Cup Season Begins On Note Of Optimism

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 16 2020

A formation of military jets flies over Daytona International Speedway prior to the start of the Daytona 500 on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The grandest stage in stock car racing and its annual Great American Race received plenty of presidential treatment on Sunday.

And as choreography and scripts go, the Daytona 500 pre-race festivities delivered a knockout punch.

For the first time in the sport’s history, a sitting president served as the Grand Marshal of a NASCAR event.

And the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, didn’t disappoint the sold out grandstand crowd, jam-packed infield and national television audience.

Anticipation began to build just over a week ago when it was announced that Trump would be attending Sunday’s Daytona 500.

In typical Trump fashion, he opted to make a splash by opting to go far beyond merely making a token appearance.

At 1:07 p.m. ET, fans across the mammoth speedway roared their approval as they clamored for a vantage point to photograph Air Force One’s flyover just behind the 2.5-mile speedway’s backstretch.

As the speedway went into lockdown mode, Trump and his wife, Ivanka, were whisked into the infield and a secure Xfinity Series garage.

For the next 90 minutes, Trump visited with dignitaries, drivers, team owners and track personnel inside the Daytona 500 building which oversees victory lane.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m. ET, Trump, with his wife alongside, delivered a short speech from victory lane that could be seen on the speedway’s jumbo screens. Though the four-minute address didn’t air live on Fox, it was broadcast live on several cable news outlets as the pro-military crowd in attendance roared its approval.

While there had been speculation the Trumps might not appear on pit road due to security concerns, the couple stood side-by-side near the start-finish line for the president to deliver the most magical words in racing at 3:18 p.m. ET as military fighter jets flew overhead.

The Trumps then boarded a waiting presidential limo and proceeded to lead the 40-car field around the speedway. Flashbulbs along pit road and in the grandstand popped in unison as more history unfolded when the president and his entourage led the pack of race cars on the first of seven pace laps.

After exiting the speedway, Trump offered a message to each driver via the NASCAR race control channel wishing each of them luck and a safe race.

As monumental moments go, this one will rank among the most-discussed in the sport’s history.

There’s plenty of reason to believe the popularity of NASCAR will surge in 2020.

An impressive crop of rookie drivers, a commitment to get back to its roots by embracing local short track racing, Roger Penske’s involvement with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the first-ever Cup Series night race at Martinsville Speedway and a retooled schedule of tracks with playoff race dates are among the reasons there is reason to believe a return to the glory days of the 1990s is looming.

Fresh on the heels of historic presidential visit and the overall buzz in the air during this year’s Speedweeks, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the future of the sport.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 16 2020
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