Wednesday, January 13, 2010

500 miles vs. 400 miles at Fontana

Will fewer laps equal more excitement for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana?
The length of the race isn’t what saps the Cup races at Fontana of excitement. The lack of side-by-side racing and passes for the lead does.
The October race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana is being reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles. Part of the reason for the change, it can be assumed, is to reduce the cost for teams in the race.
But while Fontana is taking away 50 laps, Phoenix International Raceway is adding 63 laps to its race in April. It’s not like NASCAR is making the season shorter, mileage-wise anyway.
“Racing is as much about strategy as it is about pure speed,” said Bryan Sperber, president of Phoenix International Raceway. “This new distance ushers in a whole new race at PIR and will likely jumble the conventional wisdom about who can win at Phoenix.”
The change in distance might alter the strategy of teams at Phoenix. But how much will it change the strategy at Fontana? The track is already a fuel-mileage track. Now engineers and crew chiefs will have to figure out how far a car can go for 400 miles instead of 500. The strategy won’t change that much.
But give NASCAR a little credit for trying to make racing a little more competitive. In addition to changing the distance of two races, NASCAR is considering changing the rear wing on the cars to a spoiler.
Will that affect racing at Fontana? Probably not. The spoiler didn’t affect racing that much before the Car of Tomorrow at Fontana. Passing and lead changes were difficult with a spoiler and even harder with a wing.
The NASCAR media will cheer the change from 500 miles to 400 miles at Fontana. Some fans might share the joy. But what is so wrong with a long race?
It’s easy to see how some fans who only go to one or two races a year would rather see 500 miles of racing instead of 400. Extra-inning baseball games, overtime football games, tie games in playoff hockey are all inherently exciting. NASCAR races that are 500 miles are not always that exciting. The 500-mile NASCAR races at Fontana fall into that category.
Perhaps fewer laps will lead to more exciting races at Fontana. If history is any indicator, the number of laps drivers turn at Fontana doesn't create more drama or more excitement. But 400 miles will make it easier for NASCAR fans in Fontana to make it home for Sunday Night Football. 

Photo: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No 24 DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet, Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, and Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet, lead the field in a late-race double-file restart, shootout style during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday in Fontana, Calif. (Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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