For the first time in its 54-year history, the Daytona 500 has been postponed. A soggy scheduled Sunday start time of 1:00 pm EST drug into Sunday afternoon and, when the rain just kept coming, to Monday at noon.
Now, NASCAR president Mike Helton has announced that the sanctioning body plans to drop the green flag at 7:02 pm EST on Monday evening. And with a nation at work on Monday, moving the start time to prime time may be a blessing in disguise. Whether more credit should go to NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway or Mother Nature is debatable, of course. What is without debate is that this unique circumstance could be a turning point for the sport.
I’ve said for the last few years that a weeknight, prime-time slot would be a boon for NASCAR — particularly during its 10-week Chase for the Championship, when the title is being decided and all eyes should be on the sport. Instead, NASCAR’s Chase has gone head-to-head with the mighty NFL on Sunday afternoon and, in many cases, ignored.
As NASCAR Hall of Famer and current FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip so eloquently put it last year, “If there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room, run away from it!”
Truer words were never spoken. NASCAR will never beat the 800-pound gorilla that is the NFL in ratings — that’s a simple fact. So this unintended prime-time race — which just so happens to be the most prestigious of the season — may be the ultimate trial balloon. If the ratings soar, the sanctioning body will have no choice but to explore whether the option of regular weeknight prime-time slots should be explored.
My bet is this will be a ratings bonanza unlike any NASCR has ever seen. And that’s sunny news.