The Daytona 500 is a 500 miles (804.7 km)-long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It is one of four restrictor plate races on the Cup schedule.
The Daytona 500 is regarded as the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar, carrying by far the largest purse. Championship points awarded are equal to that of any other Sprint Cup race. It is also the series’ first race of the year; this phenomenon is virtually unique in sports, which tend to have championships or other major events at the end of the season rather than the start. Since 1995, U.S. television ratings for the Daytona 500 have been the highest for any auto race of the year, surpassing the traditional leader, the Indianapolis 500 which in turn greatly surpasses the Daytona 500 in in-track attendance and international viewing. The 2006 Daytona 500 attracted the sixth largest average live global TV audience of any sporting event that year with 20 million viewers.
The event serves as the final event of Speedweeks and is sometimes referred to as “The Great American Race” or the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing.” It is held the second or third Sunday in February, and since 1971, has been loosely associated with both Valentine’s Day and the Presidents Day weekend. Because of inclement weather conditions during the scheduled 2012 race, the Daytona 500 was rescheduled to February 27, 2012.
The winner of the Daytona 500 is presented with the Harley J. Earl Trophy in Victory Lane, and the winning car is displayed, in race-winning condition, for one year at Daytona 500 Experience, a museum and gallery adjacent to Daytona International Speedway.
The qualifying procedure is unique for the Daytona 500. Some teams must race their way into the Daytona 500 field. The first row is set by a timed round of qualifying, held one week before the race. (Prior to 2003, this was two rounds; prior to 2001, it was three.) The remainder of the field is set by two separate qualifying races (these were 100 miles (160 km) from 1959–1967; 125 miles (201 km) from 1969–2004; and 150 miles (240 km), with two-lap overtime if necessary, beginning in 2005 (These races were not held in 1968 because of rain). The top two drivers from the qualifying races that are not in the top 35 in owner points are given spots on the field, and the rest is set by the finishing order of the duels, with guaranteed spots to those in the top 35. The remaining spots, 40 to 43 are filled by top qualifying times of those not already in the field from the qualifying race. If there is a previous NASCAR Champion without a spot, he will get one of those four spots, otherwise, the fourth fastest car is added to the field.
Prior to 2005, after the top two cars were set, the top 14 cars in the qualifying races advanced to the field, and then between six (1998–2003), eight (1995–97, 2004), or ten (until 1994) fastest cars which did not advance from the qualifying race were added, and, since 1976, between one and seven cars were added by previous year’s points performance and or championship, except for 1985, when no such car was eligible for a provisional starting spot, the only time that happened in the Daytona 500 from when the provisional was added in 1976 through 2004.
See also: List of Daytona 500 broadcasters
The Daytona 500 was the first 500-mile (800 km) auto race to be televised live flag-to-flag on network television when CBS aired it in 1979, continuing to air until 2000. From 2001 to 2006, the race alternated between FOX and NBC under the terms of a six-year, $2.48 billion NASCAR television contract. Starting in 2007, FOX became the exclusive home of the Daytona 500 under the terms of NASCAR’s new television package.
A byproduct of both the track’s 1998 lighting system and both the 2001 and 2007 television packages has been later start times. The race started at 12:15 pm (EST) from 1979 until 2000. The start time was moved to 2:30 pm (EST) for the convenience of west coast viewers. The 2005 race ended at sunset for the first time in its history, and the 2006 race ended well after sunset. The changing track conditions caused by the onset of darkness in the closing laps force the crew chiefs to predict the critical car setup adjustments needed for their final two pit stops. Since then, all races have ended after dark, with the 2007 race ending in prime time, at 7:07 pm (EST). However, in 2010, the race moved back to a 1:00 pm start time, which should have resulted in it ending in daylight; however, two red flags caused by track surface issues led to long delays that pushed the race to 7:34 PM EST, pushing the race into prime-time for the second time.
The television ratings for the Daytona 500 have surpassed those of the larger Indianapolis 500 (which has much larger physical attendance and international attendance) since 1995, even though the 1995 race was available in far fewer homes than the year before. Then-broadcaster CBS had lost well-established VHF (channels 2–13) affiliates in major markets as a result of the Fox affiliate switches of 1994. As an example, new affiliates WDJT in Milwaukee and WGNX in Atlanta — both cities that are home to NASCAR races — and WWJ in Detroit, close to Michigan International Speedway, were on the UHF band (channels 14–69), meaning that they had a significantly reduced broadcast area compared to former affiliates WITI, WAGA-TV, and WJBK, respectively. WDJT was not available in many Wisconsin markets by the time the Daytona 500 took place.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III announced today that the 54th Annual Daytona 500 will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2012.
“The decision to kick-off to the NASCAR racing season one week later was made in close partnership with the sanctioning body, our broadcast partners including FOX, community partners and others within the industry,” said Chitwood. “This move shortens the racing season by one week, which is something the teams and competitors will surely enjoy, and it eliminates the off-weekend typically scheduled in March, which many fans and media partners have said created a drop in momentum in the early part of the racing season.
“We also know some of our great fans like to plan their visit to the ‘World Center of Racing’ well in advance so we are announcing the 2012 date much earlier in the season to minimize any inconveniences in planning their visit.”
The dates of Daytona International Speedway’s other racing events that comprise Speedweeks, in addition to the motorcycle events in March, will be determined in the near future.
Tickets for all Daytona International Speedway events are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
Unfortunately for NASCAR and its teams, the bad news might not end there.
The season opener, which will mark the Sprint Cup debut of Danica Patrick, was moved to noon ET Monday, but that might be optimistic given the National Weather Service forecast a 70% chance of rain until 6 p.m. and 30% afterward. NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway officials said they could run the race under the lights today or wait until Tuesday if necessary.
Even if the race can be squeezed in today, it still would make for a brutal turnaround. NASCAR races at Phoenix International Raceway next weekend, and team’s haulers are due to enter the 1-mile track at 5 p.m. Thursday.
It’s roughly a 32-hour drive from NASCAR teams’ Charlotte hub to Phoenix. That might force teams to scramble in sending their Phoenix cars to Florida rather than bringing their haulers back to Charlotte (a seven-hour drive from Daytona Beach) to swap out their cars.
“If we were to put this out until Tuesday, that would be real tough,” pole-sitter Carl Edwards said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine. We’ve got guys (who) can do it. Our Phoenix stuff is ready to go.”
NASCAR moved the race back a week this year to eliminate an early off week, marking the first time the Daytona 500 (which started in 1959) was scheduled for the last week in February since 1968 and the fifth time overall. Track President Joie Chitwood said the race likely would stay on the same week next year but added, “It’s unfortunate that this had to happen the first year after we made that change.”
“This is one of the toughest things for drivers,” Edwards said. “It’s now who can really stay focused. That’s not just the drivers, that’s the pit crews (and) the crew chiefs. But I think we’ll be just fine. They’ve been living right to have 53 of these and never been postponed. That’s pretty spectacular.”