Opinion: Not So Cool Duel

NASCAR

Pistone: "The only thing we learned for sure on Thursday is a more than 50 year ritual will end next season when the two races are held under the lights." (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Budweiser Duel qualifying races may not have answered all the questions about what to expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Racing was in short supply and it’s still unclear exactly how drivers will approach the main event.

The only thing we learned for sure on Thursday is a more than 50 year ritual will end next season when the two races are held under the lights.

While I understand some of the motivation for moving the affair to prime time, I don’t like it. The tradition of racing on a Thursday afternoon will be forever lost when FOX fires up the cameras under Daytona’s Musco lighting system in 2014.

It’s a shame.

NASCAR’s version of Major League Baseball’s Opening Day or the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament was a unique way to kick Speedweeks into high gear. While more people will get to see the race at home and not miss any work, the specialness of watching big league stock car racing in the middle of a February afternoon will disappear.

I guess it’s another example of NASCAR “modernizing tradition,” the infamous description president Mike Helton used to explain why Darlington’s Southern 500 was being moved to Fontana, California more than a decade ago. But like that misstep, the switch to a nighttime Duel will also have negative ramifications.

The Daytona area restaurant and bar scene will take a major hit with fans now filing into the speedway rather than heading out for drinks and dinner after the races.

But maybe the saddest impact will come to the area local tracks at Volusia County Speedway and New Smyrna Speedway, which have already taken a hit in recent years with the addition of more prime time “Speedweeks” events. The addition of this year’s “Battle at the Beach” and not a Thursday night Duel make the already struggling short track business even more difficult.

As for this year’s on track product, it’s near impossible to predict what will come in Sunday’s 55th running of the Daytona 500 based on what happened in the two races. Once again the lower line did not seem to be the place to be as it was during the Sprint Unlimited, at least in the early going. But business did pick up on the low line late in the race.

Drivers spent much of both races driving in a single file parade to limit the risk of tearing up more equipment, as has been the norm during much of Speedweeks. Danica Patrick mixed it up early in her 150-miler but then cautiously dropped back to protect her pole position for the 500. And Kevin Harvick has an opportunity for a sweep if he can add the Harley J. Earle trophy to his collection that already includes wins in the Unlimited and a Duel.

Maybe it wasn’t the most memorable day of racing. But it will have a lasting impression as the last Daytona Thursday afternoon spent racing in the bright Florida sunshine.

That’s a sad thought to be sure.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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