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Side-By-Side: Should the Daytona 500 Go 1st Every Year?

Editor’s Note: The following is a special edition of Frontstretch‘s Side-By-Side.¬†Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

Today’s Question: On the heels of the NFL’s Super Bowl – held at the end of the season – should NASCAR’s Super Bowl be held right afterwards… at the beginning of their own season? Or has holding the Daytona 500 as the first race of the year always been a colossal mistake?

It’s Tradition And History That Makes The Daytona 500 Stand Out

In case you’ve been hiding in a cave these last few days, you know the Super Bowl just wrapped up the NFL playoffs on Sunday. Now, as everyone knows this event is more than just a game; it’s a media extravaganza viewed by millions of people, the culmination of an entire season of hype and anticipation. However, NASCAR uses a different approach, holding its “Super Bowl” first before the word “Chase” or “Championship” is ever even a thought in anyone’s mind. Many people question the logic of having your crown jewel event kick off the year; but the way the sport’s schedule is set, the Daytona 500 just couldn’t be raced at any other time.

As strange as it may sound to some, there’s something to be said for starting off fresh. NASCAR has the longest season in professional sports, running from the middle of February through the middle of November; because of that, the long, arduous journey can cause teams to be eliminated from contention for the championship before the last third of the season even starts. But by running the Great American Race first, everyone is full of hope and faith that this is going to be their year. Each team takes to the track in Daytona with the belief that this year they are going to accomplish great things – whether it is contending for a championship or winning a race or securing a top-35 spot in the owner points standings. That hope makes the Daytona 500 extra special, because all of the teams are equally optimistic as they take to the track for the first race of the season.

There is also the historical factor to consider. While the powers that be have left quite a bit of the tradition of the sport behind, the most enduring one still stands – and that is starting the season with the Daytona 500. For 25 years, the year has always begun with 500 miles of racing at Daytona; like a rite of passage, the roar of the engines on the Beach ends the long, cold winter and brings the heart of every red-blooded racing fan back to life.

In the past few weeks, NASCAR has stated that their intention is to get back to their roots and history. So as they look ahead, let’s hope that they’ll let sleeping dogs lie, leaving the 500 as the first race of the season for many years to come. –¬†Mike Neff

Homestead And Daytona Should Be Swapped!

Daytona is as good a place as any to start the season for the fans. Great weather combined with a warm winter vacation venue on the Florida coast makes for a great place to spend a month in preparation for the biggest race of the season… the Daytona 500. But while the weather is nice and the fans are supportive, is this truly the best track for the teams to prepare for the upcoming season? Sure, it’s a tradition; but is that enough of a reason to keep visiting the headquarters of NASCAR to kick off the year?

Many argue tradition for keeping the sport’s crown jewel right where it is. But unless you go all the way back to 1951 on the old beach course, the Cup Series has only been starting the season at Daytona since 1982 – not 1959. Prior to that, the racing began at the old Riverside International Raceway in California; so, starting somewhere other than Daytona isn’t unheard of after all.

For the teams themselves, the best place to start the year’s preseason testing and race schedule would actually be at one of the circuit’s “cookie-cutter” venues, places the series visits the most throughout its season. The layout at Daytona is unique to Daytona, and even though we’re running the new Cars of Today – meaning teams no longer need a dedicated chassis and body for Daytona and Talladega – there’s still the issue of the restrictor-plate engine, changing the way in which those events are approached. As such, the buildup to Daytona involves over a month of testing to go along with Speedweeks – that’s a lot of time and resources spent at a venue whose layout will only be seen twice this season, and in a car that will probably only be used four times throughout the year.

So, where should NASCAR go instead? February weather precludes just about any location other than Fontana, Las Vegas and Miami. Both Atlanta and Fort Worth are still seeing lows in the 30s in mid-February, so they need to wait until later in the spring. Certainly, Fontana and Las Vegas are both a long trek West for the teams to make before the season starts; but most already go out there to test anyways, and since they are the type of tracks that are raced most of the season, they would give the teams the most efficient data during January preseason testing.

And what about Homestead-Miami? The track is unique in its layout, but much closer to the “cookie-cutter” setups than Daytona. The track is farther south, with highs that reach in the upper 70s throughout the winter months. Granted, it’s almost certain that the Daytona 500 will always be a snow free race, considering the average high temperature in mid-to-late February is in the low to mid-70s. But even Daytona had some snow at the beginning of January – while it’s an anomaly, such a scenario remains a possibility.

As of now, the two tracks are on opposite ends of the schedule; Homestead-Miami is currently where we crown our champions in NASCAR’s top-three series. So, why not pull a swap? It only makes sense that the last race should be the biggest of the season. Combine that with the great weather at Daytona in November, and switching dates between the two tracks would seem a great fit. Can you imagine, the championship and the biggest race trophy the series has to offer given out all at once? It’s a pretty exciting concept if you ask me.

So, it’s decided then; start the season at Miami, including preseason testing, and you have the biggest race of the year where it belongs – at the end of the season where all three series can name a champion at the home of stock car racing.

Daytona Beach, Fla.

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