NASCAR: NFL agreement prevents Daytona 500, Super Bowl conflict

nascar nfl daytona 500 super bowl LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC
NASCAR moved the 2012 Daytona 500 back one week on the calendar just in case the NFL delayed the Super Bowl.

By: Al Pearce on 7/27/2011

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There was a collective sigh of relief in Daytona Beach, Fla., early this week when the NFL and its players settled their well-documented labor dispute. Granted, nobody at NASCAR thought the NFL or its professional football stars would sacrifice the season and hand stock-car racing 12 weekends without any serious television competition. Rather, the real concern in Daytona Beach for months was the timing of the labor agreement.

Would the owners and players shake hands early enough for the 16-game regular season to begin as scheduled on Sept. 11? If not, would they opt for a delayed start, pushing training camps two weeks deeper into the summer, then still play four exhibition games? And the biggest question of all: If the season started late, when would the 2012 Super Bowl take place?

You might recall that NASCAR confirmed next year's Daytona 500 the day before this year's race. That date is Feb. 26, a week later than usual and off of Presidents' Day weekend for the first time in years. The change almost certainly meant that NASCAR expected a later-than-usual NFL start because of labor issues or an expanded 18-game regular season. Either of those, in turn, likely would have meant a later-than-usual Super Bowl. Next year's game remains scheduled for Feb. 5, three weeks before the Daytona 500.

At the time of the announcement, NASCAR senior vice president Steve O'Donnell said the football schedule was a factor.

"We're not going to deny that part of this is dealing with the NFL," he said in February. "Who knows where they'll go with a [proposed, now tabled] 18-game schedule, but we want to get ahead of that. Either way, we think it's the right thing for our season. The Super Bowl is a big event, but so is the Daytona 500. To give fans an opportunity to go to both is the right move. We think it's a win-win for everybody."

Moving the Daytona 500 to the last weekend in February gave NASCAR a safety net it no longer needs. But it gives the year's biggest NASCAR race yet another week away from the hype and hoopla surrounding one of the world's most-anticipated sports events. If the NFL had opened training camps even a few weeks later, its Super Bowl might have been pushed as late as Feb. 26.

If so, the suits in Daytona Beach almost certainly would have moved the 500 to Saturday night, Feb. 25. After all, they're smart enough to know not to put the Daytona 500 on Fox up against the Super Bowl on NBC.

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