Let’s End the Season Where It Begins: Daytona


NASCAR seems like it’s always trying to do something to draw more attention and excitement into the sport. Recent changes to support this claim that include the implementation of the “Green-White-Checker” finish, double file restarts, the wild-card for the Chase, and most recently, Bruton Smith taking Bristol’s progressive banking and grounding it back down to its original form in hopes to get the old bumping and banging back to that short track.

These are all solid changes (well, let’s wait to see on the Bristol one) and have helped to bring added excitement to each race. But these changes only affect individual races and if I were NASCAR, I’d want something to really draw attention on a large, meaningful scale.

So how about this suggestion, why not end the NASCAR season where it all begins?

Every year the NASCAR season starts the season at its greatest track, its proverbial “Super Bowl” of a race at the Daytona International Speedway for the running of the Daytona 500. The Series then makes a second trip to Daytona for the July 4th holiday (at least reasonably close to it) and runs its annual night race, the Coke Zero 400, which is where they’re racing this weekend.

These two races are typically among the most exciting races of the year due to the fact that there is no braking, it’s just flat out foot-to-the-floor racing. This comes along with each car having to use a restrictor plate to keep the speeds from going too high and thus makes every car run the same top speed essentially. This is the perfect formula for photo finishes, let’s say, finishes so close that if you blink, you won’t know who won.

This is my reasoning on why the NASCAR season needs to end at the same track where it starts the season. Sure, the Chase, which was put in place in 2004 as NASCAR’s version of a playoff, creates a better battle between drivers for a championship as opposed to one driver dominating all season, but it has still drawn its criticism.

Fans, media, and critics of the sport always seem to point out that there are too many “cookie-cutter” or 1.5 mile tracks in the Chase. Specifically, out of the 10 racetracks in the Chase, five of them are 1.5 mile tracks and these tracks tend to produce races where drivers become spread out and cautions are far and few between.

So why not take the current final race of the year, the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (a 1.5 mile track) and switch it with the July Daytona race. Nothing against Homestead, it’s a great track as evidenced by last year’s season finale, but with the exception of last season, this track doesn’t really create a championship environment in terms of pure excitement. The driver who is in control of the points lead coming into the last race at Homestead often just has to run a decent race because odds are the guy in second in the points isn’t going to win the finale.

This switch makes perfect sense then because this way Homestead still gets a primetime race (it would be the new 4th of July race) and the season finale instantly becomes a must-watch event. A 1.5 mile track is also removed from the Chase and the playing field for the race instantly becomes level because no one single driver can run away with the race and the chance for a championship contender to wreck lurks at every corner. Whoever comes into the race as the points leader will have to be aware at all times where the second, third, and fourth place drivers in the points are because anybody can win at a restrictor plate race such as Daytona.

One more recent knock about the Chase was that it was tailor made for Jimmie Johnson, who won five consecutive champions from 2006-2010. Not to take away anything from Johnson, but the ten tracks in the Chase are historically most of his best tracks. With the addition of Daytona and the subtraction of Homestead, this immediately eliminates the possibility of Johnson dominating a race, it just can’t be done by anyone at a restrictor plate track no matter how hard they may try.

Because excitement is the name of the game these days in NASCAR, this move caters to that. Who wouldn’t want to see a season finale where the points leader could get caught up in a wreck late in the race and lose the points lead? Or perhaps the drivers who are first and second in points could be in a photo finish on the final lap, with the championship being decided by whoever won the race. A finale at Daytona sets up the possibility for a season ending this way.

I can promise you, a race like that would cause more fireworks than the ones you’ll see after this weekend’s race at Daytona.