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Random Lugnuts: Don't Move the 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Daytona 500
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: Don't Move the 500

Bill Crittenden
February 21, 2008

I know, I know, more Daytona 500 stuff...I promise, I'll stop soon.  Just this last one, right?

Well, another fun part of Daytona weekend is reading yet another article or comment by folks who would rather see the Daytona 500 as the season-ending race where the championship is awarded, rather than the season-opener it is.  I might have written such a piece myself, once upon a time, but after thinking on it a while, especially after seeing the most recent edition of The Great American Race, here's what I think about it:

  • The Daytona 500 is more than just a 200-lap trip around Daytona International Speedway.  First off, it's the end of months of speculation and buildup in the media during the offseason, intensifying during all the testing that's done at the speedway.  It's the culmination of Speedweeks, starting with the 24 Hours of Daytona, and going through an ARCA race, the Budweiser Shootout and the two qualifying races, as well as events for the Craftsman Truck Series and Nationwide Series.  It's the end result of an enormous amount of offseason work, the climax of a multi-week celebration of American motorsports and part of the show is the unveiling of a lot of new sponsors, paint schemes and driver/team combinations.

    To keep as much of the importance of the race intact would mean a lot more than just trading dates with Homestead.  There would have to be at least one weekend off in between if Thursday qualifying races are still to be run, not counting the time needed if the Budweiser Shootout were to remain a preview for the 500.  Even still, it wouldn't carry the Opening Day feeling of optimism for the unknowns of a new season that lay ahead.  You'd have teams sputtering through the finish, with others rebuilding their teams and looking forward to the next year.

  • It would detract from the importance of winning the race.  Awarding a championship usually overshadows the race winner's celebration.  The race winner would likely not be the only driver doing an on-track victory celebration, and their time in Victory Lane only a preview for the awarding of the Sprint Cup.  While still being the most prestigious of NASCAR races, the Daytona 500 would lose some of its importance.

    Compared to other American sports, NASCAR is odd in that the most important event is the first of the year.  But in all the other major sports, football, baseball, basketball, hockey, the last event of the year is played by just two teams, both fighting for the championship.  Racing is different in that of the 43 cars on the track usually only two or three have a real chance at a championship, unless it's already been decided going into the event.  In the racing world, though, Daytona is not at all unusual.  The Indianapolis 500 is in May, where the IRL finishes its season in the fall.  The Monaco Grand Prix isn't the final race of the Formula 1 schedule.  Even the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans is the third to last race of the Le Mans Series season.

  • Not only would the celebrations of Daytona 500 victory be less important, the racing may take on a little less importance, as well.  Thanks to the Chase format, more teams go into the last race of the season with better chances of winning the Sprint Cup than they ever had under the Winston Cup system.  Currently, racing at the beginning of the season, teams are going all out for the win.  Aside from scoring a quick 5 bonus points for leading a lap, the prospect of true "points racing" is far in the back of everyone's mind.  Not so were the race to be the season finale where the champion is decided.  If that were to be the case, keeping a car together might take on more importance than a single victory to some of the top contenders.  Think back to the Ford 400 last year, and it was all about which championship contenders were running where, what their points would be if the race ended as they ran, etc.

  • It's tradition.  I'm all for change, but it should have a purpose, and even then there are just some things that shouldn't be messed with, and the Daytona 500 is definitely one of them.  Besides, NASCAR has changed so much in such a short time, with the Chase, the Nextel and now Sprint Cup, the new cars...its comforting to know that some things stay the same, that there's some tie between NASCAR's roots and where it is today.  That list of traditions is quickly shrinking, and that makes the few that remain ever more valuable.

    Daytona is, however, an exciting place for racing and a historic venue that would be a much more fitting location for awarding NASCAR's highest prizes, its championships, than the track across the state in Homestead.  How do we get a Daytona finale without sacrificing The Great American Race to do it?  Simple.  Reschedule Daytona's 400-mile race from July to November.  The former Firecracker 400 is a tradition itself, but not nearly as big a tradition as the Daytona 500, so I think it could be a good compromise.

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