Prime time is NASCAR's silver lining

Pit crew members walk in the garage area as rain continued to delay the start of the Daytona 500 on...

Pit crew members walk in the garage area as rain continued to delay the start of the Daytona 500 on Monday morning. The race was pushed back to 7 p.m. (REUTERS)

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:32 PM ET

DAYTONA - The 54th running of Daytona 500 was history in the making from its start to its finish at Daytona International Speedway by being the only one ever run on a Monday.

It was also the only time that the Great American Race started in prime time on a weekday because its Sunday date was rained out.

There had been plenty of rain-shortend races before in Daytona — the most recent was back in 2010 when Matt Kenseth earned his only 500 win when the race was stopped with 48 laps still to run — but never had NASCAR’s biggest race been moved from its Sunday afternoon start time in the previous 53 years.

What led to all of this was that the tall foreheads at NASCAR and DIS decided mid-way through last season that because the NFL had threatened to go to an 18-game schedule and that would backup its Super Bowl — the biggest single-day sporting event on the planet — to a week before the Daytona 500 it had no choice to move the race back a week as well.

The choice was made because it was felt the huge footprint that the Super Bowl leaves on the sporting world would overshadow NASCAR’s big event, even a week later.

The irony is that if the race had been held on its decades-old third Sunday in February, the Daytona 500 would have had blue skies and Florida temperatures of 30C.

The debate now — as NASCAR prepares its 2013 calendar of events — is whether the Daytona 500 should be moved back to its traditional date.

Joie Chitwood, the DIS boss, has already told NASCAR that he wants to keep a safe two-week distance from the NFL behemoth. Hopefully this year’s weather fiasco changes his mind.

But if there is a silver lining in all of this — and when you are talking about NASCAR there always seems to be one — it is that a date on the FOX prime time schedule could be a ratings boon for stock car racing.

Even NASCAR president Mike Helton seems to think that could be an ancillary benefit of Monday night’s Daytona 500.

“It’s in prime time; the first Daytona 500 in prime time,” he said Monday before the start of the race.

“You like to try to make some lemonade out of lemons, and 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, including FOX.”

The prospect of seeing the Daytona 500 under the lights — another thing that has never happened before and thus brings with it a novelty factor — does make it more appealing for NASCAR bosses.

“Well, there’s no question that the Daytona 500 is our premier event, and it starts our season, so that has a lot of challenges if it doesn’t go just right,” Helton said. “But from NASCAR’s perspective we try to make the decision that’s good for the entire industry, but certainly we would have liked for the Daytona 500 to run on schedule yesterday with a bright, sunny day. But it didn’t quite happen that way. So now we’re just trying to get it done as correctly as we can.”

There is also the Danica Patrick factor — as in the first Sprint Cup race for the newest, freshest face in NASCAR.

The whole series is hoping that her presence alone will bring a new set of eyeballs to the telecast of the race.

If souvenir sales the past week at Daytona — her likeness is everywhere here — are any gauge then NASCAR is in for a whole flock of new fans.

The lines up at her souvenir trailers at the track were double wide and long.

A quick tour of the two big retail outlets at the track showed one completely sold out of Danica shirts and the other left with just a few.

So her impact is certainly already being felt on NASCAR’s own version of the Super Bowl.

FINISH LINES

In spite of finishing 34th in the Camping World Truck Series on Friday, J.R. Fitzpatrick, of Cambridge, Ont., and the No. 60 Equipment Express Chevrolet Silverado team pocketed $9,670 U.S. for 61 laps of racing. That’s small change compared to winner John King’s $76,525 payout ... In the Nationwide race on Saturday, Canadian owned teams — the No. 27 GC International Ford and the No. 81

MacDonald Motorsports Dodge — earned $43,170 and $47,333 respectively. ... KV Racing Technology co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser announced Monday that Venezuelan E. J. Viso will return to the team for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season. Viso, 26, will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet powered Dallara DW12 with money from his home country’s oil and gas giant CITCO ... It was neat to see Toyota boss of bosses Akio Toyoda taking a few laps around Daytona’s 2.5-mile track with Kyle Busch in a NASCAR Sprint Cup car ..... Bad news for the Marussia Formula 1 team, where Canada’s Robert Wickens was a backup driver last season. The team has been forced to scrap plans to run its new Formula 1 car at this week’s Barcelona test after failing the final mandatory crash test. In a new move instituted for the 2012 season, F-1 teams have to pass the crash tests before they are allowed to run their cars at an official test.

 


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