Race fans at the maybe-half-filled Texas Motor Speedway were treated to, or rewarded with, a big fireworks show Sunday after watching Kevin Harvick win a dud of a NASCAR Cup playoff race, needing a mind-numbing, nap-inducing 3 hours 44 minutes 44 seconds to roll to victory in a 500-mile race.
Harvick led 119 of the 334 laps, and his margin of victory was a comfortable 1.594 seconds over Stewart-Haas teammate Aric Almirola. Harvick earned a berth in the Cup championship race at Homestead, Fla., for the fourth time in five years. Way to go, Kev!
But it was another long day at the track â too damn long. Six yellow flags in the first 84 laps did not help. By time, it was the fourth-longest race of the NASCAR season, the sixth race of the season of longer than 3Â˝ hours, and the 18th race of more than three hours. It takes too many miles to decide a Cup champ.
If NASCAR intends to keep 36 Cup races on a schedule that is far too long as it is, it needs to get serious about trimming race lengths. Eight races of 500 miles or more are too many. Two would be better: the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500, both mainstays.
Stock cars are so well-built and technologically sound that races are no longer endurance tests: 32 of 40 cars were running at the finish at Texas. There were 31 of 40 cars running at the finish of the seasonâs longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26.
Harvick, who started from the pole position, had a fast Ford, leading 73 of the last 80 laps and only giving up the lead in that time to make a pit stop. One car is not always that much faster than the rest of the pack, but Harvickâs final run was dominant, which meant it was kind of dull. And there was no post-race scuffle to stir things up this time.
Earlier in the day in Texas, 220 miles to the south, Valtteri Bottas won the U.S. Grand Prix Formula 1 race at Circuit of the Americas, near Austin with the British driver Lewis Hamilton clinching his sixth world championship by finishing second, 4.148 seconds behind Bottas.
That race took only 1 hour 33 minutes 55 seconds to finish, but it drew an estimated 110,000 fans, about twice as many as the NASCAR race. Formula 1 racing is exotic and held just once a year in the United States and three times a year in North America. But lots of people wanted to go.
Back in July, officials at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania announced that each of the two Cup races to be held there on a single weekend in 2020 would probably be at least 50 miles shorter than the 400-mile Cup races that have been held at the track since 2012.
The main reason is because teams will plan to use the same cars for both races, and 700 miles in a weekend is certainly less punishing than 800. But the races will be about a half-hour shorter, too, trimmed to about 2Â˝ hours each.
There have been only two Cup races completed under 2Â˝ hours this year: the rain-shortened July race at Daytona and the road-course race in August at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Races at Pocono used to be 500 torturous miles. The first Cup race I covered there was in June 1990, won by Harry Gant in his Skoal Bandit Oldsmobile in 4 hours 8 minutes. Later, Doc Mattioli, the late track owner, begrudgingly realized 400-milers could be just as entertaining as 500-milers.
The appeal of any auto race does not just rely on fast cars but also the concerts, the carnival-like midways, the camping and tailgating. Sporting events are better on TV if they donât drag on. People have a lot of other things to do with their time, too.
Had the Texas race been 400 miles instead of 500, it would have ended an hour earlier, and before nightfall, and there might have been even more incentive for drivers to make their moves. Harvick probably would have run away, anyway. But it would have been a better show, too.