January 16, 2021

by a NASCAR fanatic - not affiliated with NASCAR
Bristol Motor Speedway

MRN’s Pete Pistone says last week’s debut of heats in the XFINITY Series is a glimpse of what’s to come in NASCAR’s future. (Photo: Getty Images)

Last week’s debut of heats in the XFINITY Series is a glimpse of what’s to come in NASCAR’s future.

I don’t see any reason why a similar format can’t become a staple periodically across NASCAR’s top three divisions. It’s a perfect way to generate variety in the schedule and pump new energy into the sport.

The XFINITY Series “Dash 4 Cash” program designates four races (Bristol, Richmond, Dover and Indianapolis) as bonus events for series regulars to earn extra dough. But in addition to more money and a possible berth in the division’s new Chase format, the D4C now includes heats.

Two preliminary races set the starting lineup for the feature race while also determining which drivers are eligible for the Dash 4 Cash.

Truth be told, there wasn’t much drama or excitement in the 50-lap heat races that preceded Saturday’s Bristol main event. While there was racing in the back of the pack among series regulars trying to jockey for position and become eligible for the bonuses, not much else was going on as the winner in each race went virtually unchallenged.

NASCAR must find a way to put more immediacy into these races so all drivers have “skin in the game.”

Think about a heat race at your local short track. Those preliminaries leading up to the main event determine not just starting lineups but who makes the feature, because there’s usually elimination. A similar element injected into heat races at the upper levels of the sport would have a positive impact and create drama.

Heats do something else, as was evident Saturday at Bristol. They make the feature shorter and, in turn, more intense. The 200-lap “main” was one of the best races of the year from beginning to end and it was over in just about an hour. There was no time to waste, drivers had to get to the front and stay there, or risk a poor finish.

In an age when length of races has been a major point of discussion, a heat-race/feature format might be the perfect solution. Fans get the same amount of laps or miles over the course of the event, just not in one big dose – which has the potential and, of late, the tendency to get tedious. Rather than one 500-mile race at Texas or Charlotte, how about the same total distance broken up over several events?

If NASCAR is serious about attracting a younger audience and demographics with a shorter attention span, heat races building up to the main event is the ideal solution. I’m not advocating every race adopt such a structure, but sprinkling in a few along the way would give some much-needed spice to the schedule.

It’s early in the idea’s life span, but the sanctioning body is listening for feedback and has not ruled out taking the system further.

“It’s something we’ll continue to look at,” NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell said recently on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “We want to talk to promoters and fans. If we see momentum and fans like it, it’s something we’d take a look at (for Sprint Cup). We know that with any change, there’s always risk and challenges.

“We must make sure we hang onto our hard-core fans. Our goal is to grow the sport. If we can make it more exciting and have everyone more up on the wheel, we’ll take a look at it. Right now, we’re happy with the decision to go with those four events in XFINITY.”

Last Saturday was the first step in what could possibly be an idea that will shape the future of the sport.

I say, “Turn up the heats!”

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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