Looming NFL decision could create NASCAR conflict

Kyle Busch, Busch Light Clash, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, Busch Light Clash, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Should the NFL rearrange its playoff schedule, the first race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season could come during conference championship weekend.

Amid the horrifying injury suffered by Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals — and the subsequent decision to suspend the game and not resume it during the current league week — the focus turned from the NFL playoff picture to the health and well-being of the 24-year-old McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania native.

But the NFL was always going to be faced with questions regarding what to do next in regard to not only the potential resumption of the Bills vs. Bengals game, but to the rest of the season, especially given their statement that Week 18 is, for now, to go on as planned.

As Hamlin’s condition continues to improve, naturally the focus will slowly continue to turn back toward the competitive aspect of the situation and the NFL’s decision-making process.

There are many options on the table, all of which carrying pros and cons, and one of those options is to effectively create a post-regular season “Week 19” solely for the Bills and Bengals to resume their game.

Such a decision would presumably push the playoffs back by a week, eliminating the off week (Pro Bowl week) between the conference championship games and Super Bowl so that Super Bowl LVII can still be played as scheduled on Sunday, February 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

It wouldn’t be a totally unprecedented decision; after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Week 2 games of 2001 were pushed back to the end of the season, and the entire postseason was pushed back by a week because of it, resulting in the first ever February Super Bowl.

If a similar decision is made, it would mean that NASCAR’s first race of 2023 would come on the same day as the AFC and NFC conference championship games.

While it is an exhibition race, the Busch Light Clash is scheduled to get the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season underway on Sunday, February 5 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The race is set to be broadcast live on Fox beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The sport then has off for Super Bowl Sunday and is officially scheduled to get underway on Sunday, February 19 with the 65th annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, the first Sunday of the NFL offseason.

Like last year, the conference championship games are scheduled to take place one week before the Clash, but a one-week delay would push them from Sunday, January 29 to Sunday, February 5.

Though the AFC title game was played first last year, and the conferences generally switch spots year to year, this year’s provisional playoff schedule indicates that, once again, the AFC title game is set to be played first (3:00 p.m. ET on CBS).

Therefore, the NFC title game (on Fox) would begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and it would not even come close to ending before the Clash begins.

NASCAR is obviously never going to beat out the NFL for a prime TV slot, so Fox Sports 1 could potentially be in play if this were to occur. If anything is going to change to avoid a conflict, that change is going to have to come on the NASCAR side. Ratings will back that up, 100 times out of 100.

But at least a one-week delay to the Super Bowl doesn’t appear to be in play, thus preventing that game and the Daytona 500 from taking place on the same day. Both events are set to be broadcast live on Fox as well.

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Alas, this is all speculation. No decision has been made by the NFL, and there is no word on when that will change, nor should there be until Hamlin’s condition justifies a new focus at the top. But if a one-week delay is indeed what it’s store for the NFL playoffs, NASCAR will be faced with a problem that they had strategically tried to avoid.