COLUMN - Another NASCAR win with a drama-free Daytona 500

Jim France was thrilled in the garage prior to the Daytona 500. For the first time in two decades, the grandstands were filled.

COLUMN - Another NASCAR win with a drama-free Daytona 500

Fans again walked every inch of the grounds looking for a photo or signature. There was no chance of rain ruining NASCAR’s biggest race of the year.

No talk was made about NASCAR's new rules or car. There was no sense of foreboding before the start. It was the show that mattered most.

"I keep looking up and so thankful that we finally have perfect weather," stated NASCAR's chairman. "This is going be a perfect race day."

NASCAR wrapped "The Great American Race", its 64th edition, without any problems. The race was smooth and without drama. Next Gen's Next Gen car was as good or better than advertised. Austin Cindric, a new winner, gifted Roger Penske victory on his 85th birthday.

NASCAR's race was a return to normality. It had been able to show flexibility in the face of a pandemic that ravaged America's top motorsports series. NASCAR has been able to maintain its stability despite major changes. It is willing to change and adapt from its long-standing traditions.

NASCAR was forced to race wherever it could in 2020 by mandates and shutdowns, which led to the most significant overhaul of the series' schedule history for the next season. Cover Bristol in dirt? Sure! You can add more roads. Absolutely!

NASCAR was encouraged to take a few chances and push itself beyond its comfort zone.

NASCAR constructed a temporary track in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and then moved The Clash to Los Angeles from Daytona International Speedway. This was its only home since 1979. A star-studded, star-studded exhibition race this month included a halftime -- a rare feature in motorsports -- featuring a six-minute performance by Ice Cube.

The Clash's success reenergized the industry before the Daytona 500. The Daytona 500 had been sold out for over a month and had 120,000 people on Sunday at speedway grounds.

Penske stated, "If you ask me how NASCAR looks today and what I see, I believe we're on an excellent trajectory." Penske said, "All the new fans we had at Coliseum and selling this place out, sponsorships, and suites, it's fantastic."

NASCAR looked very different on Sunday from the Daytona 500 two years ago, when then-President Donald Trump visited the speedway. Trump gave the command to start engines but his appearance made the Daytona 500 more like a campaign rally.

Bubba Wallace was the only Black driver at Daytona 500 that day, and that status was still maintained when he finished second behind Cindric on Sunday. The sport's demographics have changed dramatically as NASCAR tries to expand its traditional audience.

Michael Jordan, now the owner of a team, was present at Daytona 500 for the second year in a row. Jordan made it to Cleveland just in time for Sunday's NBA celebrations. He is now co-owner of 23XI Racing. Wallace is the driver. This marks the first pairing of Black owners and Black drivers at NASCAR's highest level.

Pitbull owns Trackhouse Racing. The team has a car for Daniel Suarez from Mexico. It also hosts a Pitbull-owned vehicle.

The Daytona 500 saw two new teams, one of which was run by Black owners. Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s boxing legend Floyd made NASCAR his debut with The Money Team Racing. Kaz Grala finished 26th.

NY Racing, which is run by John Cohen, a Black entrepreneur, also had its car in Daytona 500. Jacques Villeneuve (former Formula One champion, Indianapolis 500 winner) helped to get a new European team in the field.

All of them were able to enjoy the sun shining on them. This is perhaps the direction that NASCAR has been looking for for decades, if not decades. Charles Woodson, the Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back, and Fox Sports analyst was at Daytona to serve as the official grand marshal. He brought his son and three of his closest friends to enjoy the show.

Woodson noted that NASCAR's diversity efforts have opened up options for Black ownership. When asked if he would consider becoming formally involved in NASCAR, Woodson laughed, "Don’t threaten me with fun, I certainly wouldn’t mind exploring it."

Woodson was able to absorb the sights and sounds of the scene and realized that NASCAR, one of the first major sporting events to resume competition during the pandemic, and the first to complete its 2020 season, is back at full speed.

Woodson, a Orlando resident, said that "people have been waiting for this for a while." You can feel the energy of the fans at the track. We're all ready to take part in this type of event, and get back to what we love -- watching sports and going outside.


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