DARLINGTON, S.C. – When are 500-mile races too long?
If one asks some Cup drivers, it would be those not named the Daytona 500, Cook Out Southern 500 (NASCAR’s oldest 500-mile race) and the Coca-Cola 600.
“In my opinion, there’s just a few races that you just can’t change. Darlington is one of them,” said 2016 Southern 500 winner Martin Truex Jr. “There’s the Daytona 500, there’s the Southern 500, there’s the Coke 600, and there’s the Brickyard 400. Those names and numbers go together, right?”
Those four races are also known as NASCAR’s crown jewels, even though the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is – well – 400 miles, instead.
On NASCAR’s current cup schedule, 13 events have at least 500 miles or laps. Those with at least 500 miles are the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500, both Phoenix races, both Talladega races, both Texas races and the one at Atlanta, Those with 500 laps (but fewer miles) are both Martinsville races (500 laps/263 miles) and both at Bristol (500 laps/266 miles).
After scrambling to catch up on races because of the pandemic, there were shorter races, at times. Darlington’s two spring races were 400 miles and 500 kilometers, respectively). There were also doubleheader weekends, featuring shorter races.
““As I’ve seen it this year, we’ve run some of these doubleheader weekends with shorter races and, to be honest with you, for us being a little bit off at the start of these races, it’s like right at the end, right on that last set of tires, it’s like (dang), we finally just got it,” said Kyle Busch, who won the 2008 Southern 500. “ So it’s like, man, I wish I had one more run. These races to me, even if they’re 311 or 330 miles or whatever some of them have been this year, to me, it’s kind of like that’s almost too short. I don’t think 400 miles is too long, but certainly the 500-mile races, we don’t need to be adding more 500-mile races.
“If we are adding races, they do need to be more towards the 400 range, 350 or 400 range and that’s just my opinion, but that’s how I look at it. The upper echelon races like Darlington, the Coke 600, the Daytona 500 – those races should stay those lengths, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a few of those.”
Regular-season champion Kevin Harvick, who also won Darlington’s Real Heroes 400 in May, said 500-mile races should only be crown jewels.
“There’s no reason that any race outside of a crown jewel race is longer than 500 miles,” Harvick said. “It’s not something that is really even necessary in today’s day and age. The race, I’ll use Texas for example, 500 miles at Texas it takes forever to run that race and do the things that we do there, and we’ve all learned — and the fans and sponsors even look at it and they’re like, ‘Man, it just seems more intense when the races are a little shorter.’
“But when you look at the Daytona 500 and you look at the Coke 600 and the Southern 500, those races obviously have a different type of meaning to our sport than some of the other races that have been added through the years. I think the distance of 500 miles at a lot of these races is definitely too long.”