New Date Providing Fuel For Some Critics In Weather-Delayed Daytona 500 Start
The Daytona 500 was moved back a week this year and “some people are already blaming this year’s date change” for inclement weather forcing the race to be rescheduled for a Monday night for the first time, according to Bob Pockrass of SCENEDAILY.com. The race for decades "had been the weekend before President’s Day,” but NASCAR moved it back a week this year "to avoid potential conflicts with the Super Bowl in case the NFL went to an 18-game schedule." The move also “eliminated an off week in March that NASCAR officials believed hurt the sport’s momentum.” Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood on Sunday said, “It's unfortunate that this had to happen the first year after we made that change. ... I'm sure I'm going to have some customers tell me about the date change and the challenges that we have with it. But I think weather is unpredictable. So we'll deal with it. I don't anticipate this would force us to change the date in the future.” He added, “I think based on the NASCAR schedule, the TV schedule on whole, this was the right move for the industry. We'll continue to work with the last weekend of February” (SCENEDAILY.com, 2/27). Chitwood said that DIS “would take a hit from the extra day of operations.” Chitwood: "You don't generate any more revenue on a rain date. All you're doing is eating up expenses" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/28).
FANS IN THE STANDS: In Jacksonville, Don Coble notes despite the start of the race being delayed until 7:00pm ET last night following its original rescheduled start time of 12:00pm, “more than 150,000 fans returned" to the track, leaving "very few empty seats in the massive facility.” However, it was “easy to find a bargain on tickets, with one scalper selling a $350 seat in the tower near the finish line for $40” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 2/28). In Daytona Beach, McLaughlin & Swisher note the “historic postponement of the Daytona 500 produced some bargains for people wanting to buy tickets to Monday's race.” Tickets on Craigslist, eBay and other Internet sites “were listed at discounted prices” (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/28). In Charlotte, Ron Green Jr. writes it was “inevitable that the crowd for the Daytona 500 Monday night would be smaller than had the weather not interfered on Sunday, but it was an impressive turnout.” The infield camping areas “had cleared out significantly, but the frontstretch grandstands appeared close to full.” It had to be “gratifying to track officials who pushed so hard to make Sunday work despite the miserable conditions” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/28).
LEMONADE OUT OF LEMONS: YAHOO SPORTS’ Jay Hart writes the Monday primetime start was “not how NASCAR drew it up, but they’ll take it.” NASCAR President Mike Helton yesterday morning said, “Certainly you like to try to make some lemonade out of lemons. Ideally the race would have started yesterday as scheduled, and it would have been sunny, and we would have been celebrating a Daytona 500 champion today, but under the circumstances we’re just trying to make the best decisions collectively.” Meanwhile, the two-hour delay during the race that resulted from driver Juan Pablo Montoya crashing into a jet dryer and causing a fiery fuel spill on the track “pushed the Daytona 500 into its third day.” The race ended at 12:55am this morning, and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “NASCAR just can’t catch a break. We’re trying to do deliver and just had some unfortunate things happen, such as a rain delay, pothole in the track. We’re a good sport and just trying to give a good product. It’s unfortunate that our biggest event was delayed” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/28). Helton said, “Bout the time you think you’ve seen everything. … It’s a bizarre set of circumstances that nobody could have helped happen.” This is the “second time in three years the Daytona 500 has been halted because of an issue with the track.” A pothole in ’10 “opened up between Turns 1 and 2, halting the race twice” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/27). ESPN.com’s David Newton writes to NASCAR's credit, it "took most of the right precautions fixing the track.” The “last thing anybody needed or wanted was for this race in front of the first Monday prime-time audience to be interrupted again because the surface led to a wreck” (ESPN.com, 2/28).
THEATRE OF THE BIZARRE: The AP’s Jenna Fryer writes this year’s Daytona 500 “will go down as the most bizarre in NASCAR history” (AP, 2/28). The FLORIDA TIMES-UNION’s Coble writes the race was “one of the most memorable, and certainly most bizarre, Daytona 500 of all time” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 2/28). ESPN.com’s Ed Hinton writes, “For once, a finish to the Daytona 500 was anticlimactic, an afterthought, merely the ebb of the craziness of the past few days” (ESPN.com, 2/28). In Daytona Beach, Ken Willis writes the race was “unbelievable.” Willis: “We've seen a lot at Daytona -- everything from the absurd to the glorious to the tragic. But an explosion of jet fuel, during caution? Followed by the sight of boxes of Tide and scrubbers? Drivers gathering on the backstretch during a lengthy red-flag delay, chatting like school kids waiting out a fire drill?” (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/28). The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER’s Green writes the race has “now turned into a theatre of the bizarre” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/28). In West Palm Beach, Dave George writes the race was “anything but dull” (PALM BEACH POST, 2/28).