This year’s Daytona 500 had many of the elements found in several of the past season-opening races at Daytona International Speedway.
Excitement? Surely. Drama? Undeniable. Unpredictable events that altered the course of the race? Yes. Like it or not, multicar wrecks are always a part of any 500. A riveting finish? Oh, certainly.
And as a bonus – which this race has provided us many times in the past – there was an unanticipated winner. He was nice guy Michael McDowell, no one’s favorite to win, who earned the first NASCAR Cup Series victory of his career. His achievement gained widespread approval from the fans.
But when it comes to those fans, I’d be willing to bet that this Daytona 500 did not gain such widespread approval.
It wasn’t anything close the typical Daytona 500 they have come to accept – and even relish – so often in years gone by.
The race started in the midst of a dry window that everyone knew would close quickly and that rain would stop the race. The question was, how long?
Indeed, it did rain. It began after a massive wreck following just 15 green-flag laps. Ultimately, the race was stopped for six long hours.
It resumed after 9 p.m. and wasn’t completed until well after midnight. By that time, most television viewers had gone to bed and did not see the finish.
Want to tick off a race fan? Say he or she goes to sleep before a race is over, due to having to work the next day or just plain fatigue. Then tell him or her that they missed one heckuva finish and they would have never guessed who won. Then, duck.
Now, I was fortunate enough to wake up in time to see the finish, so I wasn’t upset. Bet the same can’t be said for many others.
There have been many past races that have ended well past bedtime. Everyone knows that. But what fans have said about this Daytona 500 is that it didn’t need to be that way. NASCAR policy made it that way.
Twenty-five or so years ago – perhaps not even that long – the Daytona 500, and nearly all Cup races, were conducted the way veteran fans became accustomed to and which they fondly remember today.
They came early to beat the traffic. Then they settled in to watch the pre-race activities, dine on chicken, burgers or barbecue, drink a few beers and swap opinions on everything about racing with neighbors.
They were going to enjoy the talents and skills of drivers they knew; familiar figures in familiar cars decorated with sponsor colors that had also become very familiar.
And they would see memorable events – the Richard Petty-David Pearson clashes, Darrell Waltrip’s first and only 500 win in 1989, Ned Jarrett calling his son Dale’s victory from the booth in 1993, the years of Dale Earnhardt’s disappointment that ended in 1998. And, of course, so many more.
Naturally, it wasn’t always this way at any Cup race. But I wager many fans will tell you that is how they remember it – and wish it would be so again.
NASCAR isn’t the simple organization it used to be. It is now a behemoth, and, in all honesty, it had to become so to survive. But as that has happened, it has discovered it’s had to serve more than itself.
This year’s race did not begin until after 3 p.m. That was due to NASCAR’s television commitment with FOX. I don’t know why that time was mandated, but my guess is it has something to do with prime time and West Coast viewing.
Nevertheless, several posts on social media said, in essence, “If this race had started at 1 p.m., it would have been half-completed by now and none of this rain mess would matter.”
It’s a good point.
After several hours of delay, some fans said they were giving up and left in the rain to find their cars. Others simply turned off the TV in disgust.
NASCAR can’t control the weather, COVID-19 or little else spawned by nature in one form or another. It has to roll with the punches, as we all do.
But most likely, it can review its practices and policies. Maybe by doing so, it finds the means to, hopefully, help create the foundation that leads to races many say are exactly how they should be and once were.
I certainly think it is worth the sanctioning body’s time.
I’ll be optimistic. I believe that may well happen this year — more than once.