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Does Being the Playoff Opener Diminish the Southern 500?

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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The NASCAR Cup Series opens the Playoffs this weekend at the historic Darlington Raceway for one of the sport’s Crown Jewel events, the Southern 500. The Southern 500 is one of the most important races in NASCAR as it was the sport’s original “Crown Jewel”, the first race held on a superspeedway (track more than 1.0 miles in length), and the sport’s first 500-mile race.

Now that it’s the first race of the Playoffs, one may ask the question, does the Playoffs diminish the Southern 500? However, the flip side can also be considered, Does the Playoffs elevate the Southern 500?

Reasons Why it May Diminish the Southern 500

The Southern 500 is a crown jewel in itself. It’s NASCAR’s original 500-mile race on its’ original superspeedway. It’s a big event that traditionally has been held on Labor Day weekend for most of its history, and NASCAR’s decision to move the race back to Labor Day weekend in 2015 was one of the most popular scheduling decisions NASCAR has made.

Making it the Playoff opener means that the focus turns away from the race itself, and it turns instead to the Playoffs. Will people remember the Southern 500s from this era for bringing great “Southern 500’s” or great “Playoff races”?

This is just an extra layer that the Southern 500 does not need. It stands very well on its’ own as an event, and the Playoffs do little more than just shift the focus away from the race itself.

Imagine if NASCAR made the “Daytona 500” or the “Coca-Cola 600” Playoff races. IndyCar made the Indianapolis 500 worth double points for a few years, but they got rid of that rule. Why? The Indianapolis 500 is big because of the event that it is, and nothing needs to be added to make it that much more important. The Southern 500 is no different.

Reasons Why it May Elevate the Southern 500

The NASCAR schedule just happens to land perfectly on this date. The Playoff opener just happens to fall on Labor Day weekend, which just so happens to be the traditional Southern 500 date. It fits the current schedule of events well.

The Playoffs make the race an even bigger event than it already is. The first Playoff race is a big race that needs to be a big hit every year. What better way to begin the Playoffs than with one of the sport’s Crown Jewel events?

Being a Playoff race just adds an extra element to the event as it is. It does not take away from the Southern 500, but it adds to the Southern 500 instead. What is wrong with making a big event bigger?

The added element of the Playoffs also means more outside eyeballs could be interested in watching the race. Instead of a so-called “normal race”, they get a NASCAR “Crown Jewel”, and they get a sense of the history of the race track, the sport, and the race itself. The first race you want people to see is a race that can easily be sold to a casual viewer, and the Southern 500 is a race that can be sold to a casual viewer.

Conclusion

Regardless of what side you may fall on this, the Southern 500 is a big race that everyone looks forward to on the NASCAR calendar. This weekend’s race is bound to be a fun one that will be remembered for one reason or another, Playoffs or no Playoffs.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

All Posts