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2-Headed Monster: Does Daytona Make Sense as the Regular-Season Finale?

This weekend’s Brickyard 400  — err, the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard powered by Florida Georgia Line — sets the stage for the regular-season finale. While this year, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is in the spotlight as the final regular season race, next year it moves to Daytona International Speedway, which is departing from its traditional date of July 4 weekend date.

While many have complained about Indy not providing enough racing excitement in some years, some are concerned with the unpredictability of superspeedway racing affecting the playoff landscape. This week, Adam Cheek and Vito Pugliese provide differing views of this decision.

Back it Up, NASCAR

There are so many reasons that Daytona should not be the cutoff race.

Chief among them is one that’s currently relevant: it’s early September, and Daytona – host of the regular-season finale starting next year – will be on Aug. 29.

That’s hurricane season. Right in the heart of it, in fact.

Hurricane Dorian is bearing down on Florida right now, not even a week removed from what would be the date of the race in 2020.

The state is in just about every hurricane’s warpath, and the effects of the storms can last for several days. That’s not what you want for the fans and drivers that make the pilgrimage down to Daytona Beach for the summer event at the superspeedway. We don’t need a Coke Zero 400 on a Tuesday or Wednesday — it’s inconvenient for the fans, the teams and the sport’s ratings.

Besides, what if a hurricane hits and everyone’s already at the track? That would without a doubt damage equipment, haulers and the property itself.

Daytona becoming the regular-season finale also makes it a magnet for dumb decisions.

Think about it: Daytona is a superspeedway, and next year it’ll be the cutoff race prior to the playoffs. Daytona’s pack racing begets massive crashes and hard racing, and one decision can ruin half the field’s days (or playoff hopes, in this case).

For example, take Austin Dillon initiating this year’s massive crash in the summer event at Daytona. He cut down too late, resulting in a crash that took out a good portion of the field.

Imagine this year’s current playoff scenario with that incident. Clint Bowyer is currently eight points above the cutline. He makes a move, Dillon blocks late, and Bowyer (or another cutline driver) has their day ruined by that single decision.

And yes, I know racing is unpredictable, and that’s what makes it so exciting, and split-second decisions can make or break a playoff spot. However, there has to be a better thought process that goes into this decision. Daytona is indeed a huge draw for fans from all over, and the track becoming the season finale is a great selling point, but is it worth these risks?

It’s asking for something like that to happen every year. Drivers near the playoff cutline will be desperate and more willing to make ill-advised moves. We’ll more than likely see a crash-fest that ruins drivers’ playoff hopes, and I can’t say I’d be surprised if we see a car rolling down the backstretch or flying into the catchfence.

Finally, it’s Daytona.

The Florida oval has been the summer centerpiece for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series for decades. The night race on or near July 4 weekend has an air of celebration and excitement about it – the all-day buildup to one of the biggest and most enthralling events of the year is something special. Additionally, many people have July 4 weekend off or take a vacation. It’s easier to make the several-day trip down to Daytona on a holiday weekend than at the end of August.

Rain hasn’t always affected the race, either. The 2016, 2017 and 2018 events all went off without a hitch. Granted, 2014 and 2019 were shortened by rain and 2015 was delayed, but it hasn’t been a constant trend. Yet this is one of the primary reasons Daytona was moved.

Plus, yes, Indianapolis races have not been great the last few years. I agree with that criticism. But I’d rather have a tame, relatively calm race that sorts itself out accordingly as opposed to a mess at a superspeedway.

That’s three strikes against this decision for me.

I always look forward to Daytona, but who doesn’t? I just don’t want this to end up being a catastrophe. –Adam Cheek

Goin’ Through the Big D – and Don’t Mean Dallas

NASCAR has made a number of positive steps the last year or so in trying to improve the racing product as well as tweak a schedule that has — and let’s be brutally honest here — become decidedly stale in recent years. Juggling dates around to provide a new look is something that has been needed to help provide a different look during the season, both in the playoffs and for key dates such as the cutoff to the regular season.

That said, if the regular-season finale is to have any cache at all, it needs to be at a marque track to take advantage of it. This week, there have been numerous articles pissing and moaning about Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Brickyard — i.e. the most famous racetrack on the planet — being “too boring” for NASCAR and a bad fit for even hosting a date, let alone the final race of the regular season.

Shut up. Just stop talking.

The biggest racing series in North America should in all rights be at the most famous, well-known and instantly recognizable racetrack on the planet. We race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway twice a year now for God’s sake, and they still roll out Wayne Newton, Carrot Top and a 250-pound Vince Neil as “dignitaries.” I think we can make room for some pagoda pics and not freak out if everyone is sitting in turn one and not limiting their view on the frontstretch to pit road and the roof of the cars as they fly by.

That being said, if the Brickyard can’t cut it for the NASCAR fan — who seems to forget not that long ago they might have been able to watch only three races a year on television — maybe we should have it at that venue where the season kicks off: Daytona International Speedway.

It actually makes quite a bit of sense if you think about it. Our Super Bowl is the first race of the year at our most storied venue. It should come full circle (well, tri-oval) in September and set the stage with one of the most exciting race finishes you’re probably going to get all season.

I hear some nay-saying about it being too much of a “wild-card” race. Uh, isn’t that what we’re after? Some sense of urgency and risk to get into the playoffs? Was that sh*t show of 10 laps taking an hour at Indy in 2017 not fun enough for you? If you’re stuck on it being at Richmond Raceway, as it was from 2004-2017, is it a bit wild-cardy to get a flat tire and lose two laps having to make a pit stop and never get back on the lead lap?

Daytona is a handling track when it’s warm out, so run it in the daytime (you know, like the Firecracker 400 was supposed to be) and it’ll be less of a pack-race melee in the waning laps. For those whining about tradition, let’s be honest. That ship sailed ever since they decided to put lights here and run it at night and, to a greater extent, after we stopped scoring every race as equal during the regular season.

Besides, I live in Michigan where the weather is nice four months a year. If you’re expecting me, family and friends to shelve plans to watch a race at night instead of being out on a boat watching fireworks on July 4 weekend (assuming there isn’t a rain delay because part of the reason for starting it by 11 a.m. was to beat the afternoon pop-up thundershowers), sorry y’all, but unless I’m there, the DVR is engaged.

Having the last race be at a superspeedway sets the stage for an upset playoff contender to possibly eek out an unprecedented win and qualify themselves at the 11th hour. That is less likely to happen at just about anywhere else — unless it’s at Bristol Motor Speedway and Ryan Newman isn’t running into guys and blocking them.

Worried about hurricanes affecting race schedules? Didn’t we race until 2 a.m. last weekend trying to beat one to make sure we completed the Southern 500, which has been in the path of hurricanes as well since 1950?

The real enemy this time of year is week one of the NFL and week two of college football.

If it does rain, then good. Then, we just bump things down a week and make the first playoff race, the Southern 500, the cutoff race on Throwback Weekend. That would then allow us to crown the champion at Daytona the weekend of Thanksgiving as a true Superbowl moment and serve as a run-up to the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway across town. This move to me has more upside than doing the same thing over and over every year and wondering why nothing is improving.

And if it doesn’t work, big deal. Flop a couple of dates around, and everybody still wins.  -Vito Pugliese

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About Adam Cheek

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. Currently attending VCU, he broadcasts and writes about sports for the college's athletic organizations. He has been a racing fan since he was three years old, inheriting this passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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18 comments

  1. Avatar

    Don’t tell me your canceling Indy because its boring as long as you run all these mile and a half track aero chain races.

  2. Avatar

    “This week, there have been numerous articles pissing and moaning about Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Brickyard — i.e. the most famous racetrack on the planet — being “too boring” for NASCAR and a bad fit for even hosting a date, let alone the final race of the regular season.

    Shut up. Just stop talking.”

    Vito, I don’t know if you have stock in Indianapolis Motor Speedway or what but the bottom line is the track and the stock car marriage doesn’t work. 99% of people appreciate Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s why well over 100,000 fans flood its gates every May for the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, only about 1/4 of that fill the seats for the “Whatever the title is this year – Brickyard 400”. I assure you, NASCAR fans will, “Shut up” and will “Just stop talking”, my question is, will NASCAR personnel and media members like yourself take notice and realize we have done so before it’s too late?

  3. Avatar

    With the results of the last Firecracker 400 still smelling like those rotting fish entrails that you threw in the garbage a week ago, we need to come to terms with an alarming fact – Lately, racing at Daytona stinks! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the Final Firecracker was run with the “Wonderful New Package” and it still resulted in a demolition derby. Oh, and that rain-induced call annointing a race winner, who had never, ever led a green flag lap, made the odor reeking from NASCAR’s Race Control Suite especially foul.

    Which makes me wonder why NASCAR wants to make Daytona the last chance race for the “playoffs”? Would it be reasonable to want a driver to win & get in the “playoffs” who had run like crap all year, but barely was inside the top 30 in points? Should they award a mediocre driver just because he snuck through the carnage to win at Daytona?

    Those at NASCAR who don’t heed the warnings of The Final Firecracker’s bad result are doomed to repeat it.

    • Avatar

      Answer to the second paragraph there:

      Yes, they should because they also reward a driver who wins that race under the current schedule an opportunity to be in the chase. We all know that no one outside the top ten really has a chance to win the championship. On top of that we could argue no one outside the top 5 so does it really matter who is in the circus on race 27?

      The chase is manufactured drama in an attempt to make sure that the championship isn’t locked up before the last race (under current format this is clearly accomplished lol). We had an excellent battle for the regular season championship this year between Logano and Busch and its a shame we will never get to see how it played out for 36 races.

      Food for thought – What would be even more of a shame is if these two drivers missed the final 4 after holding the top 2 spots in real points over the course of the season and finish 5th or worse in the end of year points; costing their teams prize money. All because they got caught up in a restart mess at Dover and big one at Talladega and weren’t able to win at Kansas to get in.

  4. Avatar

    The hurricane argument is a “red herring”. NASCAR currently runs all over the SE during hurricane season. The current July 4th race is in hurricane season. We’ve just been lucky that a big storm hasn’t hit a track directly on race weekend. Twice I’ve had to watch tropical weather before going to a race in the SE. In 2016, a tropical storm went right over South Carolina on the Friday I was down for the Southern 500, and last year that big hurricane just missed Talladega in October. Is the risk greater for Daytona, yes, but if you have an event in the SE between June and November the risk is there for tropical weather. In the event Daytona was in the path of a hurricane on a race weekend, there would be days of notice and the area would be evacuated.

    • Avatar

      Excellent point U-9fan. It’s funny how people will reach for lame “facts” to support their argument when debating. Remember when the Daytona race had to be cancelled because of wildfires…. apparently we can’t race there in the summer either.

  5. Avatar

    I like this idea of moving Daytona to the end of the season. Also Indy is iconic and having the July 4th race there just feels right as well to me.

    Sure they have been going to Daytona for how long now? So it will be awkward… Also these drivers had 25 other races to secure their chase position, if they are on the bubble trying to get into the chase at Daytona they more than likely will not be contending for a title so who really cares? Just like the season championship being crowned to someone outperforming 3 other competitors in a single race. A NASCAR championship use to mean something for than a trophy at Homestead.

    • Avatar

      If Indy is “iconic” at all (one of the top 5 most overused words of the past decade-plus), it’s only in open-wheel racing. Very few exciting racing stock car (or even F1) moments have happened at Indy. Especially relative to the number of events held there. To grab another overused word, lots of people might say “Indy is awesome,” but few will ever say that a particular Brickyard 400 was “awesome” unless their favorite won. Daytona on (or at least around) July 4th was a NASCAR tradition. Even a quarter-century on, Indy is someone else’s tradition.

      • Avatar

        Perhaps the word “iconic” is both overused and misused but, if you ask the average, non-racing fan, schmuck (anywhere in the world) to name a race track , I’d bet Indianapolis would be at the top of the list. I’m not sure what that makes it but it speaks volumes about the stature the track holds. With a 36 race season why not run one at Indy. It’s not like it’s the only track on the schedule that doesn’t create a compelling race most years. Now if the schedule was cut down to 30 or less races, then Indy would be an easy race to omit.

        • Avatar

          Like Bill said, if you asked average Jo to name a race track Indy would probably be up on that list, thus making it iconic. People symbolize Indy with Racing.

    • Avatar

      I agree…I like Patriotic Parades on Independence day, so what could be better than a Nascar Parade at Indy on the 4th…..a new tradition.

      • Avatar

        Also with those long flat front straights, NASCAR could really do something cool here for pre-race events throughout the week with fans. Really kind of an endless amount of event space at Indy as they are not only constrained to the infield.

  6. Avatar

    Well people are “pissing and moaning” about IMS for a reason. Stock cars suck there. But lets keep racing at IMS until ticket sales rival that of a pee wee football game with only the families and friends of the drivers showing up to watch.

  7. Avatar

    Since the entire ‘playoff’ is nothing but a huge crap shoot to begin with, I suggest they have nothing BUT Dega and Daytona in the final 10 races. Maybe Pocono and Indy. The winner take all aspect doesn’t really deserve anything else, so lets just admit it’s a stupid idea. This not a real playoff idea hasn’t tripped anyone’s switches so far, so why expect anything different depending on which tracks they run?

    • Avatar

      Want to convince NASCAR that you don’t like the playoffs? Don’t watch them like I do, I will stay engaged with the sport but I won’t have the race on for the final 10 races. I consider the regular season champion the NASCAR champion and the last 10 races a circus that doesn’t get my vote (TV viewership). At the end of the day, we all vote when we tune in to watch the race.

  8. Avatar

    Daytona should have the final race of the season, bookending the first. Just think how exciting it would be with the farcesome foursome leading all 200 laps plus four attempts to end the demo derby while the other cars in the event never get mentioned. Makes cents to NA$CAR.

  9. Avatar

    I agree with the former. it makes ZERO sense to run the race in Late August. Those Hurricanes can be MONSTERS.

    Dorian got to 185MPH – about what they would run by themselves on that track in race trim!