The History of NASCAR Crown Jewels
In NASCAR, not all races are created equal. Some races take on lives of their own and season implications seem to take a backseat for a week as the focus becomes winning one of NASCAR’s “Crown Jewel” races. In it’s history, NASCAR’s “Crown Jewel” events have changed, and there is some debate on what are considered to be NASCAR’s “Crown Jewel” events.
Previously, the Winston Million initiative gave NASCAR four “Crown Jewel” events as follows: the Daytona 500 (highest purse), the Winston 500 at Talladega (the fastest race), the World 600 at Charlotte (the longest race); and the Southern 500 at Darlington (NASCAR’s original 500 mile race). It was won twice by Bill Elliot in 1985 and Jeff Gordon in 1997. However, as time went on, NASCAR expanded and the rise of different events began to call into question which races were the true “Crown Jewels.”
The Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at one time brought in about as many fans and, in some cases, better TV ratings than the Indianapolis 500. The All Star Race began to gain traction in the 1990s, and the $1 million grand prize for the winner made it a race every driver wanted to win. The Night Race at Bristol became the toughest ticket to get in NASCAR for a few years, and it brought in 160,000 people year-to-year.
Obviously things are different now, but the races that are considered to be “Crown Jewels” are not exactly the same as they once were. Which races are “Crown Jewels” currently, and which races are in the conversation as being these types of events?
The Current Crown Jewels
The Daytona 500 is the biggest race in NASCAR, and it seems that during Daytona 500 week, the season as a whole seems to take a backseat. It is a bit of an anomaly putting the biggest event of the year at the very beginning of the season, but that makes the Daytona 500 just that much bigger and more highly anticipated. It’s the race every driver wants to win with the highest purse, and it still routinely sells out.
NASCAR’s Memorial Day weekend celebration is a race where attrition still matters. The added element of the race starting in the daytime and ending at night means that whoever is dominant in the early portion race may not necessarily be dominant in the late portion. It’s NASCAR’s version of an endurance race, and the added Memorial Day celebrations during pre-race make it a truly incredible event.
This race has experienced a resurgence in recent years. A race that was once a “Crown Jewel” was seen by NASCAR as just another race as it was relegated to one spring slot away from its’ traditional Labor Day Weekend. In 2015, that all changed as the Southern 500 was returned to Labor Day weekend, and the race regained some of its’ previous prestige.
Now that it opens the playoffs, some of the luster of the event itself does wear off, but that does not mean the event is not important. It was once the most prestigious race in NASCAR, and it still is a great reminder of the roots of stock car racing.
In the Conversation
However, with the original Winston Million giving NASCAR four “Crown Jewel” events, that means there is theoretically place for one more event to be considered as such. Which of these races could be under that consideration?
The Night Race at Bristol
In a day where NASCAR attendance is not what it once was, this race still manages to bring in 100,000 people. Sure it is not the 160,000 people sell-outs that the race once was, but it still remains a very popular event amongst fans. It was one of NASCAR’s original night races back in an era when racing in NASCAR at night was still a novelty.
Hopefully the next-gen’s short track issues can be resolved so that this event does not lose its’ luster. However, the atmosphere and the sight of the cars zipping around the World’s Fastest Half Mile is great for television and spectators alike.
Geico 500 at Talladega
In a day of decreased horsepower, Talladega and Daytona now hold the titles of NASCAR’s fastest race tracks once again. This is a race that was formerly considered a “Crown Jewel” event, and, with it being NASCAR’s largest superspeedway, it is still a race that arguably deserves such a title.
It would be best to use the spring race at the venue since keeping a “Crown Jewel” in the regular season forces the focus to be more about the event itself rather than on Playoff implications. Talladega is already a hotly anticipated race by fans, and officially considering it a “Crown Jewel” would add more to an already great event.
If this was 15-20 years ago, this race would probably replace the Southern 500 on the “Crown Jewel” list. It was the second biggest race in NASCAR at the time, and pulled in a crowd over over 250,000 routinely. However, a poor racing product on the oval eventually drove fans away, and the race went from a “Crown Jewel” to just another race.
The Indy Star reported that attendance fell to a low of 35,000 in 2017 before rebounding to about 60,000 in 2019. Now the race is on the road course, and there is debate about whether or not the race should be on the oval or the road course moving forward. Even though it is not what it once was, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an iconic venue, and it will be a “Crown Jewel” in the minds of drivers even if fans disagree.
The All-Star Race
The racing product was definitely hit-or-miss, but the event itself this past weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway was arguably the best event NASCAR has put on in years. The All-Star Race was definitely in need of a facelift for years, and this weekend may have given it that facelift. With a $1 million grand prize in a winner-take-all show, it’s a race that means something to the drivers and still has a big-event feel.
The fact that it is not a points race definitely puts it lower on the totem pole. However, if it is kept at a traditional, classic venue like North Wilkesboro, an argument can be made.
NASCAR needs “Crown Jewel” events to help market the sport. It would be great to see something like the Winston Million return so that there can officially be “Crown Jewel” events. Golf and tennis have major championships, why not NASCAR?