Inside the Numbers: Miles, Laps, and... Kilometers?

When looking at a stat sheet for a particular race, there are numbers everywhere. Driver's car numbers, track position numbers, lap times, speeds, laps led, numbers, numbers, numbers. But possibly the most important number is the one in the race's name.

The race name usually includes a sponsor, which is important because sponsorship means money, and money seems to be what makes the world go 'round these days. Of course, the amount of money coming from a particular sponsor is important to the sport, but it's still not the most important number.

No, the number I'm talking about is the number at the end of the race title. The Daytona 500. The Coca-Cola 600. The Aarons 499. Why is this number so important? It tells you when it's the most important to lead the race. A driver wants to be in front when THAT number comes up. If there are 500 laps to a race, you want to lead lap number 500. No brainer, right?

But is that number always a lap number? Nope. For the diehard NASCAR fans, those numbers are fairly well known, and it's also generally well known what that number represents. For the occasional viewer, or someone fairly new to NASCAR, it can be bit more troubling.

Is the Daytona 500 run for 500 miles, or 500 laps? In that case, it's 500 miles. The race is only run for 200 laps, on a 2.5 mile track. At least it comes out as an even number.

Look at the Golden Corral 500. That track is 1.54 miles long. So it's similar to Daytona, in that the race is again 500 miles. But then again, not exactly. They run 325 times around the track, which my handy dandy calculator tells me is actually 500.5 miles. But it's close enough to 500.

What about the Virginia 500? That should also be 500 miles then, right? Nope. The Virginia 500 is only 263 miles. That's the distance of going around the Martinsville Speedway's .526 mile track for 500 laps.

Some tracks make it easy. Look at Dover, where the track is 1.0 miles long. That means the MBNA 400 is 400 miles and 400 laps. No questions there.

Okay, so it takes a bit of figuring for a new viewer to determine what exactly the number is referring to.

And the, just when you think you've got things figured out, along comes Phoenix. This weekend is the Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The track itself is unique in that the turns at one end of the track are not the same as the turns on the other end. The banking is different. The curve is different. It's like racing on two different tracks at once.

And the scenery isn't like what you'd see at other tracks. Beyond the track is desert. Of course, what else would you expect to find in Phoenix, ocean front property?

But beyond all of Phoenix's uniqueness, that darn number in the race title causes even more confusion. It should be simple. Phoenix is a 1.0 mile track, just like Dover. So does the Subway Fresh 500 refer to 500 miles, or 500 laps? Neither! When you take a look at the lap indicators this weekend, you'll see that the race is actually 312 laps. So do you want to be leading on lap 500? Or mile 500? Nope. It might be nice to be out in front, but by then you'll be all alone, because everyone else will have gone home. You want to be leading this race in the 500th kilometer.

Metrics in NASCAR? And I was so used to my English measurement socket set. I guess it's time to dust off that metric set in the corner of the garage, too.

Published on April 21, 2006 in