Monday, February 27, 2012

Daytona 500 To Prime Time

(Insert Deion Sanders highlights here)

Very interesting call by NASCAR to move the Daytona 500 start time to 7 p.m., especially given how looking at the radar as I write this at 12:35 p.m. CT the skies look pretty clear and nothing looks to be rolling in.

All right, that is all of the conspiracy theories I'm going to throw up about that one. Actually, from a competition standpoint it is totally the right call. I think the idea of upping the odds that the drivers can get 500 miles of uninterrupted running is a good one, race organizers owe the competitors -- and fans -- the best opportunity for an event to go the scheduled distance.

Although I must admit that when weather is coming it makes for some great racing. When the 2007 Indy 500 went off with storm clouds in Terre Haute (the old Tony Hulman barometer of incoming weather), the drivers were going at it incredibly hard. Even after the rain came at Lap 113 and the race was started three hours later -- I think was the right call despite Tony Kanaan being in the lead -- there was some fierce driving going on.

Which, by the way, watching the cars racing around the Speedway well past 7 that night was a very, very, cool thing to see. Especially since I had taken the optional seat upgrade and moved into the top row of Stand B. Incredible view. Someday, when money isn't an object...

Then again, drivers going at it at the Indy 500 trying to beat the rain and drivers doing the same at Daytona would bring two different results. Under the same circumstances, I think Daytona would become an absolute crash-fest because of the close-quarters pack racing. Given the unexpected nature of plate racing which gives more cars the potential to win, there would be a "big one", guaranteed. Probably a couple.

Heck, weather or not, I worry about that happening at the halfway mark when 200 grand is on the line.

Of course, with the way the weekend has gone down there, with something like two-thirds of the entered cars being involved in one incident or another, maybe that won't change things. But if the drivers know when the green flag falls they have four hours of good weather to run, it won't lead to as many knuckleheaded moves. At least one would think.

But, the even bigger deal to all of this is that the race moves into Monday primetime. Football is over, the NBA is on break, and the college basketball schedule is very light with only three ranked teams playing. This could be an even more perfect storm than the 1979 blizzard that gave NASCAR a captive audience for the 500 that year.

Oh, and let me wave hello to the elephant in the room -- the Ms. Patrick factor.

While the race will run up against some popular primetime shows, I think most people will DVR the shows and watch the race. Live sports almost always takes precedence. Well, it does in my house. This sort of reminds me of the final round of the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, which was specifically set up to show in prime time on the east coast. With Tiger Woods in contention and the golf rolling later on a Sunday night for the first time, the broadcast picked up the best ratings of the year. When Woods nailed the putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff the next day, it was just about 10 p.m. in the east and for a Sunday night in the summer NBC couldn't have asked for more.

It will be interesting if the weather holds out how all of this plays out, and for sure it is a referendum as to whether or not racing can play on TV on a weeknight. If it does, it changes everything. I'm a proponent of IndyCar racing on weeknights during the summer, and I can bet that Randy Bernard will be watching with a lot of interest to see what happens. For sure, the Daytona 500 is the most-watched race of the year in this country (while the Indy 500 has more viewers/listeners worldwide), and that might skew the numbers a bit, but I'm sure the powers-that-be will know how that translates to other events.

It's been a crazy weekend in Daytona, this just kind of adds to it. One thing for sure, one way or another this will more than likely turn out to become a very historical event.

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