This Sunday, NASCAR will kick-off its 2013 Sprint Cup Season with the Daytona 500, one of the most publicized races of the year. As many of you know, the Daytona 500 has been referred to as “The SuperBowl of Motorsports” for many years, primarily because of anticipation carried over from the off-season. In addition to being the starting point for NASCAR’s elite series, the weeks leading up to the Daytona 500 is unique compared to the normal race weekends of practice, qualify, and race. The sunny, Daytona beaches of Florida are filled with the Sprint Unlimited, pole qualifying, duel races, and several races from some of Nascar’s other divisions. This all sums up one of the biggest weekends in all of motorsports, only to conclude with the running of the Daytona 500, where practically anybody can end up in victory lane or the infield care center.
So why shouldn’t this race be considered the SuperBowl of motorsports? Well, let’s use football as an example, since we continue to borrow the name of their beloved championship game. In the SuperBowl, there is an ultimate test of strength, talent, and perseverance. Only the best compete for the NFL’s lucrative prize of being called SuperBowl Champs. That game demands that not only the players from both sides of the ball overcome the elements to compete at a high level, but it also demands cohesiveness and structure from the coaching staff to correctly utilize everyone to their maximum potential. NASCAR seems to be no different. Motorsports demand teamwork and communication, while the mechanics of a racecar has many different parts that work in unison. But, is the Daytona 500 the correct race to implement a name of such majesty?
Restrictor plate tracks have a long history of making winners out of average drivers. On the flip side, some of NASCAR’s biggest stars have yet to win this prestigious race. The rules package, coupled with the inability to maximize horsepower, keeps everyone on a somewhat even playing field for these types of races. In many instances, it’s just a matter of staying out of trouble long enough to battle for the lead with 20 other cars. It’s worth noting that restrictor plate races do take a certain type of talent to master, but my argument is that any average driver can develop this talent during a relatively short learning curve. It’s about being in the right place at the right time for many of these drivers. This, to me, does not exemplify the true brilliance of being able to masterfully out-perform another team. It’s almost like winning the lottery – Did you have to practice to win it?
However, there is a race that I feel fully embodies the essence of perseverance in motorsports; the Coca-Cola 600. Not only is it NASCAR’s longest race, in terms of mileage, but it also provides a true test of strength, talent, and cohesion for all oval tracks. NASCAR teams have noted that Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of the most temperature sensitive race tracks in all of motorsports, while also testing the durability of both car and driver. And it’s worth mentioning that the extra 100 miles can definitely separate the talent level during the course of a race. If your car is falling off the pace early, you better act quickly to avoid losing time that could be irreversible. Strategy is a huge part of winning the Coca-Cola 600. Not only is the question “when to pit”, but the physical elements of a race that starts with sunlight and ends under the lights can be quite demanding. Anticipating how the weather impacts the track surface and race car can be the difference between success and failure. There is no lottery at the Coca-Cola 600. You can’t cheat failure at this race.
I know it will be hard for some fans to embrace the Coca-Cola 600 as I do. Some fans don’t have the attention span to keep up with the long green flag runs that sometimes result in an endurance race of this type, but I feel different. I love this race and all its glory. It takes place during Memorial Day weekend and Charlotte Motor Speedway is located practically at the headquarters of NASCAR. And even though you might not have 30 cars running nose to tail for the win, I feel that the winner of this race took no shortcuts. The only way to win the Coca-Cola 600 is talent. That, my friends, is the true SuperBowl of Motorsports.
And Tombo, I hope Kevin Harvick wrecks on the first lap… sorry, I had to do it.