DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — The Daytona 500 has always been the pinnacle of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The annual February stop to the Daytona International Speedway is well known as the “Super Bowl” of the NASCAR season.
Yes, the first race of their season is comparable to the last of the NFL. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a fan of racing to know what the Daytona 500 is.
Unfortunately though, in the mix of NASCAR’s nearly decade long downfall, the national prestige of NASCAR’s biggest race took a hit as well. The Daytona 500 wasn’t as special nationally as it once was. The Good Ole Boys moniker was long gone as NASCAR grew too big and abandoned their roots in the process. After years of numbers falls across the board, they have recently started leveling out and now appear to be in a growing trend again. That’s certainly being felt down here at the World Center of Speed this weekend.
For the fifth consecutive year, the Daytona 500 is an announced sellout. That means all the grandstand seats have been sold, all 101,500 of them. But, you also have to count the packed infield camp grounds on top of that and you get the biggest expected Daytona 500 crowd in years.
Fans from 48 different countries and every state in the US will be in attendance Sunday afternoon.
DIS President Chip Wile confirmed as much on Thursday morning. The team owners are even noticing as well. Richard Petty said on Saturday that this is as big as a crowd that he’s seen here in February in the last five years — if not longer. Rick Hendrick has noticed the increased buzz too noting that the infield camping grounds are packed in more than before.
Contributing to the buzz is that President Donald Trump will be among those folks in the big crowds for Sunday’s Great American Race (2:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN) as he will be the fourth active President to attend a DIS race in the history of the track. This has been met with rave reviews here in Florida as fans are anxiously awaiting his arrival on Sunday. There’s a big sense of a buzz of President Trump witnessing this race among the huge anticipated crowd already.
Furthermore, the $23+ million purse is the biggest in the race’s history, which is at least eight million more on the line than this May’s Indianapolis 500.
Biggest crowd in years, biggest purse in the 62 year race history and the President of the United States all being in attendance.
Then, factor in ratings being up for the races thus far, a thrilling photo finish in the Truck Series race on Friday which was the closest margin of victory ever for that race and you get a sense that the Daytona 500 is back.
The buzz surely feels that way. It feels like a HUGE event here already and it’s not even race day yet.