Schedule length NASCAR's biggest issue

Jay Hart
Yahoo! Sports

In response to an email last week touting the excitement of an IRL race over NASCAR, I wrote the following: "I have just one thing to say: 300 miles vs. 500, if you know what I mean."

Apparently a lot of you don't know what I mean, so let me try to clear that up before we dig into this week's mailbag.

Sprint Cup races, in my opinion, are too long. A few weeks ago at Bristol, Jeff Burton said as much and explained why rather well: "It just seems to me that when you get to the point where you're starting to get closer to the end of the race, stuff picks up. I don't think it's a coincidence that we have more cautions in the last part of the race than we do in the first part of the race. The quicker we can get the drivers into the position of now's the time to go, the better the racing is going to be."

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Sunday night's 500-mile race at Atlanta is a perfect example. Toward the end of the race, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson were battling three-wide in what had to be some of the best action all season. Problem is, we had to sit through two-plus hours of inaction – and nearly four hours total – to get there.

So when I say 300 miles vs. 500, I'm actually praising the IRL for getting it right.

Hope that clears it up. Now, let's get to this week's mail:

What to change

If you could change one thing in NASCAR next season, what would it be: shorten the length of the races, shorten the length of the season, change the way points are awarded, or changes to the Chase?

I would love to see them make changes to the CoT so that the cars actually look like the cars on the street, but that will never happen because NASCAR has too much invested in the CoT to admit that they need to make some changes.

Michael Koltuniak
Plymouth, Mich.

Great question. I'd love to see all three changes you mention at the outset, but if I had to choose only one, I'd start with the length of the season. While I do think asking fans to invest four hours of their Sunday to watching a race on television is too much, it pales in comparison to asking them to stick with you from February through November, especially when a good chunk of the "regular season" doesn't mean as much because of the Chase.

Let me use college football as an example. I was glued to the TV Monday night for Boise St. and Virginia Tech because the game carried championship implications for both teams. And this was their first game of the season. Rarely does NASCAR reach that kind of intensity. It does for the Daytona 500, just because we want to see who wins the Daytona 500. And it potentially could for the final race of the regular season to see who gets into the Chase, though that won't be the case this year. And there's potential for drama as the Chase builds, though that hasn't happened since 2004.

What I'm getting at is this: Just as the length of races waters down the action, so does the length of the season. And the length of the Chase for that matter, too. Do you realize that when the Chase begins, the NFL will be in Week 2? When it ends, the NFL's regular season will be nearly 70-percent complete.

We live in a world where attention spans are short and instant gratification is a must, and NASCAR isn't providing either with the way things are set up.

Does race length matter?

"I have just one thing to say: 300 miles vs. 500, if you know what I mean." – Jay Hart And here's my response to that: A-FREAKING-MEN!!! Hey NASCAR, your races are too dang long!

Fix it now!

Charlotte, N.C.

300 miles vs. 500, eh? So, I guess you're saying that it's about quantity, not quality.

Brett F.
South Carolina

Exactly the opposite. Just like with fine wine or 30 acres of cookie-cutter homes in a brand new subdivision, quality is tough to recreate when you're dealing with mass quantities. NASCAR is no different.

Jimmie playing possum?

Jay, do you think Jimmie Johnson's been "playing possum" since his last win? Before you dismiss this idea out of hand, hear me out. He won five races early in the season, and has never been a threat to fall out of the top 12 leading up to the Chase.

With five wins, he's been at the head of the class, with only Denny Hamlin threatening his top spot going into the Chase. At Atlanta, when Hamlin might've been knocking on the door of victory number six, Johnson was always within striking distance. When Hamlin's engine blew up, Jimmie actually went for the lead, then settled back and finished third.

So do you think that, since the points reset after Richmond anyway, that Jimmie's been laying back and not "using his stuff up," since working harder now wouldn't really benefit him a great deal once the Chase starts?

Mark D. Knight
New Salisbury, Ind.

Absolutely not, and here are several reasons why:

1. Playing "possum" is a dangerous game when you're trying to collect enough points just to qualify for the Chase.

2. Johnson's struggles on the intermediate tracks began after the re-introduction of the spoiler. It's taken him some time to adjust.

3. He hasn't been laying down on the short tracks, so why would you think he's doing so on the intermediate tracks?

Is a no-win championship legit?

Jay, I couldn't disagree more with you saying that NASCAR fans will absolutely not accept a champion that has not won races. You may not but there are a lot of fans that will. Many who follow NASCAR know how hard it is to win a championship, winning it without winning a race may actually harder – less points in any race means less chance of having the most points at the end of the season. And let's face it, nobody is going to win a championship running 15th each week.

There are fans who watch races and there are fans who follow NASCAR. Those who watch races will object. Those who follow NASCAR will most likely not – Jay Hart excluded. Just my opinion.

Wilson Jones
Rochester, N.Y.

You make a good point that the more diehard racing fan probably has a better understanding of what it takes to win a title than the casual fan. But you can't discount the casual fan who is going to look at the standings, see five wins (or more) in Jimmie Johnson's win column and wonder, "How can a guy with no wins beat a guy with five?" To them, it not only doesn't make sense, but it's a farce. I talk to these types every day. It's one reason why they don't "get" NASCAR.

Is it really all on Brad Keselowski?

Hi, reference the "It's all on Brad" video. Have we all forgotten about Dale Sr.? He got away with far worse and was glorified for it, even bringing a lot of NASCAR's present popularity with that same type of "intimidation."

Coverage like that video reminds me how sterile professional racing is becoming. Drivers and the media want the money and glory without producing the exciting product.

Bill Pitts
Orlando, Fla.

You got me thinking with this, Bill, especially considering I'm one of those who was drawn to NASCAR because of Earnhardt's style. I'm not so much condemning Brad as I am explaining why trouble keeps finding him. But that's not what I said on the video you're referencing.

So here's my take on Keselowski:

For starters, he's never going to get away with as much as Earnhardt did simply because he doesn't have Big E's charisma. Sorry, but the court of public opinion matters, and I don't see Keselowski ever being a favorite there.

He also doesn't have the resumé that Earnhardt had, even when Earnhardt was making waves as the brash young Ironhead. Remember, Earnhardt won a championship in his second season.

That said, it bothers me to no end when I hear drivers complaining about someone "racing them too hard." After watching the video of Todd Bodine spinning out in Friday night's truck race, I still have no clue what Kyle Busch did that was "dirty."

But I do think that Keselowski has, at times, crossed the line from hard to dirty racing. Not that he's alone in doing so. The difference is he hasn't given a lot of respect yet, so he's not getting much in return. When he starts showing that he's more than a bull in a china shop, Keselowski will start getting the benefit of the doubt more often.

On a side note, I think it's fascinating that a guy who doesn't have a single top-10 finish in a Cup race this season gets so much attention. What I take from that is the Nationwide Series is doing something right.

Last call …

Seeing the way Brad Keselowski drives makes me miss Dale Sr. even more. I can't help but envision how Dale would deal with Mr. Brad.

Tustin, Calif.

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