NASCAR Richmond 2013: Sprint Cup short track events would benefit from shootout style race lengths

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR races last entirely too long. This is especially true for short track races -- like Richmond -- that would benefit from the shorter, shootout-style length made popular at the grassroots level.

Those who attended or watched the Sprint Cup event from Richmond on Saturday night were only treated to about half a good race. That's because the action on the track was mostly uninteresting until 100 laps were remaining.

That's when the decisive strategy calls were made and hard racing for position started to take shape.

The first 300 laps were largely a ho-hum affair with drivers adjusting to changing track conditions and mostly trying to stay out of trouble. As a result, two drivers -- Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer - combined to lead over 210 of those laps combined.

So why not cut those first 100 laps (70 miles) from the race altogether and manufacture a true Saturday night shootout benefitting a short track like Richmond. The reasons to do so are countless.

First, shorter races increase the importance of qualifying. Earning a top spot and maintaining it throughout the course of a race will be paramount - no more riding in the middle of the pack. While a benefit to teams, the current length of Sprint Cup races allow for teams to rebound from an early mistake and contend despite their problems.

Aren't these guys are the best in the world -- do we really need to give them a mulligan?

Meanwhile, shorter distances at a track like Richmond would give some of the underfunded teams who execute a mistake-free race a chance to hang with the big boys.

How many times over the past two seasons have we seen Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski run into early trouble and still earn a respectable finish purely on the merit of their horsepower and better-equipped teams? We tend to call those ‘championship-winning performances' but they often come at the expense of a smaller team who didn't make a mistake all race long.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Saturday's race was watching Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch challenge for the win based entirely on attrition. That's closer to the spirit of NASCAR than countless second-chances for the championship favorites over the course of 500 miles.

A shorter race would also reward teams that avoid pit road penalties as well. Currently, an early pit road mistake amounts to a slap on the wrist if the team has enough motor and sufficient laps to rebound.

But most importantly, a shorter race will ensure that drivers don't have the option to sit on their thumbs and wait for the race to come to them -- especially on a short track.
Dating back to races like the Indianapolis 500 and the World 600, the marathon race was designed to test the limits of man and machine. While man is still prone to the occasional folly over 500 miles, the modern day stock car is not.

NASCAR realizes this as well with the recent deductions to races at Pocono Speedway last year.

This is especially important on short tracks, which was founded on the values of the shootout. Those are the same principles that NASCAR was built upon and made the sport so popular in the first place.

Most importantly, modern fans just have shorter attention spans and more to do. The 500-mile marathons worked fine when fans didn't have options but those days are long gone. Other sports have begun to recognize this too with football restricting timeouts and Major League Baseball shortening the length of mound visits. NASCAR could benefit from similar legislation.

Saturday's race clocked-in at just under four hours but only the last one provided the fireworks and entertainment. NASCAR has the chance to maximize the value of its competitive new car and make every lap count -- not just the last 100 like we saw on Saturday at Richmond.

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