Of course NASCAR should have run the Daytona 500, 500 miles, that part is indisputable. If it’s the biggest race of the year, it needs to be afforded that kind of attention to detail. But again, NASCAR is a growing organization, still uncomfortable in the glare of the “big sport” spotlight.
The Monday before the 500, Channel 4 meteorologist Brad Nitz said on our half-hour special from Daytona, “it’s going to rain on Sunday, but when it comes in is the question. They’ll get most of the race in.” That was seven days before the event, and as Sunday drew closer, it was obvious that rain was going to play a role in the 500. So many new fans have come to the sport that the expectations might have been different. But long-time NASCAR fans knew the rules. If rain is going to be a factor, they can’t stop the race and start it again tomorrow after they reach the halfway point. Once they got to 100 laps, the teams, drivers and informed fans knew that each pass and each pit stop could determine their final standing in the race. That’s why Michael Waltrip’s pass with Jr.’s help, even though he was two laps down, was so crucial: and everybody knew it.
There was a large, uninformed cry after the race was called that NASCAR couldn’t do that. Actually, NASCAR can do anything they want. They run all of the events and make the rules, and in this case, they stuck to them. The problem is, they had a chance to get it right and for some reason, couldn’t figure it out. Start the race early. I know they started somewhat early, but they knew the rain was coming and could have started at noon. NASCAR doesn’t like to cut into church time on Sunday, so noon is about the earliest starting time. Still, they had the chance to move it up, tell Fox they could televise it live, or join it in progress, let the fans in early, and get 500 miles finished. NASCAR fans don’t care what time the race is! You let them know, and they’ll be there. If it’s early, it doesn’t matter, because most of them are already there anyway! I’m glad NASCAR didn’t change rules on the fly, but as they take these baby steps into the psyche of the casual sports fan, sometimes, they’ll need a better plan.