This is a very busy time of year at Daytona, and no sooner had the Rolex 24 Hours finished, before work was beginning on Speedweeks, and the run up to the Daytona 500. Whilst nothing is truly normal in the world we live in currently, the last week of racing did feel rather similar to those that have occurred in previous years, it was only the crowd size which was different. Yet as I will discuss, behind all the chaos and drama which occurred last night, we saw reoccurring problems rear their head again, which left the race feeling a bit stale.
I do not want to spend an entire article ranting about NASCAR’s charter system, and how it does not give us a good race. So, I will simply say, that the system they currently have to decide who makes the race and who doesn’t, not only kicks out fast cars in favour of those who can pay or have a status in the sport, but it is the most confusing system ever. If you are going to decide who makes it and who doesn’t, either do a qualifying time trial or a qualifying race, don’t do a mixture of the two which alienates the fans. It makes Indy 500 qualifying look basic!
Then came the big problem, you see when a race is covered by a single TV broadcaster, the series is at the mercy of them, to decide when they want to show it, and the theme is to push it towards prime time, early evening viewing. When this works it is great, and allows for a nice transition through sunset to racing under floodlights. However, it is not worth it for the amount of times that the race is rain affected, and you look back and consider, that if the race had started a few hours earlier, it could have been unaffected.
If it happens once, that is fair enough, success comes by learning from mistakes, but there is a definition for when someone keeps sticking to a plan after it repeatedly fails, it’s called insanity! The thing is, for most NASCAR races, I can see that they want to increase viewership, as people may have forgotten about the race. When it is the biggest race of the season though, an infamous race with so much history and excitement around it, if people are going to watch it, prime time viewing won’t make a difference to viewership, if people want to watch it, they will make sure they don’t miss it. So, what we end up with is, a build up to the start of the race, with anticipation and tension building, we get a few laps of racing before rain hits, then lose all that atmosphere during a 5 hour rain delay, and watch the rest of the race in a melancholy mood.
Now let’s get to the actual racing, which was not terrible, although it showed issues with the current package. As the low power, high downforce allows everyone to run close together, so it is not a test of driving skill, instead it is just waiting for a wrong spotter call or driver decision, to push to hard, or to drive into a closing gap, which wipes the field out, such as lap 15! This event just before the delay helped to kill the tension, as many good cars were already out. It also means that cars who are not the fastest, can run in the pack up front and take advantage of the situation.
This led us to the final lap of the race, where surely, we would not have yet another horrific last lap crash, due to drivers risking everything to win? Sadly, history repeated itself, although we are lucky no one was hurt. In the end, it was a desperate battle between the two Penske drivers going for the win, which ended in disaster, yet McDowell’s hands are not completely clean. It wasn’t like previous dirty moves for the win, but he was pushing Keselowski towards the eventual contact with Logano, that being said it is a feel good win for him, getting his first win after a long career in NASCAR.
Going forwards the start times need to be altered, to avoid another farce like this, as the drop in viewers when a race ends at almost 2AM, is not worth the gain for a prime time race. Changes to the cars may be the biggest factor though, as when you give good racing, people will come to watch it, and seeing stock cars on the edge at 200 MPH is much better than a procession. This will then allow for a proper battle for the win, instead of a winner takes all demolition derby. Finally, other parts of the format need to change, to make it more open to casual fans, such as qualifying.
It was not the worst ever Daytona 500, but by no means was it the best, I just hope this is taken as a learning experience going forwards!