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Is the finish really all that matters in racing?

By admin | March 28, 2011

By Richard Allen

The finish of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California was about as exciting as could be imagined. Kevin Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson in the last turn of the last lap for the win. Trouble was, the previous 195 laps leading up the race’s finale were hard to watch as very few positions were exchanged within the top-10 apart from pit stops and on restarts.

But was the finish good enough to erase the memory of the part of the race that led to it?

Apparently, NASCAR has decided that the finish of races will burn so deeply in the minds of fans that little else about the races matter. Hence, late race debris cautions, double-file restarts and multiple green/white/checker finishes have been used or implemented to assure the close finishes that will provide those burning memories.

In Sunday’s race in California, debris cautions were not needed as a spin by Andy Lally and a crash by Bobby Labonte in the late stages of the event took care of bunching the field. However, the use of double-file restarts proved to mix the top runners and allow Johnson and Harvick a shot at Kyle Busch, who had led the vast majority of the race only to see his lead erased by those late cautions and subsequent restarts.

But the question that has to be asked is, how many television viewers hung around to see that great finish on a day in which the NCAA Basketball Tournament was playing out on another network? Great finishes are, well, great. However, there has to be more to racing than just the final five laps.

If NASCAR is depending on winning more viewers and filling more grandstands with made for ESPN SportsCenter highlight finishes, their strategy seems to be backfiring. TV ratings have plummeted in recent years. After a brief recovery in ratings numbers, perhaps due to the feel good stories of wins by Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon early in the season, last week in Bristol saw a return to the downward trend as did the California race.

An old adage often used by local race track promoters is that if you give the fans a great finish one week they will come back the next week. The difference between local short tracks and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is that fans do not have to wade through 400-500 miles to get to that finish on the local tracks. And those local tracks are not dependent on a television network selling commercial time through the middle stretches of races.

Hopefully, there will be very few races like the one of this past Sunday, except for those last five laps of course.

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8 Responses to “Is the finish really all that matters in racing?”

  1. zhills fan Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 4:11 am

    Rich i think part of the problem are there are too many cookie cutter tracks and not enough Rockingham’s and South Boston’s. The problem with the mile and half and two mile tracks are they are so wide that you couldn’t get into trouble if you wanted too.

  2. Charles Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 6:17 am


    For me just having a good finish to mast a really boring race does not work!

    Dont get me wrong having a exciting finish is better than not having one! But Nascar being predictable is what is boring!

    With the advent of double file restarts has really put the focus on the end of the race!

    Like I said before, Nascar really needs to do something to make races more exiting in the usually boring ‘mid portains” of a race, spice up the show, pay incentives such as bonus points or lap money in that phase of the race!

    But as long as Nascar has this disconnect that we fans are going to see who wins the Chase instead of the race I dont think they will do anything!!!

  3. Ken Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 7:38 am

    NASCAR thinks the finish is what makes the race and Fox thinks showing the one car that wins makes the race. Who in their right mind is going to watch 3 or 4 hours of Tv to watch 5 minutes on actual racing and then only seeing one car cross the finish line.

  4. Russ Edwards Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 8:04 am

    I think Nascar is in an impossible position. For various reasons, the Chase and points racing have made real racing a thing of the past until after the final gas stop. (also have to wonder if the loss of sponsor exposure by an early wreck might fiqure in with the teams)

    They probably realize that the races need to be much shorter to retain the TV viewers attention. BUT, if the races are shorter it limits the ability to sell commercial time as well as the car sponsors may not be willing to pay as much.

    Not to mention at what point do the out of town fans decide they wont drive twice as long to a race as the race lasts.

    It will be interesting to see if/how they resolve it. Or if they resolve it because its not going away.

  5. The Mad Man Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 8:22 am

    More folks talk about the fight between Cale and the Allisons than they do about the race winner. Ted Musgrave parking his car at Homestead is still talked about versus who actually won. Folks still talk about how Sterling Marlin blew it when he bent his fender out with his hands during the red flag and not about the race winner. So events that happen during a race are just as important as the finish and with all the cookie cutter tracks and the generic cars we just aren’t seeing those.

  6. midasmicah Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 11:49 am

    It’s real hard to stay tuned to a race that, for the most part, was about as exciting as watching snails race. When the most action you see is in the final 5 laps of a 200 lap race something is seriously out of whack. Brian Farce and his cohorts in Daytona seem to be living in a bubble. The fans have spoken loudly as far as attending or watching a race, (or lack thereof), on tv and the boys in the bubble still don’t seem to get it. The phasing out of tracks like Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, where there was actual racing, turned a lot of long time fans off. And how about the progressive banking at Bristol, one of the few tracks left where there was plenty of beatin’ and bangin’. Wake up nas$car.

  7. the Bear Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Maybe, just maybe All of you who complain about the races out west have never attended one! I see some of the points,but if the TV wasn’t just trained on leader’s and just might realize that it’s not the race,but in fact the networks that make a race boring. Yes I do miss Rockingham…etc also, but GET OVER it…They ain’t com’n back. Travel to a west coast race and watch the action not shown on tv. I’ve done both and the excitement level was the same. Maybe thats just me….. (just sayin)!!!

  8. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I know that maybe, if maybe, I want a Halftime Break to keep all the race fresh in my memory because there is none of that culture war like there was 20 Years Ago, Rich and I still, in heart and soul, miss the Old ASA.