Nascar’s Daytona 500 was more exciting than entire 2015 Formula One season

Of course the start of the 2016 Nascar season did not grab international headlines this past weekend. But that is the way the preeminent stock car racing organization wants it, writes Aaron Gray.

Denny Hamlin, left, and Martin Truex Jr, right, race to the checkered flag on the last lap of the Nascar Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/David Graham)
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Of course the start of the 2016 Nascar season did not grab international headlines this past weekend. But that is the way the pre-eminent stock car racing organisation wants it. More on that later.

Trust me, I'm not even a racing fan. But if you missed the spine-tingling finish of the Daytona 500 on Sunday then watch the video clip below.

The race, which kicks off the Nascar season, had plenty of lead changes, crashes and smoking tires. It is safe to say there was more action in that single race compared to the entire 2015 Formula One season combined. Just my opinion.

Not that the good old boys from Nascar are keeping tabs. According to a Reuters report, Nascar are eyeing a strategy to help build their international presence but have no immediate plans to schedule races outside the United States.

They have decided to take a bottom-up approach in the hope of nurturing international drivers who might one day make the leap to America.

“The NBA model is a great one,” Nascar’s executive vice-president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said. “You have a (local league) in a particular country or region but the ultimate goal is to play in the NBA.”

Sounds familiar.

Have you ever seen the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby? Sacha Baron Cohen plays a French F1 driver who enters the Nascar circuit only after achieving success in Formula One.

Basically, Nascar wants all the racing leagues from around the world to be a feeder system for their organisation.

“It was an idea before its time and we learnt from that,” O’Donnell told Reuters. “Just taking a race to another country does not help build the sport.”

As part of the strategy implementation, a relatively new series, called the Whelen Euro Series, promotes racing on a variety of circuits in six countries, including former Formula One venues at Brands Hatch in England and Zolder in Belgium.

As a result, fans too young to have seen the legendary battles for the F1 world championship between Austrian Niki Lauda and Briton James Hunt have been treated to ones between their sons, Mathias Lauda and Freddie Hunt.

The younger Lauda, who also races in the World Endurance Championship, explained from Spain why he also chose a stock car-based formula.

“Nascar is pure racing without politics,” the 35-year old Lauda said in an interview from Spain. “Fans always look for heroes connecting with the driver ahead of the car.”

Hero-worship aside, he feels that driver-skill plays more of a part in the outcome of a Nascar race than Formula One.

“As a driver you can make a difference” he said. “It’s very close racing, fun racing.”

Which is exactly what happened on Sunday at Daytona.

agray@thenational.ae

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