NASCAR: An exhibition race for past drivers?

Junior Johnson, Wood Brothers Racing, NASCAR (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
Junior Johnson, Wood Brothers Racing, NASCAR (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images) /

NASCAR Hall of Famer and Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart recently expressed interest in running the 2021 Busch Clash, but his request was ignored. Should NASCAR schedule an exhibition race for past drivers?

Since 1979, the NASCAR Cup Series has kicked off the season with an exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway. The format of the race along with the eligibility has changed many times over the years.

This will mark the first time in history the race will run on Daytona’s road course layout. The 14-turn, 3.61-mile (5.810-kilometer) road course made its first appearance in NASCAR in 2020, replacing the annual race at Watkins Glen International due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The eligibility requirements for this season’s race are as follows: 2020 pole winners, past Busch Clash winners, past Daytona 500 winners, past Daytona 500 pole winners, 2020 race winners, 2020 playoff drivers and 2020 stage winners.

The catch here is that drivers must have run the whole 2020 Cup Series schedule to be eligible. This is where a past driver such as Tony Stewart would be deemed ineligible.

Before we discuss if NASCAR should add an exhibition race, let’s take a look at past exhibition races with NASCAR legends.

In 1991, NASCAR ran the Winston Legends Race during All-Star weekend. The race featured 22 retired NASCAR legends (WATCH) and took place on the quarter-mile oval on the front stretch of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The legends were beating and banging for 30 laps, and just 11 of the 22 drivers in the race were still running at the finish. Elmo Langley passed Cale Yarborough in the final corner to win.

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NASCAR legends were back at it in 2009 (WATCH) when they ran the Scotts Saturday Night Special legends race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Sterling Marlin took the win after leading all 35 laps of the feature. The 11-driver field featured legends including Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Junior Johnson and Harry Gant. The drivers drove late-model stock cars.

The race returned to Bristol Motor Speedway for the second straight year. Rick Wilson came out on top after passing Phil Parsons with two laps to go.

Unfortunately, the race was marred by a late crash between Larry Pearson and Charlie Glotzbach. Pearson’s car spun and was sliding down the track when it was struck by Glotzbach on the driver’s side (WATCH). Pearson suffered a fractured pelvis, fractured right hand and compound fracture to his left ankle.

Outside of the injuries to both drivers, it seems that all three legends races had success.

My proposal would be to have the new race during Daytona Speedweeks. There are many people who were fans of NASCAR in the 1990s and 2000s but have since stopped watching due to multiple factors. Watching some of their favorite drivers from the past could give them renewed interest.

The race could take place on the backstretch oval at Daytona International Speedway. The K&N Pro Series and Whelen Modified Tours raced on the layout in 2013 and 2014 (WATCH). The race was moved to a different track in 2015 because Daytona removed the backstretch grandstands.

Obviously, for this race to work, Daytona would have to install some sort of temporary grandstands. I’m not sure if that’s a feasible option, especially with COVID-19 in play for now, but it should be considered.

Another option would be to have it the week before Daytona Speedweeks at one of the previous venues. A smaller track means the cars won’t be going as fast, and as a result, there should be fewer crashes.

A field of 10 or 20 past NASCAR drivers and legends could be what NASCAR is looking for to get more fans back into the sport.

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This year’s Busch Clash is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, February 9, with Fox Sports 1 set to broadcast it live from the Daytona International Speedway road course beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET.