BY KENNY BRUCE
The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule includes two key date changes for Daytona International Speedway.
For the first time since 2010, the season-opening Daytona 500 will return to its former weekend date leading into President’s Day in mid-February. The 2018 race, which kicks off the 36-race season for the Monster Energy Series, is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 18.
Also, the Advance Auto Parts Clash, the annual non-points event for Monster Energy Series teams, now will be on Sunday, Feb. 11, the same day as Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Daytona 500.
The date change for the 500, initially announced by track officials in July 2016, moves the season’s first points race up one week on the calendar. It has been the first stop for the series since 1982 and has been run as late as Feb. 27 in previous seasons. This year’s 500 was held Feb. 26.
Extra travel day
The 2.5-mile superspeedway has hosted NASCAR events since 1959.
“Certainly it’s the traditional spot on President’s Day weekend,” Daytona president Chip Wile told NASCAR.com. “It gives folks an opportunity to have a day on the backside of the Daytona 500 to travel home. That works in our favor.
“We’re always thinking about how we can enhance the experience for our race fans, whether they are here on site or traveling to and from the race track. I think it’s important to think through those things.”
Said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations: “A lot went into it, obviously. From Chip’s standpoint on attendance, that’s right: There’s an opportunity for folks to extend that weekend, and all the pieces fit together, just as they did with the opportunity to move the Clash to Sunday and have a day race with qualifying for our biggest race of the year.”
500, then Clash
NASCAR officials released the 2018 schedule for the Monster Energy Series last month, along with schedules for the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series.
The Clash has been run under the lights at the 2.5-mile track each year (barring weather issues) since 2003. Except for two occasions, the race was contested on a Sunday from its debut in ’79 through 2002, and held on the same day as Daytona 500 qualifying.
Weather forced the race to be moved to a Monday in 1983 and it was moved to a Saturday race for one year (1992).
“We brought back the name last year, now we’re bringing back the tradition, running it on Sunday afternoon,” Wile said. “So it will be a doubleheader — it will set the front row for the Daytona 500 and then we’ll run the Clash immediately following.
“It will be a great afternoon here at the Daytona International Speedway, enjoying the $400 million renovated stadium and seeing some great racing.”
The Clash field consists of pole winners from the previous season, as well as former Clash winners, playoff drivers from the previous season and any former Daytona 500 pole winner who competed full-time the previous year.
“Last year we got to see it on Sunday afternoon because of the weather,” Wile said. “It was just so well received by the industry and the fans we thought what the heck, let’s give it a go.
“I think it differentiates that race, too, because it’s not being raced under the lights where a lot of the activity now during Speedweeks is run under the lights. It gives it a little bit different flavor and a little bit different feel. And it gives our great race fans an opportunity to come out and see the cars battle during the afternoon.”