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Starting Times For 2010 Cup Races Will Be Pushed Back

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 7 2009
NASCAR chairman and CEO, photographed here in Daytona last year, said Wednesday that the starting times of races would be changed. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR chairman and CEO, photographed here in Daytona last year, said Wednesday that the starting times of races would be changed. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

NASCAR chairman Brian France announced Wednesday that starting times for Sprint Cup races in 2010 will be more standardized, with 28 of the 36 events beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern.

France, during a teleconference which also featured officials from all three of NASCAR’s “broadcast partners”, said the decision was based on feedback from the sport’s fan base.

“This is mostly for our core fans,” France said. “They want to start watching earlier in the afternoon.”

The 1 p.m. time will be when the pre-race invocation will be given. Green flags will drop from 15-20 minutes later.

The starting times will not apply to races held on the West Coast. Those races will begin at 3 p.m. Eastern.

France said that the new starting-time policy was not “simple” to birth. He said that the three networks which broadcast the races – ESPN/ABC, Fox and TNT – had to juggle existing programming to make the change.

But, the network executives on the teleconferences said, it was a move that had to be made.

“We believe this is something that will be very fan friendly that will help us” with ratings, John Skipper, executive vice president of content for ESPN, said.

Ratings for Sprint Cup rates have trended downward in recent years and none of the three networks’ broadcasts have been immune.

David Hill, the chairman of Fox Sports, said he thinks he knows why.

“I think we started to tamper with things we shouldn’t have,” Hill said, referring to pushing starting times later and later. “I raise my hand, guilty.”

Hill called NASCAR a sport with “wonderful, wonderful tradition. And he said the sport’s broadcast partners ignored that when it came to starting times.

“It wasn’t doing us any good with core fans,” Hill said.

Hill said that the switch back to more traditional starting times should lead to better ratings – eventually.

“I expect a ratings drop next year,” Hill said. “But we are interested in long-term growth. “We believe making this move will give us long-term growth.”

France was asked questions about other NASCAR issues during the press conference. He was asked about potential tweaks to the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship format.

He said he was pleased with the current formula and pointed to the fact that there are currently six drivers within 100 points of the Chase lead heading into the fourth of the 10 races.

“We’ve got to let this play out,” France said.

France also seemed to give the thumbs down to more two-day race weekends. He said while cutting out Friday events at tracks may save teams money, it could limit the ability of both track promoters and broadcasters to make money.

“Qualifying and practice are good content,” France said.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 7 2009
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