It may be too late to recover much of the media coverage lost in the last two years, but NASCAR made a wise move this week by working with its many television partners to put a little consistency in race start times.
Inconsistent starting times, anywhere from 2 to 8 p.m., have left fans in recent seasons feeling a bit lost. Do they race on Saturday? Sunday afternoon? Sunday night? Admittedly, despite being on the inside of the sport, I often have found myself having to look up starting times at different times of the season.
I remember when the Daytona 500 would start at noon and legions of longtime fans would plan their Sundays around it. Just in the past few seasons the start time has migrated from noon to 1 to 2 and lately close to 3. It's all about television, of course, which wants to get the most bang for its many bucks.
Later starts, TV folk say, gives more people (i.e., the West Coast) a chance to watch races. It's hard to argue with that, but the downside is, unlike the NFL, you never know when a race is coming on. I know each Sunday the NFL early starts will kick off at 1 p.m. Eastern with the second games starting at or just after 4. Quick - and don't look it up - when does the race at California start Sunday?
That won't be a big problem starting next year, when 21 of the 36 races will start at 1:15 Eastern. Seven additional races will start earlier next year, and there finally is a rule we can follow: Races in the Eastern and Central time zones will start at 1:15, West Coast races will start at 3:15 Eastern and night races will begin at 7:45. One exception is the Coca-Cola 600, which has a 5:45 start time.
Later starting times have been a part of the media's exit from week-to-week coverage of Sprint Cup races, though the economic impact on the newspaper industry is a bigger one. But while the media may not return in full force any time soon, the consistent starts surely will help fans.