NASCAR: Why isn’t the Daytona 500 a 500-mile race?

Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Sunday’s Daytona 500 set a record for longest Daytona 500 in NASCAR Cup Series history. Why is the race rarely a 500-mile race?

JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won Sunday’s 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, which ended up being the longest Daytona 500 ever.

But it was not the longest Daytona 500 in terms of race time. It was the longest Daytona 500 in terms of race distance. How can a 500-mile race set a new record for length?

Every year, the race is scheduled to be a 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked Daytona Beach, Florida oval. But because of overtime rules, the race has historically been more likely to last longer than 500 miles than it is to last exactly 500 miles.

If a caution flag flies with more than one lap remaining, the race can be extended to ensure a green-white-checkered finish, also known as overtime. If a caution flag flies before the white flag in overtime, another green-white-checkered finish is attempted. Unlimited attempts are allowed.

Only if the white flag precedes a caution flag is a NASCAR Cup Series race allowed to end under caution, which is what happened in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Sunday’s race ended after 212 laps (530 miles) following a multi-car wreck in turns one and two on lap 212. Stenhouse was ahead of Team Penske’s Joey Logano when the caution flag flew and was declared the winner.

It used to be that unless the race was shortened due to rain, the Great American Race would be a 500-mile race. It’s why Kyle Busch, when he led lap 200 on Sunday, mentioned that he would be the winner under 1998 rules, when Dale Earnhardt finally won the race for the first time in his career under caution.

But those rules no longer exist for any race on the Cup Series schedule, and more often than not, the Daytona 500 ends up lasting longer than 500 miles.

The first Daytona 500 to last for more than 500 miles took place in 2005, when Jeff Gordon won a 203-lap (507.5-mile) race. From 2005 to 2023, 12 of 19 Daytona 500s have been longer than 500-mile races.

The race lasted longer than 500 miles in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022 as well.

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Prior to Sunday’s 212-lap race, the all-time record for Daytona 500 length was set in 2020, when Denny Hamlin won a 209-lap (522.5-mile) event.