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3 things we learned from the 2021 Daytona 500

The rain had everyone looking for cover during the Daytona 500. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
The rain had everyone looking for cover during the Daytona 500. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Ted Fleming
EXPERT
Modified 16 Feb 2021
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The Daytona 500 was one for the books, both on and off the track

Making plans for the Daytona 500 is similar to the Super Bowl. Make sure the fridge is well stocked with soda, adult beverages, all sorts of food and other goodies. However, there is one massive difference between these two events – you know when one will end.

Football fans can skip the never-ending pregame hoopla if they choose and get right down to the nitty-gritty: the game. NASCAR doesn’t have the kind of ad nauseam string of repeated stories like how the networks feed you. It’s like a pep rally on a diet, slimmed-down so as not to make their event anti-climatic.

The average Daytona 500 and Super Bowl will take about the same time, between three and a half to four hours. Football’s big game fits perfectly into the time slot, and the network carrying it usually has a show to follow it before local news. Meanwhile, Fox Sports, who are guaranteed the Daytona 500 every year under its existing contract with NASCAR, can only hope for the same thing.

More on the Daytona 500: Big Daytona 500 crash leads to “pandemonium, chaos” on final lap

So here is a look at the 2021 Daytona 500, the good, the bad and the ugly, in reverse order.

Whether or not there will be weather

At one point, it was a sure bet that having a February race in Florida would happen without Mother Nature getting involved. Not anymore. With the ever-changing climate, the so-called Sunshine State can no longer make that claim.

Years ago, the St. Petersburg Times, a newspaper in Tampa Bay, promised its delivery service customers that if it rains, the paper would be free that day. If the print business were still as strong today as it used to be, that guarantee would surely put that publication out of business.

More on the rain delay: 2021 Daytona 500 rain delay is far from the longest

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February in Florida is generally a dry one. It is the start of baseball’s spring training when fans migrate from the frigid north to bask in the warm sun while seeing their favorite team in action. Today, they need to pack umbrellas in their luggage before flying south.

The Daytona 500 is similar in that regard, with fans coming from all over the racing world to see their favorite drivers. They bring ponchos and other rain-related gear and are willing to spend the entire day at the track to see the race. The postponement means many will not get to see it live because they have jobs on Monday.

The baseball snowbird comes down for weeks, if not a month or more, so if a game is rained out, there is always another day. Stock car folks do not have that luxury.

Changing weather is no longer a Florida phenomenon anymore. As we saw in 2020, roughly sixty percent of races were affected by rain or lightning. This can affect the live gate, which tracks need for their bottom line. NASCAR also took a hit in the ratings. How long do they expect fans to watch The Making of Days of Thunder on an endless loop during delays?

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NASCAR used to control race start times, but with its mega-deals with Fox Sports and NBC Sports, those networks pretty much call the shots now. If you haven’t noticed, there were many mid-afternoon green flags, which, especially in the summer months, is about the time when thunderstorms begin to fire up. That puts the racing body in a bind.

NASCAR could ask Fox and NBC to renegotiate their contracts to gain more control over race times, but they dare not try it. The networks are likely to counter what they pay the organization. With ratings in flux, they have a strong argument of not getting the kind of return to hand out such a lucrative contract.

It’s a no-win situation for NASCAR, and all they can do is hope that weather conditions are better this year than last.

Michael McDowell poses with the Harley J. Earl Trophy after winning the Daytona 500. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Michael McDowell poses with the Harley J. Earl Trophy after winning the Daytona 500. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

First things first, because you can’t make this stuff up

Since the turn of the century, number one has played a big part in the Daytona 500. Only one driver has won the Great American Race in car No. 1. It was Jamie McMurray. But three winners of the race had a kind of double “1” in their victory.

· 2001, Michael Waltrip won his first career race in the Daytona 500.

· 2011, Trevor Bayne won his first career race in the Daytona 500.

· 2021, Michael McDowell won his first career race in the Daytona 500.

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This is the kind of symmetry sports numerologists love.

More on MIchael McDowell: Twitter explodes as Michael McDowell wins Daytona 500

They should have called Bubba Wallace’s sponsor, Doordash

When you’re hungry, you have to eat. While NASCAR officials counted the number of raindrops at the Daytona 500, drivers figured out what to do during the long delay. Some would nap, while others would play video games or do Zoom calls with Charlotte's Fox studios. But a couple of drivers did something unexpected when their stomachs started to grumble.

If the 2021 Daytona 500 were anything like previous years with capacity crowds, trying to get out and back into the Daytona International Speedway in a short amount of time would be nearly impossible. But this year was unlike any other, so Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, and Tyler Reddick still had a different kind of need for speed, as in fast food.

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Briscoe made a stop at Panda Express, Ross Chastain went to McDonald's, and Reddick literally sat down inside Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. To paraphrase a line from a Domino’s pizza commercial directed at Denny Hamlin, they went in their pajamas.

Published 16 Feb 2021, 12:56 IST
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