In no way is anyone obligated to stick with a tradition no matter how fixed it is. Change can often bring about positive results and could lead to a greater appreciation for how much that tradition has truly meant to some. When the Southern 500 at Darlington was moved from Labor Day to being the penultimate race in 2004, there was a lot of negative feedback on the move. When it returned as a Labor Day weekend event in 2015 it quickly became one of the most anticipated events of the season.
But there are some things that just shouldn’t be changed regardless of intent or expectation and Daytona in July is a perfect example, considering NASCAR’s recent announcement that the Coke Zero Sugar 400 would cap off the regular season before the Playoffs in 2020.
If you ask anyone about the Coke Zero Sugar 400 or the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250, they immediately get that picture in their head of a group of stock cars pouring onto the straightaway while the sun sets behind them, casting a deep blue/red hue across the sky. That is the defining image of summer for NASCAR’s fans. Back in the day, they’d even imagine Pepsi-Cola’s lettering on the catch fence or even the Pepsi globe right outside the fence. These days it’s the Coke Zero bottle-shaped trophy that was last held by Erik Jones.
This is no reflection on Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but there is no way a July 4th NASCAR tradition can ever fully be rooted than at one of racing’s oldest tracks. NASCAR is a sport with deep roots in American lore and our love for the American V8 and Daytona Beach will forever be linked to the sport because of that love.
NASCAR was birthed in Daytona. Some of NASCAR’s defining moments occurred in Daytona. What better way for the sport to celebrate our nation’s independence than to go back to where it all began at the high banks of the World Center of Speed?
This isn’t to say that nothing good will come of the race as the regular season finale. In a way, the logic does make sense. To begin and end the regular season at Daytona is an approach that is understandable. It will still be a huge event with tremendous pressure to perform and a reason to revere the circuit’s return to Daytona.
But the Playoff/Chase format is not one of NASCAR’s biggest accomplishments. If anything, it pales in comparison to the legacy and impact that the Daytona International Speedway has left on the sport.
Daytona and the July event had been around for years before the advent of the Playoff system and to use Daytona as the ending of the regular season is an underwhelming idea. Daytona doesn’t need to be brought down by extra gimmicks. Daytona and all of its glory needs to be left to be as it is on the schedule.
This is all speculation. I could be wrong – I hope I’m wrong. This may turn into something that is nothing short of amazing. But when we fell in love with NASCAR, the July event at Daytona became the epitome of summer for us. It was supposed to be fun in the summer sun, cooled down by a soft drink, Pepsi or Coke Zero Sugar, does it matter at this point?
It has always been 40 of the world’s greatest drivers racing down the Superstretch while the sun fades into the July night and a reminder of why we love our country and our sport. It doesn’t get much better than that.