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