Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should Daytona Host the Season Opener?

Since 1982, Daytona International Speedway has hosted the season opener for the NASCAR Cup Series, dubbed The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing. Despite the fanfare and importance of the season opening spectacle, Mother Nature seems to frequently get in the way and overshadow the event.

The current weather forecast for racing on Saturday (Feb. 17) and Sunday looks grim. If the Daytona 500 is affected by weather, it would be the third time since 2012 that it was forced to run on Monday. In 2023, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race ended prematurely due to inclement weather, along with other notable early ends for the Cup Series in 2003 and 2009.

As such, is it time for NASCAR to move the season-opening race weekend elsewhere to hopefully race uninterrupted by weather as well as ensure the Daytona race is run without interruption? Steve Leffew and Mark Kristl argue this question, as we kickoff our first 2-Headed Monster of 2024.

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NASCAR Cannot Control Mother Nature But It Can Control Tradition

I know the forecast for Saturday and Sunday continues to worsen. I’ve been at races, both as a fan and media member, when it rained. Yes, I agree, it sucks.

Here’s the rub though: we cannot control Mother Nature.

While moving the Daytona 500 to a later date, be it the second race rather than the first, after the West Coast swing, etc., might make the race weekend clear of precipitation, it is not a guarantee.

On Monday night, racing at nearby New Smyrna Speedway ended prematurely due to rain. On Tuesday night, all racing was completed as it was dry. If there is one thing Florida weather has proven to NASCAR at Daytona, it’s that it is unpredictable.

For the sake of argument, let’s say NASCAR does move the season-opening race weekend to another venue, be it Homestead-Miami Speedway, Auto Club Speedway once its reconfiguration is complete, or somewhere else. Are those racetracks guaranteed to be dry? No. The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum had to be moved up a day due to unprecedented historic rainfall. Leave it to NASCAR to hold a race in downtown Los Angeles, only to have it up-ended by a monsoon.

Homestead is still in Florida; it rains there too – a lot.

What then has NASCAR accomplished? It’d be another season-opening race weekend with inclement weather, not at Daytona when quite possibly it could be dry at Daytona. We’d be having the same conversation all over again.

Simultaneously, if NASCAR moved the Daytona 500 from the start of the season, it’d make most race fans livid. Another great tradition the sport has ruined, we could argue.

NASCAR made fans unhappy over the past few years with moving the summer race at Daytona to the regular season finale away from its traditional July 4th weekend slot, the Clash and season finale venues remain a hot topic of conversation and Bristol Motor Speedway was converted into a dirt track for a few years. All those decisions were met with a good amount of criticism – and for good reason.

Move the Daytona 500 from the season-opening race weekend? That would be the biggest moment for criticism of the sanctioning body, and rightly so. If people are still upset over where the numbers are on the sides of the car, how do you think arbitrarily changing the date of the most important race on the schedule would be received?

NASCAR has its Super Bowl race to open its season. That might seem backward, but it makes sense for fans. Move it to week two, or a later date in the season? Fans would be infuriated. So if Mother Nature wreaks havoc upon Daytona, we’re stuck with a weather delay. It’s unfortunate but moving Daytona away from the beginning of the season won’t ensure whenever NASCAR visits Daytona that it will be dry.

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the start time of 2:30 p.m. ET for the 500. I’d advocate for a start time of 1 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. ET to allow an extra hour of daylight, in case of inclement weather, to hopefully make drying the racetrack quicker. Plus, an earlier start time might mean some laps are completed before any potential Florida afternoon rainstorm.

Since 1982 Daytona has been the site of the season opener. It’s not a tradition that is broken. It is an event, like all racing, which can be affected by Mother Nature. And moving it away from the first race is not certain to solve that. – Mark Kristl

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I’ve Seen Enough – Rotate a Date With Less Uncertainty

Coming off the most-watched television broadcast in history with 123.4 million viewers, NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl as the opening race has always been a bit strange. Why not try something new and perhaps a little easier to plan around? We’ve tinkered with just about everything else in the sport, but always kept the Daytona 500 at the start.

What’s the worst that could happen? We have little to lose and a lot to gain. 

Those who have been to Daytona during our traditional weekend have likely experienced very cold temperatures, sometimes down to the 30s and 40s. While Florida is typically thought of as a Spring Break destination, there’s other places that might make more sense after being off for three months.

Let’s start our season where we ended it for so many years; Homestead-Miami Speedway. Taking the championship away from Homestead has proven underwhelming and comparatively disappointing in light of the outstanding racing the track has put on in recent years; this track deserves a special event once again. We can keep the championship in Phoenix (for now), but let’s get things started in South Beach. 

Miami is our warmest market in mid February, and it wouldn’t add a big logistical challenge for the teams. We could move the Daytona 500 back one week, and the teams would still be in reasonable distance from their shops. A larger market might serve the sport better as well the first week back, particularly when juxtaposed to the NFL’s Super Bowl and the cities they typically hold their marque event in.

Homestead would be so much more indicative of where teams are on speed with relation to the rest of the schedule. We could get that true barometer right away, a preview of things to come and a measuring stick for the engineers and NASCAR alike to identify any unforeseen advantages or glaring deficits between the manufacturers. Knocking the rust off before spending a couple of weekends in Daytona would help shape the early season before making the trek out to Phoenix and Las Vegas. 

The racing at Homestead has been so good lately, a season opener there could serve as a perfect warm up for the Daytona 500. We could also eliminate the current Clash weekend, stopping teams from having to cut their off-season short and haul across the country, and run the Clash on Thursday before or after the Duels at Daytona. Doing this would turn Thursday into a hot ticket must-see event for those on a tighter budget than what the Daytona 500 requires.

You think two Cup Races in one day are cool, how about three? 

This setup would allow us all to build increasing momentum heading into our Crown Jewel event. We can promote the heck out of everything during the weekend of the Super Bowl and still start with a bang, having one of our best races in our best February climate in Miami. During the race the TV crew could say, “We’ve had some great racing today. But if you think this is good, wait ’til next weekend, It’s the Daytona 500! And don’t forget to tune in Thursday for the Clash and the Duels!” This will give the speedways some of their luster back. 

After Miami we’d head four hours north to Daytona to get going on Speedweeks. One week later, giving the spring warmth another week to set in. Maybe fans could even enjoy the beach! What a concept that would be. Enjoying the beach during a week in Daytona. After that you can go to Atlanta Motor Speedway for more drafting action before embarking on the West Coast swing. 

Miami, Daytona, Atlanta. What a way to get the season started! It’s time for a change. – Steve Leffew

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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janice

lol they had the clash in california and a monsoon hit. i honestly think mother nature does not like nascar. after daytona you come to atlanta. we had 6″ of rain this week. who knows what the weather will be in 2 weeks.

daytona 500 is opening race, keep it that way. move start to 1 pm (like it used to be), but hey daytona has lights too. this year president’s day is the day after, so there might be a fair amount of people still off or on a long weekend.

i think tv drives the weather issue more than anything.

here’s an idea, have the first race in buffalo new york. they can race in the snow.

wildcats2016

Yes the people who plan the schedule need to take a look at the map & the normal to be expected weather at each track & figure out how to put the races where the weather may have the least impact.

I don’t know about Atlanta but Martinsville used to be the weekend after Easter — you know when most years the weather will improve in VA. then they moved it to its current date. I sat thru at least 3 races where it was cold & misting. Not enough most of the time to call the race but certainly enough to be darned uncomfortable to sit in the stands. Then someone decided it should be a night race! Geez louise, in the spring and even the fall, I want to enjoy the nice weather not shiver in the cold. We stopped going to Martinsville when NASCAR made the starts so ridiculously late. When it was a 1 pm start, I could fly to NC the day before, drive to the race & then my friends would drop me back at the airport in NC and I’d be home Sunday night. Yes I know, I could always stay over but I had reasons (like my job and my pets) for getting home as soon as possible.

As you say, California had a monsoon & no way to know what will happen in either Daytona or Atlanta. I’m with you, keep Daytona as the opening race.

LOL laughing at racing in the snow. I used to watch the races on speed where they ran in very different conditions. Works for them but unless they are putting ice tires or chains, those slicks won’t work as snow tires.

Shayne

The 2024 season started almost 2 weeks ago with a week off because of the Super Bowl. NASCAR and the networks fear the NFL.

I was excited to watch qualifying last night and look forward to tonight’s show. It’s Daytona. Nuff said.

We can’t control the weather. Experienced fans know this and plan accordingly.

NASCAR and the networks know earlier start times have alleviated some weather issues.

What about racing indoors? A canopy over Daytona? Problem solved.

janice

lol i remember years ago they were thinking of putting a cover over bristol.

this will work great when they start running ev vehicles. no exhaust.

Brian

I agree with Mark. There is no guarantee of good weather anywhere so just need to leave it alone. The 500 is also now a full week later than it has been due to the NFL playoffs. Used to be Clash and qualifying were the weekend after the Superbowl which used to be the last Sunday of January for a long time.
500 was run the next weekend which sometimes ended up being Valentine’s Day.
Steve’s idea may have a little merit but I remember a spring Atlanta race being delayed due to snow. This was in March.

janice

I was at that Atlanta snow race.

RCFX1

President’s Day has always been the rain date. This is not an issue. They’re in Daytona because it’s warm there in February.

John

Two thoughts:

  1. Move that ridiculous opening fish bowl race in California to a real race track.
  2. Keep the opener at Daytona; get the wreckfest out of the way so the guys can move on to real racing.,
Tom

The answer is a 200mph rain tire. The problem is not Goodyear it is NASCAR. This would actually make some cars faster than others and there would be a real race and still have some spectacular crashes for those who like such things. Move up the start time. I think the rain there is more likely in the late afternoon.

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