Updated: May 28, 2012, 2:24 PM ET

How do you repair competition issues?

Newton By David Newton
ESPN.com
Archive

Trevor BayneChris Graythen/Getty ImagesRacing in tight quarters hasn't meant much mayhem on tracks 1.5 miles or longer in the Sprint Cup Series this season. Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 wasn't any different.

CONCORD, N.C. -- Before Sunday's fastest-ever Coca-Cola 600, before Kasey Kahne joined the impressive list of winning drivers for Hendrick Motorsports, the newest member of NASCAR's Hall of Fame made a comment that many of you latched on to.

That at least one driver latched on to, as well.

Rusty Wallace, when asked what he thought about the state of NASCAR, said the season was too long. He suggested less is better, that 32 races instead of 36 would make for a more compelling season for the fans and the drivers.

Many of you on Twitter agreed. Brad Keselowski responded with, "Yes, please."

Sorry to say, that's not going to happen anytime soon. The governing body has no plans to reduce the schedule or the money four races bring to its pocketbook.

NASCAR's big issue, one chairman Brian France addressed a week ago before the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and was reaffirmed in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 that was run in a record 3 hours, 51 minutes and 17 seconds, is aerodynamics.

That's especially true at 1.5-mile tracks such as CMS that make up a majority of the schedule.

Because the cars are so equal, because downforce and clean air gives the lead car a huge advantage, because it's so difficult to pass, because the drivers are so skilled they seldom wreck anymore, these races turn into long green-flag runs without much of the slam-bang action fans have been accustomed to.

Sunday's race took almost five less minutes to complete than the previous record for a 600 in 1995, only 53 minutes longer to finish than the Indianapolis 500 took with a hundred less miles in cars that went about 25 mph faster.

Were it not for four debris cautions -- the only other caution was a single-car accident -- the race would have been over well before the 10 p.m. local news.

It continued a season-long trend that has NASCAR's recently-challenged Research and Development shop searching for ways to improve competition. Making the cars tougher to handle, putting the drivers back in control instead of the machines, might be a good place to start, as some have suggested.

The weekly "why are there not more wrecks" questions have become so much a part of news conferences that Denny Hamlin offered comic relief after finishing more than four seconds behind Kahne in second.

"Everybody is trying to make last call," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said when asked why once again it was such a clean race.

The 600 was so clean and over so fast that Kahne had time to make last call after more than two hours of postrace interviews.

"Everyone is so used to these cars now," Hamlin said in a more serious tone. "At the beginning, these cars were a tremendous handful to drive. Obviously, we saw some wrecks because of it, especially on restarts.

"Bottom line, everyone is so concerned with points nowadays, you know if you wreck and you finish in the 30s, you're going to take 10 races to get that back. Everyone's just a little bit more patient on restarts, as crazy as that sounds. It's just not as wild on restarts as it used to be a couple years ago. Everyone is minding their Ps and Qs, trying to get the best finish out of their day, knowing the one thing you can't overcome in a race is a crash."

Kahne agreed, saying the number of drivers experienced with the car that was introduced in 2007 has gotten to the point that "drivers keep the cars under 'em."

The most heated action in Sunday's race happened on pit road. Kahne avoided disaster when he and Carl Edwards almost collided late. Tony Stewart had to do a donut-type burnout to get back into his pit box after a tap from Keselowski.

"You have to be consistent in this sport," said Kahne, whose average finish of 5.5 over the last six races has put him back into Chase contention after a disastrous start. "It's how the points are. You have to finish races. If you're crashing, you're not finishing, you're losing points."

Perhaps the solution is as simple as some have suggested. Cut back the spoiler and take away the splitter to make these cars a handful again.

Or perhaps it'll all be taken care of when the 2013 car is introduced.

And not everybody is complaining. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is loving that he already has nine top-10s, three fewer than he had all of last season, and is fourth in the standings. Greg Biffle is loving that he is first in the standings with seven top-5s, more than double what he had a year ago.

But fans, judging by comments, aren't loving everything they're seeing -- particularly at 1.5-mile tracks.

There hasn't been a multicar wreck in 2,353 miles of Cup racing on 1.5- and 2-mile ovals in 2012 between Las Vegas, Fontana, Texas, Kansas and Charlotte.

Perhaps Wallace was on to something. Shorten the schedule, preferably by four intermediate tracks. Provide more short-track action that encourages contact, that creates more of a supply versus demand scenario for fans.

As Keselowski tweeted, "Yes, please."

David Newton column: He told you so | Live! rewind | Recap | Results | Highlights

Nationwide Series: Former IndyCar star on the move

Don't look now but there's a former IndyCar star making a move in the standings.

Not Danica Patrick, although she has climbed to ninth.

Check out Sam Hornish Jr. His ninth-place finish in Saturday's race at CMS was his fifth top-10 of the season and left him in fourth place, 57 points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

He's quietly having the kind of season owner Roger Penske was hoping for when he said last year he'd like to get Hornish back fulltime in Cup in 2013.

Hornish attempted full Cup seasons from 2008 to 2010, never finishing higher than 28th in points. Penske believes the former Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion was rushed into the top series, and that a full season in Nationwide will better prepare him for a second attempt.

So far, so good.

Patrick also is on the rise. Her 13th-place finish after a rough start continued her gradual climb up the standings after being 17th seven races ago. She showed perhaps more maturity than at any point of her career Saturday when she took leadership of the team after a meltdown by crew chief Tony Eury Jr. over a bad pitstop.

But the biggest winner of the day was Elliott Sadler. Stenhouse broke a driveshaft that left him 26th, allowing Sadler to pick up 21 points on the defending series champion with his ninth top-10 in 11 races.

By the way, rumors that Stenhouse might be headed to Stewart Haas Racing in 2013 are just that. Roush Fenway Racing officials say there are no plans to let their rising star go, and the plan remains to put Stenhouse in the No. 6 Cup car next year if sponsorship is found.

Recap | Results | Highlights

Camping World Truck Series: Gearing up for Dover

The series will resume Friday at Dover. Justin Lofton leads the standings by one point over Timothy Peters.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?