Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, called the refusal to shorten races at tracks such as Pocono Raceway, which at 500 miles has long been considered by drivers to be 100 miles too long, “this huge pink elephant nobody wants to talk about.”
But he speculated that promises made with handshakes long ago had given many tracks lifetime agreements to host two 500-mile races a year. And the monetary issues, Earnhardt said, made it impossible to shorten a 38-race season that runs from February to November.
“I think that the financial rewards from having the season as it is are too great,” Earnhardt said. “It’s almost as if each race is a limb that you can’t amputate. It’s too big a deal to shorten the season. There’s tons of money involved and tons of livelihoods involved, and people’s careers.
“I don’t believe we’ll ever see a shorter season. I think in my lifetime we’ll see shorter races across the board at 85 percent of the events, but never a shorter season.”
Only France bristled at the notion that there are larger issues confronting NASCAR than a need to simplify the points system.
“There’s a positive start to the season,” he quipped. “Look, we’re very satisfied with the most important thing: the level of competition. Obviously, we want to be trending up, not down. And television ratings … we want to see a lot of things with attendance improve.
“We’re 63-years-old. Every sport is going to have periods where, for lots of reasons, you’re in a peak or a valley. We’re going to have moments where you can select something that’s not going well. That’s fine. But we are on our course to deliver the most exciting racing in the world, and we’re going to get there.”
NASCAR president Mike Helton insisted the sport’s leadership is hard at work addressing the sport’s problems, even if no solutions were offered Wednesday night.
“Everything we do is to make the sport better for the entire community. Everything we don’t do doesn’t mean we’re never going to,” Helton said. “We know we have issues to address. I promise you, we haven’t spent the last 365 days just working on these topics that we announced. There’s a lot of moving parts and pieces that we deal with every day.”
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