Coke Zero Sugar 400 back in the day time everything that was right, why NASCAR got this one right

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 was a throwback race that had a familiar number in victory lane celebrating a summer race victory. Maybe since the throwback weekend has since been shifted from normally occurring next week at Darlington, to earlier in the season in their 1st trips to the Lady in Black during May, the most sense would be to throw the Firecracker 400 back to early July and start it at 10 a.m. ET like they did on Sunday.

Kudos to NASCAR for doing this. I keep questioning on why each season we come to the Florida coast in the middle of summer and try to host a major professional sporting event under the lights.

It doesn’t work.

Some things aren’t made for a change. You know the old saying, “what’s not broke don’t fix it.” Well the ‘400 being run on a mid to late morning is wonderfully ideal. How this weekend transpired further proved this point to be true.

Friday’s qualifying was rained out. The Xfinity Series race ended at nearly 1:30 in the morning. Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 was postponed until Sunday. If we started Sunday’s race in the typical late afternoon time slot, it’s hard telling if we could have run it to completion.

By starting at 10 a.m. ET, we got it in albeit in a rain delay still.

However, we got all the way to 21 laps-to-go before rain interrupted the race. It was mostly done. If we started at 11 a.m. ET or later, the question is do we even make it to halfway. By starting when we did, we got this thing done and that’s the goal.

Start in the morning to beat the summer time temps which spark the summer time storms. That’s why this race always started at the time that it did. It wasn’t until 1998 when the Musco lighting system was done and they could move this race to a night time event to separate itself from the Daytona 500.

These weather issues didn’t start to arise until the race was moved to under the lights. You’re just asking for troubles.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 A SHOC Chevrolet, Harrison Burton, driver of the #21 Dex Imaging Ford, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Just 1 of the first 39 races (all in day races) were interrupted by weather. That came in the rain shortened event in 1996.

This is the 3rd time in the last 25 years that the race was totally rained out to a new day including 2 of the 3 coming in the last 4 years at that.

Furthermore, this is the 4th straight year qualifying didn’t happen for the Coke Zero Sugar 400. 2019 and 2021 were also rained out with 2020 qualifying not even happening due to COVID measures.

The last time we qualified for this race was July 6, 2018.

2015, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 are all recent years we didn’t qualify for this race.

2 races were also shortened due to rain in this time frame too including that same one in 2019. It makes you wonder, when will they learn that the reason this race was run in the summer time and in that original time slot was to avoid this. Sometimes things don’t necessarily need to evolve to something that it’s not. Running a Daytona night race in the summer isn’t wise. It’s not smart. This is what we get and we wonder annually why we keep fighting this.

I get it, high speeds, high banks and cool cars under the lights at a big track. I truly do. I also get the notion to have this race be the cut race of the regular season. I get it all and the idea in theory is a good one. However, I don’t love the fact that it’s run at night for this very factor either. Whether it’s early July or late August, the weather conditions are the exact same.

This spot on the schedule is your Game 7 type moment and you’re more than likely going to have to deal with weather interruptions or delays. This year, we got it in.

I truly do like the back to a 10 a.m. ET start for this race, but is that best for a regular season finale? I think the better case scenario is to move this race back to the 4th of July like it used to be, no matter what day of the week that falls, run it in the morning hours and make this a unique event again. That makes too much sense.

Too hot? It’s why it’s run in the morning. Too early? Spare me. The ratings are being held back by catering to the west coast viewer who truly doesn’t necessarily want later afternoon start times. If they did, these ratings would be massive. They’re not. The west coast fans aren’t carrying their weight so they can be the ones to adjust for once.

As far as how this could all work out?

Atlanta is a track that looks more and more like a Daytona or Talladega and has lights in a big market to where you can just end the regular season there.

You’re almost just flipping dates too since Atlanta has been the 2nd weekend of July the last couple of years. They get to keep 2 dates and move the weekend before Labor Day (they used to host a Labor Day weekend race). Daytona moves back to it’s original home and all would be right.

Granted, I know some pain in the ass will point out that it rained on Sunday and that it rained in Atlanta last night. That’s 1 year. It nearly went green to checkered on Sunday without any weather delays.

Instead, we tempted fate again and fate won….When will NASCAR learn? Sunday they did. Let’s hope they remember this for future scheduling.


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