Should Daytona 500 lead-up be revamped?

The start of another NASCAR season is here. All teams are hoping to win races and compete for a championship.

Since the mid 80’s, the Daytona 500 and the lead up events kicked off the start of the Cup season. It was in 1980 when NASCAR and Busch beer came up with the idea of the Busch Clash – a non-points race featuring the pole sitters from the previous season. It was a teaser for the upcoming Daytona 500 and combined with the ARCA race on the same day.

Over the years, the Busch Clash format had been adjusted, more laps were added to it, and even the name changed. It was no longer a short (20 laps) race featuring the previous season’s pole sitters. As each change came to the race, fan interest became less and less over that time. NASCAR was looking to reboot the race.

In 2021, NASCAR decided to hold the Clash on Daytona’s road course. That decision was driven by teams looking for ways to have the race without getting a lot of cars torn up in a pack racing event. While some liked the change, many did not embrace the change because they didn’t want their first foray of the season to be a road course exhibition race.

Prior to the 2022 season, NASCAR came up with the idea to hold the Clash at the L.A. Coliseum, home of the USC Trojans football team. That race had a lot of fanfare and buzz because it was something new and it was also the debut of the Next Gen car. Like most things, the event didn’t have the same flare in 2023 and the 2024 edition was hampered by weather.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. suggested on a recent podcast the Clash should go back to Daytona and be what it was in the beginning – a 20-lap race for the pole sitters from the previous season. I agree with that. But NASCAR and the team owners have made it clear they don’t want two weekends of activities for the Daytona 500. The purpose is to save the teams money. Yet, NASCAR required all full-time teams drive across country to Los Angeles for a race they were not guaranteed to be in. Where was the cost saving with that plan? If the purpose of taking the Clash away from Daytona is to prevent a bunch of wrecked race cars, how about a race where they can experiment with the rules and keep the cars from being in such tight packs? If successful, it could be used for future superspeedway races.

The traditional Speedweeks format was qualifying, the Clash, and the ARCA race on the weekend prior to the Daytona 500. The Duels still take place on Thursday before the 500 and then the Daytona 500 a week later. That built up a lot of buzz that lasted a whole week.

Now, the Clash is held on the other side of the country in an area that doesn’t care a lot for NASCAR. If it did, they would not be in the process of demolishing Auto Club Speedway in nearby Fontana. Pole qualifying takes place on a Wednesday night and the Duels are held the next night. With qualifying being a mid-week happening, there is no buzz for it and the 500. Teams want to save money. Why not take the money they’re spending to hold a race in a football stadium and have an extra weekend of activities at Daytona?

NASCAR seems to be its own worst enemy when it comes to over saturating their product or not being aggressive enough in other areas. The Daytona 500 and the events around that race should be a way to get fans excited for the start of another season. That is not happening these days. NASCAR needs to fix this or just do away with the Clash and the Duels and make it like every other race on the schedule. Because right now, that’s what it is becoming – just another race.

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