The quick answer to that lead question is heck yes!
It is a well-known fact that the higher ups of stock car racing long for the drama and excitement that is produced by the seventh game of a world series or by the Super Bowl. That is not only a goal of the NASCAR brass, but also something wanted by the average race fan. Recently NASCAR tweaked the scoring for the Chase for the Sprint Cup by extending it to 16 drivers and installing an elimination system so the last race will be between the final four.
All of that is good stuff and anything that makes racing more competitive is a definite plus, but the one thing that will give the Chase more pop is sitting just west of downtown Daytona Beach. Bring the final race to Daytona International Speedway. That seems to me to be a no-brainer. The season begins this week on racing's biggest stage and should end there in November.
For a while now, the Chase has consisted of the final 10 Sprint Cup races ending with the race at Homestead in south Florida. Of all of NASCAR's tracks, Homestead is perhaps the most forgotten and overlooked. Each year by the time the circuit got there, the winner was mostly a foregone conclusion. Of 10 cup races, half are staged on tracks of 1.5 miles (including Homestead). As every fan knows that size track seldom produces the excitement of the larger ones. In fact, annually the most exciting race of the Chase was the race before it actually begins. The race at Richmond was the last chance for drivers to qualify for the championship tournament and the competition there always overshadowed that of Homestead.
In the past, the top two qualifiers at the mile and a half track were the odds on favorites to battle it out for the win. Unless one of those was the second place car in the standings, the leader knew all he had to do was secure a top 10 or top five finish to win the points title. Watching the points leader racing to stay in the top five was never my idea of a great finish. Add the fact perennial champ Jimmy Johnson is always very strong at the 1.5-mile tracks and you can see that it is no coincidence he has won six times.
The new changes to the Chase will be a definite improvement, but will fall short of creating the excitement NASCAR seeks. Lately I have been hearing rumors that due to the big construction project at the track, the July 4th race may be switched with Homestead for 2015. Oh how I hope that is true. Finishing the season with a restrictor plate race at DIS would be the ultimate gift for race fans.
Every year the first race of the season here provides the thrills and spills that we all love. Back when the restrictor plates were installed, we fans were not happy, but now we all know plate racing is the most exciting to be found anywhere. The finishes at Daytona have been unbelievable. On a two and a half mile plate track, no one is assured of anything and no one can cruise to a predictable finish. Watching the four top competitors racing to a finish at Daytona would be a huge spectacle that could spark the interest of the international racing community.
Of course, the July 4th race at Daytona has a lot of history going for it. The first one was Bill France Sr.'s idea and his first try at promoting. Big Bill had approached the city complaining about the lack of local racing and was put in charge of the summer race. Good job, but let's face it, racing in July is not the best for our area. It is right in the heart of the rainy season and the race is often delayed for hours. The last time I went to see that race in person was in 2004 when Jeff Gordon last won and due to rain delays, I didn't get home until 3 a.m. For that reason I never returned.
NASCAR should switch that prestigious race to a track in need of some help and change the last race to the centerpiece of stock car racing where it would be watched by the world.
I know that all of this is not news to the folks out at the speedway but if they are truly serious about joining the sports world elite (read big TV ratings), now is the time to go for it. Swap the July race out and bring the final Sprint Cup Chase race to the exciting bumping, banging finish DIS is known for.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.