The significance of the Daytona 500 (Sunday, Feb. 21, on FOX), why NASCAR starts the way other sports end


Often called the “Super Bowl of NASCAR,” the Daytona 500, which FOX will broadcast on Sunday, kicks off the NASCAR season with a bang. But the Super Bowl comparison underscores a key difference between NASCAR and other televised sports like the NFL, NBA or MLB, which spend their seasons building toward a grand finale at the end.

How does front-loading the season with its most high-profile event impact the sport and its marquee race? We decided to put the question to key folks here in front of and behind the camera at FOX Sports.

How does beginning the season with NASCAR’s most high-profile event change the mindset of everyone involved?

“The thing that’s always been unique about our sport is we start our season off with our biggest event. The Daytona 500 is our Super Bowl, our Kentucky Derby and our World Series. We get the biggest audience for the Daytona 500 of the year. Everything is brand new – race cars, sponsors, even crew members and crew chiefs. Everybody is pumped up and can’t wait to get another season started. Unlike other sports where they just want to get it over with, we in NASCAR just want to get it started. There’s a lot of excitement, adrenaline and emotion that you couldn’t capture if we ran this race at the end of the year when everyone is tired, everyone wants to go home and their equipment is worn out. Here, everybody just wants to get it started, and that’s a big difference from any other sport.”- Darrell Waltrip, FOX NASCAR analyst (NASCAR Hall of Fame driver and three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion)

“Obviously, the desire to become a member of NASCAR royalty is the goal of every driver, crew chief and team member. That motivation coupled with the anticipation of the start of a new season creates an excitement unequalled by any ‘opening day’ in sports. The competitors know it and the fans feel it. Covering and conveying the magnitude of this event to millions of viewers is a tremendous honor that is not lost on any of our FOX NASCAR production crew. We do have the benefit of a short offseason to prepare for the Daytona 500, but because there are no cars on the track, it’s kind of like shadow boxing in preparation for a title fight. Don’t get me wrong, the mental reps and planning are valuable, but as they say in boxing, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. When we come on the air Sunday, it will be our first yet biggest show of the year, so there is a lot of pressure, but we are confident our plan will allow us to handle anything thrown at us.” – Barry Landis, FOX NASCAR race producer

Left to right: Darrell Waltrip, Barry Landis, Bill Richards, Jamie Little and John Entz

“It’s an honor and privilege but also an immense responsibility to broadcast the Daytona 500 to America, and it’s not something we take lightly. It’s the biggest of the big and we work to present it in that way. Each year, I’m impressed with the level of hard work and dedication from our production crew to wake America up from its Super Bowl slumber, and 2016 is no different.” – Bill Richards, FOX NASCAR coordinating producer

“It is a big deal! From a reporter’s perspective, I feel it puts a lot of stress and added pressure on us. I’m not sure if I ever feel caught up and ready for this race. I tend to feel behind because there’s so much to learn with changes, teams, drivers and schedule. Thankfully, we cover all of the practices and qualifying, so we get good ‘reps’ before the big show on Sunday.” – Jamie Little, FOX NASCAR pit reporter

“With the NASCAR season starting with the Daytona 500, all eyes – from race fans to advertising partners to media – are on us from the moment we come on the air. Daytona sets the tone for your entire season, and it’s that expectation of performance excellence that makes a great Daytona 500 broadcast that much more rewarding. When the checkered flag flies, we all want to feel exhausted and victorious.” – John Entz, FOX Sports president of production

The 2016 Daytona 500 will air Sunday, Feb. 21, starting at noon EST on FOX.