Craig Murto: NASCAR president addresses start times

Craig Murto

Brent Dewar, NASCAR’s new president, addressed the issue of NASCAR starting times when pressed about it in New Hampshire.

NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series races have been starting later and later, with at least 13 Cup races in 2017 starting no earlier than 3 p.m.

Dewar’s reasoning was that it is better for fans on the West Coast. He also noted that the compromise has to be reached with television networks as well.

Fan reaction in unofficial polling is half and half. Most of the support for later starting times comes from fans on the West Coast, though some prefer earlier starting times so the race can be finished and they still have time to do something with their day.

Starting Cup races later in the day means they end later in the day, and that deters a lot of fans from traveling to see the races in person. If you had a six-hour drive home from a racetrack and had to be at work on Monday morning, are you more likely to attend a race that ends at 5 p.m. or one that ends at 7:30? Obviously the concession is made for the TV money and television audience, not for the fans in the stands.

Fans in the stands at Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland saw Kyle Lear score his first Late Model Sportsman win. This Saturday, Hagerstown features Late Models competing in the Red Nininger Memorial Tribute Hagerstown/Winchester Shootout.

To free its Late Model drivers to compete at Hagerstown, Winchester will host a five-division race program on Saturday night featuring Limited Late Models. Last weekend Jason Covert scored his first Late Model win at the track, beating Kenny Pettyjohn and Kyle Hardy. In Winchester’s crate-engine Late Model division, Tanner Kerr beat Allen Brannon and Scott Sweeney.

It’s a shame the Virginia Sprint Series doesn’t compete at Winchester anymore, but you can catch the exciting open-wheel cars all over the commonwealth, on both dirt and pavement. Last Saturday they ran on the clay at Eastside Speedway in Waynesboro, where Troy Severin scored his first win after a string of second-place finishes.

On pavement, Sergio Pena won the Late Model Stock Car feature at Shenandoah Speedway, and Cameron Burke won at Dominion Raceway. Between the two tracks there were 23 cars, 12 at Dominion and 11 at Shenandoah. It’s a shame the tracks can’t work together to help increase car counts across the board. Perhaps they can do as Southside Speedway in Richmond, and only run every other week.

Motor Mile Speedway in Radford only has seven scheduled events this year, but each race night hosts twin features. The most exciting race last Saturday was the first Late Model feature, in which Lee Pulliam traded paint with Philip Morris to end his drought in 2017. Both drivers showed respect for each other after the race, despite a longstanding rivalry.

Peyton Sellers scored the Late Model win at South Boston Speedway. South Boston, Motor Mile, Dominion and pretty much every paved NASCAR Late Model track in the region will be closed Saturday except for Langley Speedway in Hampton, which holds the ninth annual Hampton Heat 200.

The Hampton Heat race is round two of the Virginia Triple Crown, and top Late Model drivers from all over Virginia and the Carolinas are expected to compete. Former NASCAR Truck competitor Timothy Peters should be there, as well as former national champions Philip Morris, Peyton Sellers and Matt Bowling. Don’t be surprised if Lee Pulliam, another former national champion, enters the race.

Langley regulars and former American Speed Association competitors Danny and Greg Edwards will be there, as will Matt Waltz, C.E. Falk, Nick Smith and Casey Wyatt.

Langley Speedway is directly across from the NASA wind tunnel in Hampton, and only about a three-hour drive. The Hampton Heat race is always one of the most exciting races on the Late Model Stock Car calendar every year, and well worth the drive. Racing starts at 7 p.m., but I recommend you get there and get parked by 5, as it always gets crowded with race fans who appreciate good short track action.

Whether you go to Hampton, head out to Winchester or drive up to Hagerstown, be sure to visit a local speedway this weekend. Set your DVR to record Kyle Busch winning another late-starting Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis; you’ll have much more fun at the track.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.