NASCAR finally releases start times, and they're familiar

Good news! NASCAR has released the start times for its entire slate of races for the 2011 season — without a moment to spare — and the times will look very familiar from last year.

During the regular season, Sprint Cup races in Eastern and Central venues will start at 1 p.m. ET, while Western events will start at 3 p.m. ET. Evening races will begin at 7:30 p.m., with the exception of the Coca-Cola 600, which will begin at 6 pm. ET on May 29. As previously announced, the Sprint Cup races will start at either 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Eastern so as not to conflict with NFL kickoffs ... if, indeed, there are NFL kickoffs.

As for broadcast partners, let the wailing begin. Fox will handle the first 13 races of the season, running from Daytona to Kansas in June. TNT will pick up the next six races, including the first-ever Kentucky Speedway Sprint race. And ESPN and ABC will handle the final 17 races. Of that total, 14 will be on ESPN and only 3 will be on ABC, a tough blow for those who believe that putting races on cable impacts ratings.

On the Nationwide front, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 will handle 33 of the 34 races. The outlier is the Richmond April race, which conflicts with the NBA Playoffs and -- try not to cringe -- the NFL draft. Yes, we can hear your wailing about mistreatment from here. SPEED will take the broadcast duties for that race. SPEED will also handle all 25 races in the Camping World Truck Series.

We've hammered this point home over and over; consistency is key to NASCAR's continued survival. People are too busy to look up race times every week. (Yes, yes, we know you do it, but you're special.) People want to be able to drop down in front of the TV at X time and know that there'll be racing on then. This isn't perfect, but it doesn't screw things up too badly.

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