Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, February 10, 2019, 11:47 a.m.
The season is here. In just a few minutes, Fox will inexplicably place Daytona 500 pole qualifying on network TV while relegating the Something Something Something Clash, an actual race, to Fox Sports cable/satellite/etc.
Okay, officially it’s the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, descended from Busch.
Qualifying is often tedious, particularly in Daytona Beach and Talladega, which are known as “restrictor-plate” tracks, even though the latest round of rules changes have apparently been transacted with the intent of making most of the races that way.
The Daytona 500, on February 17, and the Clash are unlikely to be much different. Have you noticed that when NASCAR changes rules, it rarely changes them in a way likely to affect Daytona and Talladega? Sometimes they do, but it’s not the plan. Changes are generally designed to make everything more like Daytona and Talladega. Even the playoffs (nee Chase) were designed to turn the season into a gigantic plate race.
NASCAR considers the Daytona 500 to be its ideal.
The season’s first and biggest race often has little to do with the rest of the season. Austin Dillon won it last year. Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second. Both drove Chevrolets. Dillon, Wallace and Chevrolets were seldom heard from again.
Perhaps all that will be different this year. Plate races will be more important because there are going to be a lot more of them. Do the fans rally around races with closer finishes, or do the changes cost Daytona and Talladega their uniqueness?
In answer to fans who complain that more and more of what they see is just alike, NASCAR officials are making even more of what they see just alike. It’s been the master plan since the 1980s. It just took a few decades for it to really kick in.
They’ve got a lot of smart people working in Daytona Beach and Charlotte. Maybe too smart.
Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.
The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.