The fallout from the postponement of last Saturday's Pepsi 400
at Daytona because of the devastating wildfires in Florida will
be felt throughout the remainder of the 1998 season. The new
date, Oct. 17, delays NASCAR's bid to become a force in
prime-time network sports television and also jams the Winston
Cup schedule, promising to make the stretch run the most
grueling ever for the championship.
"It would have been a milestone for NASCAR," Mike Helton, the
sanctioning body's vice president for competition, said of its
first live prime-time network telecast (CBS) and first night
race at its showcase track. Many in the racing community
expected the telecast to attract more than just hard-core fans.
Live prime-time Winston Cup racing is common on cable networks,
so racing officials were excited about the potential impact on
the sport that a 190-mph, fender-rubbing, sparks-flying show
from Daytona would have.
The only thing pouring into Daytona was smoke and soot
from nearby wildfires.
In fact, the drama surrounding the race should be higher on Oct.
17 than it would have been on July 4. The Pepsi 400 is still
expected to be telecast live in prime time, but it's uncertain
which network will carry the race. If CBS carries itat week's
end the network had not made a decisionthe delay could be
serendipitous for NASCAR. Saturday-night TV audiences in the
fall are far larger than on summer holiday weekends, which could
bring the sport its first double-digit ratings. It would also be
NASCAR's chance to challenge the World Series (Fox) head-to-head
for viewers, a worthy barometer for measuring racing's
popularity. But if CBS decides against showing the Pepsi 400,
the race would be relegated to cable, and NASCAR's next giant
step toward the mainstream would be delayed until next July 4.
The makeup race also filled the only open date on the
second-half schedule, meaning there will be 16 straight weeks of
competition, from the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono on July 26
through the season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta on Nov. 8. That's
a lot to ask of race teams already stretched by trying to keep
their stables race-ready.
Compounding the revised schedule's drain on teams and equipment
will be the unprecedented placement of two races that require
carburetor restrictor plates six days apart. The Winston 500 at
Talladega is scheduled for Oct. 11. The restrictor plates, used
only at the 2.5-mile Daytona and the 2.66-mile Talladega to hold
speeds below 200 mph, make for radically different racing.
Daytona-Talladega cars are custom-built more for aerodynamics
than for traction, their engines deliver only 450 horsepower
(down from the usual 750 hp), and drivers find that the cars are
extremely difficult to accelerate out of trouble, often leading
to massive wrecks.
Teams usually keep only one or two Daytona-Talladega cars in
their stables. In anticipation of those back-to-back races,
however, already-overworked teams may have to build spares.
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Issue date: July 13, 1998