When the checkered flag finally waved at Homestead-Miami Sunday night bringing to an end the rain/lightening delayed Dixie Vodka 400, it also signaled the end to one of the longest and toughest eight days of racing in the Cup Series in recent memory.
This is NASCAR’s way of playing catchup with the schedule after having to postpone or cancel 14 points races plus the All-Star Race to ensure that the schedule would still feature 36 races.
This stretch of races kicked off last Sunday with a 500-mile race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and was followed on Wednesday by a 500-lap race at Martinsville Speedway’s short track under the lights.
The quick turnaround was made even tougher by the hot temperature that awaited the Series as it rolled into the Virginia track for a night race.
Atlanta’s 500 miles of racing made the quick two-day turnaround even tougher and it has to once again raise the question of why some tracks are still hosting 500-mile races even though their races are not considered to be one of the crown jewels on the schedule or a race with a special history. 500 miles use to be the benchmark for races in the sport but over the years, tracks like Pocono and Dover have reduced their races to 400 miles without any backlash from either fans or drivers. 400 miles just makes more sense today especially since the sanctioning body has divided each race into three stages with points being awarded at the conclusion of each.
Now when the green flag drops there is no just putting in laps trying to be there at the end, a driver has to race just as hard in the opening laps as he does in the closing laps as every point earned could be the difference of making it into the playoffs.
Reducing the length of the 500-mile races would have to be a positive for the sport’s broadcast partners who have struggled to keep people in front their televisions in recent seasons.
Shorter races and stage racing makes for a better package for fans watching from home and reduces the amount of time that a fan has to commit to watch a race from start to finish.
Four hours may be stretching the amount of time that a race can keep a fan’s attention in front of his television. Martinsville was a 500-lap race that happen to fall on a very hot June night and it was evident when the drivers exited their cars after the race that the heat had taken a toil on many of them.
Normally a driver would have a week to recover and get his body ready to race again but the schedule took them to Homestead-Miami to compete in the heat and humidity of south Florida.
It was the first time since the 2002 season that the championship was not decided at Miami in the season ending race. The series now has a week to recover and regroup before it goes to Talladega on Sunday in what is one of the most anticipated stops on the redesigned schedule.
NASCAR had originally planned to have one practice session before racing at the fastest track on the schedule but announced over the weekend that the race would follow the same schedule that has been used since the resumption of racing at every race with the exception of Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600.
There will be no practice or qualifying for what has always been one of the most exciting races on the entire schedule that is known for having multi-car wrecks and white-knuckle finishes.
PIT NOTES: Denny Hamlin’s win in the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami was his third win of the season and the 40th of his career. He dominated the race as he started from the pole and won both stages while leading a total of 137 laps. He sits sixth in the points at this time but leads all drivers with the all-important Playoff Points with 18. Playoff points remain with a driver through the first nine race of the ten-race playoff portion of the schedule.