By Jared Turner
It would seem pretty appropriate if most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were, in fact, “sprints.”
Don’t be fooled by the formal name of NASCAR’s premier division, however.
“Sprint” is the title sponsor of NASCAR’s No. 1 series – not an adjective that describes races hosted by most of the series’ tracks.
In 2015, only seven Sprint Cup venues (New Hampshire, Richmond, Martinsville, Bristol, Phoenix, Watkins Glen, Sonoma) host races with distances falling under 400 miles.
But sometimes in NASCAR – as with life, in general – less is actually more.
No track on the Sprint Cup Series calendar has proven this better than New Hampshire Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s New Hampshire 301.
At 1.058 miles in length, NHMS is the sixth shortest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tour.
The Loudon, N.H., facility also hosts two of the shortest races in terms of time and distance.
It should therefore come as no surprise that drivers are generally big fans of the popular oval known as “The Magic Mile.”
Part of the magic of racing at New Hampshire is being done within a reasonable amount of time.
“I think it’s the right number of laps, the right race time for that sized racetrack,” said veteran driver turned NBC NASCAR analyst Jeff Burton, a four-time winner at NHMS. “That’s not the same number of laps another race track may be successful at, but I think for that track – the shape of it, the size of it, all those things – I think they’ve got the lap count right and they didn’t get caught up in chasing a big 500 (mile) number.
“I don’t know what that’s all about, but some people just feel like they’ve got to have a 500. New Hampshire didn’t get caught up in that. They built the race the right length, and I think it’s the right length for that type track.”
While some tracks host 400- or 500-mile races for the sake of tradition or more air time for advertises, NHMS never bought into the idea that longer is better – even several years ago when lengthier races were trendier.
NHMS, which joined the Sprint Cup schedule in 1993 and is now the site of the second race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, has never hosted a race longer than 301 laps – that’s 318.458 miles – in length.
Compare that with 400-mile events at tracks such as Dover and Chicagoland, for example, and 500-mile events at places such as Darlington and Talladega, and the difference is significant.
“I think 300 (miles) at that track is really good,” Hendrick Motorsports driver and former New Hampshire winner Kasey Kahne said. “I think for whatever reason, it never really seems like a real short race to me, driving. Maybe it’s just how the cars drive and whatever. I don’t know, but it doesn’t really seem like a short race. So I think that’s a good amount of laps right where we’re at.”
In addition to creating an abbreviated work day for drivers, the race distance places a premium on staying near the front of the pack, which in turn adds extra excitement for the fans watching from the stands or tuning in on television. Fall behind and there’s simply not a lot of time to recover.
“You’ve got to get up on the wheel and stay there for the whole 300 miles,” said NHMS general manager Jerry Gappens. “You can’t really afford to just put in some laps halfway through it. Some of these longer-distance events, there’s a period of time where I think they kind of settle in, they whip some laps off and then get ready for the last 25 percent of the race. Our race is over quick.”