The Frontstretch: Doug Turnbull Mouths Off : Brickyard Is Big, But Daytona Still Reigns Supreme by Doug Turnbull -- Thursday July 24, 2008

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While Matt McLaughlin is enjoying a well deserved vacation, Frontstretch Rookie Doug Turnbull stepped in to share his thoughts on which is the biggest race of the season, the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard 400? Matt will be back next week to give his stance on all of the racing developments at the Brickyard. If you like what you read, be sure to check out Doug’s column this Tuesday to find out how ESPN fared in its broadcast of the first Cup race of the season in Indy.

After the last off week of the season, the Sprint Cup Series travels to one of the most storied racetracks in the United States – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This race and this racetrack has a different feel in comparison to many of the others that the series races at, especially some of the tracks visited most recently. However, despite the history of the track and the fondness that many show toward these hallowed grounds in the nation’s heartland, a win in the Daytona 500 still means far more than grabbing the checkered flag at the Brickyard.

There is no doubt in my mind that a Daytona 500 win is more meaningful to every driver on the NASCAR circuit than a Brickyard win. That race has been the sport’s biggest race since the track’s opening in 1959. The speed demons on the beach in Daytona set the stage for not only how much Daytona would end up meaning to racing, but how big NASCAR would grow. When Bill France saw this potential and gathered that famous group of racing figures together at Daytona’s Streamline Hotel in 1947, the stage was set for Daytona to become the hub for stock car racing. When NASCAR started to grow and France wanted a crown jewel racetrack to rival Indianapolis, the high banks of Daytona International Speedway were born.

Despite the prestige that comes with a Brickyard 400 victory, it still can not compare to winning the Daytona 500 — NASCAR’s biggest race of the year.

As you may well know, drivers did not know what to expect for the first Daytona race. They had never seen a track of its size and had never traveled at the speeds that were inevitable through the high-banked turns. The legendary first finish at the track, where Lee Petty barely edged Johnny Beauchamp at the line and NASCAR needed three days to decipher photographs to declare Petty the winner, set the stage for the numerous legendary finishes to follow.

Many years did not have to pass before the Daytona 500 was one of the most sought after — if not the most sought after — trophies to win in the entire sports world. It certainly was in the NASCAR realm, though. One characteristic that sets NASCAR apart from other sports is that its biggest competition is the first race of the season. I think that this only adds to the allure of the 500.

When teams prepare to race at Daytona, they come and test at the track one month before the race. The media circus also follows suit, and begins churning out stories in anticipation of the main event. SPEED Channel, for the last couple of years, has bragged about its 100 hours of NASCAR coverage leading up to the Daytona 500. There is a countdown to the 500 every off-season on Jayski’s website. These examples show that the Daytona 500 means more than any other race to not only the drivers, but the media.

One factor that amplifies the significance of the race is the presence of the unknown. New or revamped teams, with new sponsors, new drivers, spiffy paint schemes, internal personnel changes, new setups, new manufacturers, and new owners come prepared to set the world ablaze, with a good run in the so-named Great American Race. Teams that may have just come short of winning the championship travel to Daytona with the hopes of gaining the few extra points needed to win. Teams and drivers that struggled mightily are redeemed as they enter the Daytona infield and settle in the garage, knowing they have the same amount of points as the competitors in the next stall.

The Daytona 500 is a proving ground for everyone. Winning streaks and strings of consistency from the previous year do not matter. The months of December and January have cooled any hot teams’ heads of steam. The race itself proves to be a great equalizer, as the nature of restrictor plate racing bunches up the pack of drivers, allowing almost all of the field to be in contention to win the sport’s top race until the waning laps.

The Daytona 500 is so big, that many part-time teams place it on their schedule, in hopes of gaining maximum exposure during the race and getting a full-time sponsor. As a result, qualifying races are needed on top of time trials, to determine that the best drivers and teams make the field of the feature event.

Out of all the races that could elude a driver, which race is mentioned the most? Daytona is. The only race that people talk about that Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin never won is the Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip each needed many tries to cap off their careers by winning the race and agonized for many years before their victories at the track, hoping to one day complete their racing resumes. Tony Stewart has become today’s Earnhardt, having won many races on every kind of track, but failing to win in the 500, despite being a perennial contender.

The Brickyard 400 is huge. Around 200,000 come to the track when the Cup Series races there. Drivers all say that the Brickyard 400 is an important race for them to win. Much like Daytona, every Brickyard 400 has been won by an established driver in the sport, who deserves to be in Victory Lane. Winners include Jeff Gordon, Ricky Rudd, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Bill Elliott, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson. The track is heralded and hosts one of the sports world’s biggest races, the Indy 500, every year. There is no doubt that the Brickyard 400 is one of the jewels in the crown of races every driver wants to win.

Some say that the hubbub that surrounds the Brickyard 400 every year has made the race bigger than the Daytona 500. Some also say that the increased presence of open-wheel drivers in the sport has heightened the importance of the Brickyard race, which likely is true. However, as important as Indianapolis is to the history and allure of motorsports, its biggest race, the Indy 500, does not even outdo the Coca Cola 600 at Lowe’s in the television ratings. The Brickyard 400 is the track’s 2nd biggest race, but pales in comparison to winning the Coca-Cola 600, Bristol, Darlington, or arguably even the All-Star Race. The Daytona 500 is bigger than all of those races combined, and definitely is prioritized by every driver above the Brickyard 400.

Contact Doug Turnbull

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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07/24/2008 07:17 AM

I have to disagree very , very strongly Doug . There is no more important or prestigious race track than Indy . Instead of basing the argument on tv ratings , which are pretty much meaningless ( no one has ever surveyed me or anyone i know to see what race i was watching , how about you ? ) lets go by actual attendance . The past few years may have suffered , but Indy has always held all of the records for attendance . The Indy 500 has always been and still is the largest single day sports event there is . In fact , the opening day of qualifying at Indy was always the second largest single day event . Daytona has always been a very distant second or third . And with all of the obvious empty seats at the Daytona 500 , it is falling further behind each year . The Brickyard race has a capacity crowd each year .
The only drivers who don’t feel that the Indy 500 is the more important race to win have only driven stock cars . Ask Tony Stewart how important Indy is over Daytona . Or ask any driver of F1 if he thinks Daytona is bigger than Indy . And by the way , the order of importance of races according to the drivers and the world wide motoring press , taking into account prestige , attendance , history would be the Indy 500 , 24 Hours of LeMans , and then maybe the Daytona 500 , although the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Grand Prix of Monaco might be ahead of Daytona . In Australia , it would be none of the above . Bathurst would win out easily .

Travis Rassat
07/24/2008 08:57 AM

I agree with Michael that the Indy 500 is bigger than the Daytona 500 from a historical perspective, worldwide interest (it’s broadcast to over 200 countries), and prestige.

The Indy 500 has paralleled the history of the automobile from its infancy, driving innovation during the most explosive and exciting times of automotive and industrial history.

The Brickyard 400 race itself is only big because of where it is staged. The Daytona 500 will probably always be the big dog in NASCAR, but is a distant 4th behind the Indy 500, 24 Hours of LeMans, and the Monaco Grand Prix – the Triple Crown of Motorsport.

07/24/2008 09:32 AM

Just to make it clear the tracks you mentioned as being as important or more than Indy have also been Nascar’s bread and butter tracks for decades. Several of them are also owned by the France family as well which from a race hype standpoint unless your name is Smith is immeasurable as well. The sport of Nascar has moved away from the southern base good or bad a quick look at the schedule will tell you that. Daytona is and will be the crown jewel #1 but if Indy is not #1a I would be very surprised among the drivers, just too much history to ignore. It’s not entirely fair as well to compare the Indy 500 to the World 600 oops showing age here Coke 600, open wheel racing was tied up with the ongoing petty feud that hurt the sport greatly at there very time Nascar was becoming a household word nationally and racing at the Brickyard helped promote that. All you need to see is the Indy museum in the infield to sense the history behind the place, drivers see that as well. I’ve been there when a couple went through and it makes them little kids again as they look at the historic cars from the past the place has that kind of mystique. Don’t sell the place short however, is it the best race of the year, no not in most years, will it produce the fastest lap times no, will it create some extra drama yes ask Rusty Wallace or others that have been close but came up short. Having been there since the first year those big old stock cars rumbled in to the track I can tell you it was very special. The drivers from that very first year and years after also realize they were doing something very few have done in a very special place.

07/24/2008 12:43 PM

I could not agree more.
I’ve never slept thru a Daytona 500.

07/24/2008 01:49 PM

We only have a handful of tracks to attend before we’ll have gone to all the tracks on the circuit. Our seats for Indy were almost at the tippy top and were the most we spent on tix’s 140.00 each. This was the worst track to actually watch a race. Between the golf course (with trees), a museum and the stands/tower across from the main stands you can only see the cars going into one, barely a peek of turn two, nothing of the backstretch and turn three. Thank goodness for the many monitors to watch until the cars start coming around turn 4. It was hotter than all get out and there we were watching TV. We could have stayed home and watched TV in the air. I for the life of me can not understand what the pull is for Indy for attendance. We wouldn’t go back if we had free tickets which is a shame for us because we were able to make the race without taking one day off from work which is nice for my husbands employees as when he is out of town they don’t work.

This is one race that is better to see on TV without a doubt which the way the networks cover races that’s saying alot. We could attend a NW series race and a Cup race for the price of those tickets.

07/24/2008 05:56 PM

I would agree that these two races are some of the best known , and i have no doubt every driver out there wants to win TWO of each , BUT the only reason they are considered to be the biggest is because of media promotion . Daytona recieves ALOT of attention because they know all of us race fans are about delirious from racing withdrawals ! As far as INDY goes : the INDY 500 was popular back when racing got almost NO coverage on any major networks , so even non race fans have memories of the history involved. I myself wouldnt rank either in the top 5 . I dont care that 200,000 people show up every year ! ID bet if BRISTOL held 200,000 people , they would still fill every seat !
(especially the night race ) Also i dont buy into the whole idea that these tracks are so important because of their history in nascar …look how many other parts of our history were tossed aside for the almighty dollar ! More likely that these tracks are considered to be the most popular because their owners pay the media to make you believe it !