I don’t think it would necessarily change the outcome, I think it would just intensify our sport.” — Ryan Newman
Personally I think the idea of race lengths is all about perspective. For someone watching the races at home on TV, they may seem a little too long. Cut out that boring middle and get to the action, already! On the other hand, for fans who drive five-plus hourse to get to the track to watch the race in person, is traveling five hours to watch a race that is completed in two to two-and-a-half hours worth my time and money? Maybe I should just stay at home.
Of course, that brings up another question. Which is more important, the TV viewer or the fans at the track?
Oh well, guess it’s just a case in which you can’t please all the people all the time and you can’t please some of the people anytime.
Are races too long? Are they just right in length? Any other gripes? We want to know. Tell us on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner