The 2012 Daytona 500 will go down as one of the most successful NASCAR races in history. What started out as a disaster of a weekend, turned into a goldmine for NASCAR and they made lemonade out of lemons. Although it may be too soon to start thinking about the 2013 Daytona 500, I will tell you what I would like to see to make the race even more successful. After all, it's only 364 days away.
There is no hiding the fact that under the current system, qualifying for the Daytona 500 is boring. Other than the top two spots, posting a lap that is 3rd fastest vs. 33rd fastest is pointless. Sure it's nice to have a good starting spot for the Duel race but it really doesn't matter. NASCAR can make the quest to get into the Daytona 500 as exciting as the race itself by throwing out the archaic rule that locks the top 35 teams from the prior season into the Daytona 500.
Looking back at the Daytona 500s since the top 35 rule has been in place, there are a significant number of teams each season who are locked into the race due to the hard of another team the year before. The point swapping/selling problem can also be eliminated by doing away with the top 35 rule. In its place, only the chase drivers from the previous season are guaranteed entry into the Daytona 500.
These twelve drivers were the best of the best the prior season. They won the races and battled for a championship. They are the drivers fans pay to see. They deserve to have a guaranteed slot in the Daytona 500. By only allowing twelve drivers to know they are guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500, you should see an increased entry list due to there being 31 available spots instead of seven (remember, one spot is available to a previous champion).
Remember when 55-60 cars showed up every year to try a shot at the Daytona 500? You'll have Camping World Truck Series teams and Nationwide teams buy an old car from Hendrick, Roush or Gibbs who will try their shot at the 500. You'll also see more teams like Tommy Baldwin Racing or BK Racing field a third or fourth car in an attempt to get into the 500. You may also see IndyCar drivers such as Marco Andretti or Will Power attempt the Great American Race.
Now that we have 55-60 trying to get into the Daytona 500, let's give them more than one chance to get into the race. Like always, the top two spots are guaranteed to be the front row of the Daytona (even if they crash in the Duels); however, also lock in the next top ten fastest speeds from qualifying (not including the chase drivers from the prior year).
Bringing back multiple rounds of qualifying will also add to the excitement. After having Monday and Tuesday off, the teams will come back to the track Wednesday for rounds two and three of qualifying. In these rounds, drivers will have an opportunity to bump their way into the race by posting a top ten lap. Much like qualifying for the Indy 500, the guys who have already posted a top ten speed will have an opportunity to better their time or opt out of that round of qualifying. After three rounds of qualifying, we can now set the lineup for the Duel.
Since the top 35 rule has been in place, each Duel field is set before cars roll into Daytona. Well, not anymore. We should go back to the days of setting the Duel based on qualifying speed. Qualifying positions 1, 3, 5, etc will race in Duel one, qualifying times 2, 4, 6, etc will race in Duel two. The only exception will be if there is a disproportionate number of chase drivers the Duel races, a driver could get moved to a different race in order to assure that there are equal chances to race into the Daytona 500 in both races.
Now that the Duel fields are set and there will be about 24 cars locked into the race, there will be at least nine spots in each Duel for a driver to race his way into the Daytona 500. The only problem: if there is a race and no one is there to see it, did it really happen? Well, lucky for us, the Duel races will be shown live on SPEED, on Friday night!
Once the field is set for the Daytona 500, the Truck race will run on Saturday night and the Nationwide race on Sunday afternoon. Finally, the Daytona 500 will be run in primetime on Monday night.
With just a few hours of notice, NASCAR had one of its most watched races of all time with the 2012 Daytona 500 being run on a Monday night. Considering the short notice and the two hour delay due to "the incident", that's very impressive. If NASCAR has an entire offseason to promote Monday Night NASCAR, it could be a smashing success in 2013. The Daytona 500, properly promoted, on a Monday night, should be able to get viewership second only to the Super Bowl.
NASCAR implemented the chase, a new points system and "drivers have at it" over the past few years in an attempt to simplify the sport and gain new fans. Moving the Daytona 500 and making getting into the Daytona 500 a more exciting quest could exceed them all.
What suggestions do you have to make the 2013 Daytona even more successful?