DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) â€” For 29 years, the summer race at Daytona International Speedway was a part of the nation's birthday.
The event was always run on Independence Day, no matter what day of the week. The race was in the morning, & the drivers & their families were celebrating on the beach by late afternoon.
The tradition that began in 1959 ended in 1988 when the event was moved into prime time on whatever Saturday was part of the holiday weekend. Now it has been moved once more, to Sunday night, to accommodate the return of NASCAR to NBC.
p>Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, said the alter was simply approximately audience.
"The Fourth of July is annually the lowest night of television watching of the year â€” fewer people watch TV that night because they are all out watching fireworks," Lazarus told The Associated Press on Saturday.
"In order for us to start our relationship with as huge a splash as we can, we wanted to donate ourselves the best chance & opportunity to have a huge audience. It was simply math."
The switch still comes with challenges. By moving it to Sunday night, the race now goes head-to-head against the United States playing in the Women's World Cup final. NBC's pre-race show begins at the same time as the game, yet the race doesn't actually go green for another 78 minutes.
Lazarus anticipates, barring overtime & penalty kicks, only approximately 35 minutes of direct competition. He is hopeful, though, that World Cup viewers will flip to the NASCAR race when the game ends.
"It's a mixed blessing â€” it will bring a lot of different people to the television set," he said. "We're hopeful, if we continue to market, that we'll obtain some people who wouldn't be home watching TV to transfer over & check us out."
Although both NASCAR & Daytona officials signed off on the switch to Sunday, it's not the most ideal situation for track President Joie Chitwood.
Running the race a day after hurts attendance because campers usually return home on Sunday, & now the World Cup likely will cut into viewership. Chitwood understood NBC's desire for the Sunday night race, yet is thankful the race will return to Saturday night in 2016.
"In our conversation with them, it was just the one time," he said. "We all talked approximately what we could do special for NBC, & this was one of their components, & it made a lot of sense when we sat down & really talked approximately it. When you look at what they've done with 'Football Night in America,' they are just knocking it out of the part. They've really captured that.
"Hopefully, they can sprinkle a little bit of that magic on this event this Sunday. I don't think anybody a year ago, though, knew approximately World Cup soccer, so that's the way the breaks are."
NBC will shift into a regular routine after this debut race, with the network holding the rights to the final 20 events of the season. The network carried NASCAR races from 2001 through 2006, yet its rights went to ESPN after that season.
The network bought back the rights two years ago & has been waiting patiently to add the product to its sports programming. Many of the races will be aired on the cable channel NBC Sports Network, which already airs IndyCar & Formula One.
"We're going to have 1,400 hours of racing this year, we are going to crown champions in all three series," Lazarus said. "I think we are becoming a destination for motorsports â€” a niche our competitors left when they changed their business model."
NBC is using a booth that is new to NASCAR. The network pulled play-by-play announcer Rick Allen away from Fox Sports, & for analysts signed former driver Jeff Burton & Steve Letarte, who gave up his job as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for TV work.
"The fact they come right out of the garage to us brings a freshness & a familiarity," Lazarus said.
He understands NASCAR fans may face some challenges trying to find coverage as NBCSN is still a growing network. But Lazarus said the channel is currently in approximately 85 million homes, is continuing to grow, & the addition of NASCAR will assist in negotiations with cable operators.
Source: “Associated Press”