Change in NASCAR is often like a stalled car: It's slow when there's only one person pushing, but things can happen quickly once everyone gets behind it.
With a lack of industry leaders who are willing to take much of a risk, NASCAR is very much about copycats. There are many nervous Nellies are afraid to try something new, lest it upset the fan base even more.
Take the race tracks, for example. It seems that before jumping in the water, the decision-makers watch others dip their toes in to make sure it's safe. Once someone figures out it's warm, it's "Everyone in the pool!"
Thanks to Auto Club Speedway, though, other tracks may have just discovered that the water is quite comfortable. It's time for the other tracks to jump in.
Sunday's race at ACS was widely praised as one of the track's best-ever Cup events, an entertaining race that bucked the trend of borefests on the 2-mile oval.
Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but it was also the shortest race in speedway history – both in length and time.
The race, reduced from 500 miles to 400, finished in a tidy three hours, one minute and 53 seconds. The average time of a race in Fontana had been three hours, 33 minutes.
Tracks are worried that cutting length and time for races will upset the fans who paid good money to see some action. And though those fans were deprived of about a half-hour of racing, they didn't miss much action.
Check out this stat:
There were 23 lead changes on Sunday, which is as many or more than half the previous races in Auto Club Speedway history.
In addition, there were nine cautions (which are often indicative of action/spins/wrecks). That's as many or more than in 16 of the previous 20 Fontana races.
And all this in 400 miles.
Maybe reducing the length of the race wasn't the whole reason for the improved entertainment value. But it certainly had something to do with it.
The best part of any NASCAR race is the last 100 miles: Drivers are pushing the limits, scrambling for position and taking risks they wouldn't take earlier in the event.
By cutting off 100 miles, ACS basically fast-forwarded to the good stuff. It eliminated 30 minutes of potentially single-file racing, got to the most entertaining portion faster and still sent fans home happy.
Really, there should only be three races of 500 miles or more: Daytona, the Coke 600 and the Southern 500. Why do the rest need to be so long?
We all know the ratings have been down in the past few years. They've declined even further this season. And while this isn't the whole reason, a significant factor is NASCAR's marathon races have been hit by a confluence of societal changes.
People don't have the attention spans they once did and, at the same time, they have more entertainment options than ever.
In our interactive, on-demand society, we want the action now. Who has four hours to devote to sitting in front of the TV on a Sunday?
If you look at the ratings, the answer is apparently fewer and fewer of us.
Auto Club Speedway has spent years getting trashed by media, drivers, fans – pretty much everyone. It's been sharply criticized for its inability to draw attendance and for its yawn-worthy racing.
Don't you think there's a chance the two might be linked?
Let's give credit where credit is due today: Much-maligned ACS may have given us one of the first examples of how a shorter race can be a better one.
While it's too late for Fontana to get its Sprint Cup date back, at least other tracks can learn from the ACS example.
The water is warm. Everybody in the pool!
You too, Pocono.
A look at the race times of the 21 Cup races at Auto Club Speedway:
- Three hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds (Sunday's race)
- Three hours, 13 minutes, 32 seconds (1997)
- Three hours, 19 minutes, 38 seconds (1999)
- Three hours, 19 minutes, 53 seconds (2002)
- Three hours, 20 minutes, 50 seconds (2000)
- Three hours, 23 minutes, 43 seconds (Spring 2006)
- Three hours, 27 minutes, 40 seconds (Fall 2006)
- Three hours, 28 minutes, 28 seconds (Fall 2009)
- Three hours, 29 minutes, 37 seconds (2001)
- Three hours, 31 minutes, 24 seconds (Spring 2010)
- Three hours, 33 minutes, 57 seconds (1998)
- Three hours, 34 minutes, 7 seconds (2003)
- Three hours, 34 minutes, 45 seconds (Spring 2005)
- Three hours, 36 minutes, 3 seconds (Fall 2008)
- Three hours, 36 minutes, 41 seconds (Spring 2007)
- Three hours, 38 minutes, 33 seconds (Spring 2004)
- Three hours, 40 minutes, 51 seconds (Spring 2009)
- Three hours, 43 minutes, 42 seconds (Fall 2005)
- Three hours, 46 minutes, 4 seconds (Spring 2008)
- Three hours, 48 minutes, 8 seconds (Fall 2007)
- Three hours, 53 minutes, 47 seconds (Fall 2004)