Daytona – under the lights – Saturday nite
“Back in the day,” as Junior would say, it was the Firecracker 400 and they held it during the day on the Fourth of July. It was the second race of the season at Daytona International Speedway, the crown jewel of the France family empire, it was one hundred miles shorter than the legendary 500 held in February, and the strategy required was entirely different, partly because the race was shorter.
But mostly because the race was hotter.
On the fans.
And the tires.
Today, it isn’t the Firecracker 400, it isn’t on the Fourth, and it’s not so hot, at least in temperature.
It’s the Pepsi 400 (trivia question: there are two Pepsi 400s in the NASCAR season. Where’s the other?). It’s held on the Saturday after the Fourth of July. And it’s held at night, under the lights, so that the temperatures are much more tolerable, for fans and tires.
This year, it will be held on July 7th. At night – the broadcast starts at 7 p.m., EDT, on TNT.
Even with these differences, though, it will be another step in a tradition.
The mid-season Daytona race is overshadowed by the Daytona 500, but it has often been a far more competitive race. The shorter distance means that surviving the distance is less important and, consequently, racing is more important. Position counts all the time.
So, does winning the Daytona 500 give you an advantage in the 400?
There are drivers who have done the double: win the 500 and then the 400, or win the 400 and then win the 500 the following February.
Jeff Gordon did it. So did “Fireball” Roberts, Bobby Allison, Lee Roy Yarbrough, Dale Jarrett, and, most recently, Michael Waltrip.
But only one driver has won three in a row:
He won the Firecracker 400 in 1967, the Daytona 500 in 1968, and repeated the Firecracker in 1968.
The record has never been equaled.
Oh, the trivia question?
And, yes, it was Cale Yarborough who got into it with Bobby and Donnie Allison at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, the first nationally televised NASCAR race, a spontaneous event still considered the catalyst that started NASCAR on its way to being a nationally televised event.